Interdisciplinary / Cross-curricular Teaching

A typical school in India functions on a set time-table. The class time-table defines how a day is divided into multiple periods; each period focuses on teaching a particular subject. In the primary grades (Grades 1 – Grade 4) a class has one teacher who teaches all subjects. In the secondary grades (Grades 5 – Grades 10), different teachers are assigned to teach different subjects. The class is structured such that each subject is taught independent of the other and in most cases little or no attempts are made to establish the correlation between two or more subjects.

The question to consider is “Is teaching subjects independently effective, or should we consider cross-curriculum teaching?”

Consider the following scenario from the National Curriculum Framework 2005.

A craft like carpentry involves the ability to conceptualize and design the object to be made, an understanding of its value in the society (socio-cultural, aesthetic and economic significance), knowledge of materials available and the most suitable in terms of quality and cost for the product to be made, knowledge of where to source materials,the ability to plan and execute the fashioning of the product from beginning to end, using one’s own skills and sourcing relevant skills from othersmaintaining the necessary tools, judging for qualitycreativity and excellence in craftsmanship.

How many different skills and concepts were you able to identify in the task that a carpenter does? Carpentry is not just about knowing how to saw and nail together wooden planks; it requires the carpenter to do much more.  He has to

  • Calculate numbers for material and cost (Math),
  • Have a good awareness of the materials best suited for making the product (Science),
  • Work out the cost of product vs. sale price (Economics),
  • Identify where different types of wood can be source from (Geography) and perform many other tasks.

The point is that in reality when we perform a task, we are applying concepts and knowledge from different subjects. Therefore, shouldn’t concepts be taught in correlation to each other rather than be taught as independent subjects?

The following excerpt from the National Curriculum Framework 2005 highlights the shortfalls of a “subject-based approach”.

In India, we have traditionally followed a subject-based approach to organising the curriculum, drawing on only the disciplines. This approach tends to present knowledge as ‘packaged’, usually in textbooks, along with associated rituals of examinations to assess, knowledge acquisition and marks as a way of judging competence in the subject area. This approach has led to several problems in our education system.

  • First, those areas that do not lend themselves to being organised in textbooks and examined through marks become sidelined and are then described as ‘extra’ or ‘co-curricular’, instead of being an integral part of the curriculum. These rarely receive the attention they deserve in terms of preparation by teachers or school time. Areas of knowledge such as crafts and sports, which are rich in potential for the development of skill, aesthetics, creativity, resourcefulness and team work, also become sidelined. Important areas of knowledge such as work and associated practical intelligence have been completely neglected, and we still do not have an adequate curriculum theory to support the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in these areas.
  • Second, the subject areas tend to become watertight compartments. As a result, knowledge seems fragmented rather than interrelated and integrated. The discipline, rather than the child’s way of viewing the world, tends to become the starting point, and boundaries get constructed between knowledge in the school and knowledge outside.
  • Third, what is already known gets emphasised,subverting children’s own ability to construct knowledge and explore novel ways of knowing. Information takes precedence over knowledge, lending itself to producing bulky textbooks, ‘quizzing’ and methods of mechanical retrieval rather than understanding and problem solving. This tendency of mistaking information for knowledge leads to ‘loading’ the curriculum with too many facts to be memorised.
  • Fourth, there is the issue of including ‘new subjects’. The need for subjects addressing contemporary concerns of society is important. But there has been a misplaced tendency to address these concerns in the school curriculum by ‘creating’ new subjects, producing related textbooks and devising methods of evaluation for them. These concerns may be far better addressed if they are incorporated in the curriculum through existing subjects and ongoing activities. Needless to say, adding new areas as ‘subjects’ only increases the curriculum load, and perpetuates undesirable compartmentalization of knowledge.
  • Finally, the principles for selecting knowledge for inclusion in the curriculum are not well worked out. There is insufficient consideration of developmental appropriateness, logical sequencing and connection between different grades, and overall pacing, with a few or no opportunities to return to earlier concepts. Further, concepts that cut across subject areas, such as in secondary school mathematics and in physics, are not placed in relation to one another.

Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, author and internationally recognized education leader states that interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching involves a conscious effort to apply knowledge, principles, and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously. The disciplines may be related through a central theme, issue, problem, process, topic, or experience . The organizational structure of interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching is called a theme, thematic unit, or unit, which is a framework with goals/outcomes that specify what students are expected to learn as a result of the experiences and lessons that are a part of the unit.

Here are some more links that give a detailed insight into interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching:

Here’s an example of a  Lesson Plan_Theme Spring that incorporates interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching.

Kanchan Shine

Kanchan Shine

Passionate about everything related to education. I believe that the best kind of learning happens through play, experiments and fun! I love watching how children learn and love to implement play-based, hands-on teaching approaches. I get my thrill by planning activities for my children (6 yo girl & 3 yo boy) and watching them learn while having fun!

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4 Responses

  1. Punam says:

    This is really very nice!

  2. Kanchan Shine Kanchan Shine says:

    Thanks Punam 🙂

  3. Meenakshi says:

    Hi, this is really good. This also goes by the term 'integrated curriculum'… i teach this topic in the 'Philosophical Foundations of Education Paper' 🙂 The carpentry example reminds me of Gandhi's concept of craft-centred curriculum.

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