Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Negotiating a Shared Definition of Curriculum Integration: A Self-Study of Two Teacher Educators from Different Disciplines

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Negotiating a Shared Definition of Curriculum Integration: A Self-Study of Two Teacher Educators from Different Disciplines

Article excerpt

It is generally agreed that making connections across subject areas in school is good teaching practice. Backed by essentially every maj or reform effort in recent years (e.g., National Council of Teachers of English, 1996; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989, 2000; National Research Council [NRC], 1996, 2012; National Science Teachers Association, 1996), interest in curriculum integration in teacher education has been renewed and promoted as an instructional practice that is supported by both cognitive science and neuroscience (Beane, 1996; Cohen, 1995; Victor, Kellough, & Tai, 2008). Advocates also suggest that integration improves student learning, academic achievement, problem-solving ability, and motivation (Berlin & Hillen, 1994; Guthrie, Wigfield, & VonSecker, 2000; Hurley, 2001), while inspiring students to discover relevance in their education (Hargreaves & Moore, 2000). Research also indicates that most teachers, particularly those in the earlier grades, have positive attitudes toward integration (Czemiak, Lumpe, & Haney, 1999), although they may find it challenging (Basista & Matthews, 2002; Kysilka, 1998; Meier, 1996).

One of the major challenges associated with teaching novice and practicing teachers how to plan and enact curriculum integration may be that there continue to be differing notions of what it means to integrate academic subjects during instruction (Hurley, 2001) despite appeals for a common definition (Davison, Miller, & Metheny, 1995). Davison et al. stated,

   Few educators would argue about the need for an interwoven,
   cross-disciplinary curriculum, but to many, the nature of the
   integration in many interdisciplinary projects is not readily
   apparent. A more pervasive problem is that integration means
   different things to different educators, (p. 226)

This difficulty is underscored by the wide array of terms used when discussing the construct: "inter-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, thematic, integrated, connected, nested, sequenced, shared, webbed, threaded, immersed, networked, blended, unified, coordinated, and fused" (Czerniak, 2007, p. 542).

Victor et al. (2008) account for the conceptual differences concerning integration, explaining that there are multiple levels of integration. Traditional subject matter separation (subject-specific instruction at different times during the school day, when what is being taught in one subject has little or no connection with content taught in another) lies at one end of this continuum. At the other end, discipline boundaries become "blurred during instruction" (p. 14). This cross-curricular or thematic instruction (Martin, Sexton, Franklin, & Gerlovich, 2005) revolves around a central concept or theme (e.g., pollution), which guides the selection of learning activities and texts in multiple subject areas.

Other authors suggest that integration brings concepts from different disciplines together in ways that they are mutually reinforcing (Alvermann, Swafford, & Montero, 2004; Wellington & Osborne, 2001). From this perspective, making connections across the curriculum brings about deeper understanding (Mason, 1996), while "staying true to the key ideas of each [discipline]" and without giving "primacy to one of the disciplines, to the detriment of the other" (Weiss, 2006, p. 369). In this way, different subject areas do not merely bump up against each other around a common theme; nor is a skill in one discipline merely practiced during instruction or used to assess understanding of another subject (e.g., organizing data to create a graph, reading a paragraph, writing a summary). Instead, students are taught skills and/or knowledge from at least two different academic subjects in ways that reinforce the learning of each and occur in natural, unforced teaching/learning situations. This instruction also includes assessment of the skills and/or knowledge from each subject taught. …

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