What is the daily experience of most teachers? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it is, sadly, a fairly isolated experience. I plan my lessons on my own, I prep them on my own, I deliver them on my own and evaluate their effectiveness on my own. Do I do a good job? I like to think so. I also work hard to stay innovative and to make the work and learning interesting for my students. When push comes to shove, however, my students are working in isolation much the same as I am. They are studying Biology (or Chemistry, or whatever subject I happen to be teaching) in isolation from other disciplines. Sure, I like to slip in historical context when I can and I certainly help them through math skills, but the reality is that this type of isolation just isn’t real…except in school.
What happens when the students toss their caps and head off into the real world? They are asked to complete projects for work that integrate all of the subjects they learned separately in school. In some ways it seems like learning to hit a golf ball by learning small parts of the golf swing, the initial takeaway, taking the club up, starting the downswing, etc., from different coaches, only to ever take a full swing when it really counts- on the course. Chances are the first few times you try that full swing, it will be awkward and not so successful. The same goes for those first integrated, real-world projects. Awkward and, perhaps, unsuccessful.
What would serve the students better? An integrated curriculum. A curriculum in which they develop English skills, Math skills, Science skills and all of their other skills through work on the same project. A chance to see how the world connects outside the classroom walls. Imagine a student who spent their time in school in this fashion as they attack that new, but familiar real-world project when they get their first job. To say the least, they will be better off for the experience thay had in school.
So how does a school deliver such an experience? To be honest, I don’t know. It seems to take dedicated teachers, hard work and long hours. What I do see, however, is that the first step is to create a culture of collaboration. Administrations must make this a priority. Creating lines of communication between faculty members is the essential first step to building an integrated curriculum. Perhaps replacing faculty meetings with grade-level check-ins is a start. Simply getting teachers together to talk about what they are teaching and how they are teaching it. Can’t you just imagine the conversation as teachers begin to see the overlap in their subject matter. It seems to me, it wouldn’t take much for that conversation to turn into an idea for small-scale collaboration, which could lead to…who knows.
The reality is that such conversation would not likely turn into a fully integrated curriculum. That type of teaching is just too complex to come by through sheer enthusiasm. But, the conversation is the starting point. The communication between the people students spend their day with. The realization that there are common goals and ways to make every subject more relevant, real and meaningful.
I like the sound of that.