Magazine article Techniques

Interdisciplinary and Team Teaching: How Do We Make It Work?

Magazine article Techniques

Interdisciplinary and Team Teaching: How Do We Make It Work?

Article excerpt

Integrating academic and career tech curriculum is one of the primary objectives of the Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act (1998 reauthorization) and a guiding principle of the School to Work Opportunities Act. It has proven to be an invaluable approach to teaching, and educators across the nation have experienced firsthand how the application of interdisciplinary and team teaching enhances student achievement. Yet, with all of these positives, there are still stumbling blocks in the process. How do we make it work?

The concept of integrating academics with occupational skills to facilitate a student's education is not a new concept, but ways to proficiently incorporate it into the daily routine of teaching and learning are still emerging. James R. Davis stated in his book Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching that "the ideal interdisciplinary course begins with a great idea."

The idea for partnering academic knowledge and technical work skills was born out of the need to develop students' appreciation of how the two work together. Increased collaboration among academic and career tech educators has proven to be the most effective way to clarify and forge the connection of knowledge development and career tech curriculum. Separately, they are what they are--brought together, they become the machination for student achievement.

Emphasizing the connections among disciplines benefits both teachers and students. So why is there difficulty in developing atmospheres that foster this idea? In an article from the Teacher Education Quarterly (Summer 2000) by Judith Haymore Sandholtz entitled "Interdisciplinary Team Teaching as a Form of Professional Development," Sandholtz says, "Despite the recognized value of collegial sharing, the dominant school structure continues to emphasize teacher autonomy more than collaboration. For decades, the 'cellular organization' of schools has persisted, where teachers expect to teach students without assistance from others and are assigned specific areas of responsibility. The endurance of this pattern hinders attempts to create collaborative environments ..."

Team teaching is one approach to bridge the gap, and (from a CTE standpoint) fortify work skills curriculum. This initiative is on the rise but is still suffering some growing pains.

Teachers often state that the scheduling of time is an issue. Interdisciplinary teaching takes careful planning, communication and commitment. Meeting as a team is essential. This "cutting in" to regular planning days is often looked on as a bother. Time becomes less of an obstacle when the understanding is made that this type of cross-curriculum integration does not require teachers to change what they teach, but when they teach. Although, national, state and local standards do not mandate interdisciplinary and team teaching, the encouragement and support by administrators and faculty members is key to successfully enriching instruction of this nature. Integrated learning is the vehicle for collaboration among educators, and increased student achievement.

One School's Success

Kristine Aim Waslar, an academic instructor of earth science and environmental science at Penta Career Center in Perrysburg, Ohio, has more than 15 years of experience in the field of interdisciplinary and team teaching. She began working at Penta in 1989, and was part of a "new way" of teaching academics in career tech education.

"In Ohio, as graduation requirements began to increase, students were faced with tough choices--either stay at a traditional high school and have enough credits to graduate, or go to a career school and learn a lifelong skill and maybe not graduate," explains Waslar. "The answer was what became known as 'applied academics.' Math, science and English courses taught by certified academic teachers with a twist. At Penta, the twist meant the course was designed for a specific career area based on the academic skill required for that job. …

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