Cross Curricular Principles

It was with this experience and a continued objective to impact upon students’ achievement that the group focussed on assessing the extent that cross curricular approaches could improve learning and attainment. Informed by a degree of research and our own teaching experiences it was the belief of the group that effective implementation could engage students, effect an improvement on cognitive processing, assist the development of understanding and aid recollection of subjects’ material. In light of the restrictions and practical implications of large scale operations experienced in the previous initiative the group aimed to carry out pilot studies on a smaller scale; qualifying theory and recording solutions to problems in development such that larger scale projects could follow. Cross curricular approaches to subjects’ material would therefore be planned and executed with quantitative results informing and supporting further progression.

The term ‘cross-curricular’ is one of several used to describe a pedagogical technique that acknowledges a blurring of the distinction between subject areas and aims to employ knowledge and understanding from a range of subject areas in focussing upon one idea. Other terms are used, usually depending on location or educative field. These include inter-disciplinary teaching; synergistic teaching and integrated curricula.

The foundation principles and techniques inherent in this approach could be seen to provide a means of addressing the shortcomings of nationally applied curricula in equipping young people with the understanding and skills required for modern society and employment that have been described and explained in detail above.

The concept has been related to the work of early 20th century thinkers Dewey and Steiner (Barnes 2011). Both viewed learning as a largely experiential process fed by various sources of information at any one time. Dewey’s approach described the formation of a false dichotomy between student and curriculum whereby subject divisions atomised the inquisitive, immersive and rapidly changing world of the immature mind into logical, organised categorical structures characteristic of the mature mind and thereby fragmented and abstracted the route to understanding.

This idea constitutes the foundation of constructivist educational philosophy (Ross 2010) and is applied in cross curricular teaching approaches; whereby students develop a more holistic view of the material they learn through recognition of its inherent and intrinsic connections. This, it is argued gives rise to a more complete, functional understanding and improved recollection. Furthermore these connections can be extended to the lives of the students; thereby giving opportunity for the incorporation of social understandings into the standard curriculum.

However, it is worthy of note that the categorised approach offered by the 1988 education reform act and following legislature effects beneficial elements to content delivery in providing means for the common assessment of practice; facilitation of students’ transfer between schools and a standardised quality of education (Barnes 2011). Furthermore a line of reasoning exemplified by that of Pring (op cite.) argues that knowledge and understanding naturally aggregate into subject areas. This runs contrary to Dewey’s reasoning in that the natural categorisation was a product of the mature mind as opposed to that of the young learner and as such act detrimentally to the construction of understanding. In light of this juxtaposition it may be useful to take the perspective that the study of a subject is an experience in itself, and the mind of youth will learn from experience whatever that may be. Therefore if the facts of a subject were taught in sterile isolation they would certainly amount to abstract atomised material. However if presented in a connected and coherent fashion with other facts and concepts in the category, with explicit connection to those concepts and facts in other subject areas a holistic view on curriculum content can be offered, increasing relevance and understanding. Of course this does not entirely address the requirements of pure experiential learning but goes some way towards incorporating and implementing its principles into the current structure of delivery.

In a description of possible routes to cross-curricular implementation Savage (Savage 2011) embraces the role of the individual teacher in developing connections such as these. He asserts that the process should start with the teacher and will progressively permeate into the curriculum with later expansion and collaboration.

Jacobs (Jacobs 1989) also supports this balanced approach to curriculum delivery:

 “Students should have a range of curriculum experiences that reflects both a discipline-field and an interdisciplinary orientation.”

She goes on to qualify this perspective by stating that students actually require an understanding from various disciplines before conceptual bridges can be made. Jacobs also defines a spectrum that describes the extent to which cross curricular principles are employed in curriculum design, with a completely segregated, subject-driven curriculum format, devoid of any attempt at connectivity at one pole and at the other a curriculum based entirely on the interests and lives of the students with minimal structural definition. Between these two extremes she describes a ‘parallel curriculum’ with subjects sequencing their content in a congruous format; a ‘complementary curriculum’ where material is brought from several different subjects into the same field; an ‘inter-disciplinary curriculum’ where all subject areas are incorporated into the tuition of a unit on a periodical basis and an ‘integrated day’ model where the full day’s tuition focuses on students’ questions and interests and the areas of study are directly linked to children’s’ lives.

Also noteworthy is Jacobs’ discussion regarding the evolution of cross curricular implementation within a school and the necessity for careful planning not only in terms of logistics and content but also regarding stakeholders and individuals involved in delivery. Throughout her text there is reference to the increasing acknowledgement of approaches by staff and students in the institution resulting from observation and communication concerning smaller scale implementation.