Academic journal article Education

Maximizing Learning and Attitudinal Gains through Integrated Curricula

Academic journal article Education

Maximizing Learning and Attitudinal Gains through Integrated Curricula

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

In 1983, Secretary of Education Terrel Bell and the National Commission on Excellence in Education released A Nation at Risk. The report reflected anxieties about the preparation of students for the rapidly changing world. Many initiatives have since come and gone as attempts to improve things, and still our education system gets criticized for falling short in meeting the challenges of student preparation for the millennium (Fullan, 1991; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983; Sarason, 1991; Smith, 1995).

Educational organizations, like other institutions and industries, struggle to achieve ever-better results with increasing expectations. Pressures to better prepare today's students, coupled with increased focus on accountability and performance measures, are heating up as a major concern and political issue in the United States (Jerald, 2000). To meet rising expectations, curricula must be designed that help learners acquire the skills needed to apply knowledge and school-based experiences toward becoming creative problem solvers and smart workers (Smith, 1995). Education, today more than ever, is needed that equips individuals with the genuine, functional understanding of facts and knowledge requisite to fully contribute to society and reach their individual potentials (Ravitch, 2000; Shaha, 1983).

Research has shown that learning is more powerfully enabled when curricula are integrated such that connections are established between subject areas rather than as fragmented islands of information or knowledge (Drake, 1993; Edling, 1996; Lewis & Shaha, 1999). The preponderance of school settings continues to maintain subject-specific silos, perpetuating compartmental teaching evidenced by traditional focus on teaching subjects as separate topics (Beane, 1995). Integrated curricula are increasingly recognized as pivotal to learning through knowledge transference between situations and subjects (Bailey & Merritt, 1997; Murnane & Levy, 1996; Lewis & Shaha, 1997, 1999).

Teachers and administrators alike readily confess that the ideal school experience must be designed to achieve more than just knowledge. The ideal school experience must have favorable attitudinal impacts as well (Bernhardt, 1998; Langford & Cleary, 1995; Lewis & Shaha, 1997; Sagor, 1992; Shaha, 1983, 1984). Traditionally, however, measurement efforts have been limited almost exclusively to assessments of achievement in knowledge alone as the gauge for educational success and pupil achievement, generally as measured through standardized tests. More progressive approaches to assessing the impacts of education have recognized that measurement of both academic and attitudinal benefits from instruction are needed, and that they must be measured and interpreted in context of each other, not in isolation (Bernhardt, 1998; Langford & Cleary, 1995; Lewis & Shaha, 1997; Sagor, 1992; Shaha, 1984).

A balanced assessment of instructional impact, considering both intellectual and attitudinal outcomes, is most appropriate. School experiences should be preferred that result in improved attitudes toward school and toward learning, toward specific subject areas taught, and even toward the self as evidenced in self-concept and personal confidence. If educators are to influence attitudes they must include it as an area of assessment balanced with that of assessing their impact on knowledge (Bernhardt, 1998; Shaha, 1984, 1998). Perhaps most urgently, the ability to achieve continuous educational improvement hinges on the capacity to measure and improve a balanced set of educational indicators (Baldrige, 2002; Daniels, 2002; Jenkins, 1997; Lewis & Shaha, 1997; Shaha, 1998)

The research reported here focuses on validating the impact of integrated curricula for improvements in attitude and in learning by balancing the importance of both types of impacts for guiding curriculum development and evaluating instruction. …

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