While completing my studies, an ever-increasing number of years ago, we studied a module called "Cross-Curricular Learning". There was a big push on this approach at the time and it differed from my own schooling, where we had subjects taught discretely. Although my compulsory education has finished, throughout my studies as a teacher, both in and out of the classroom, I have experienced and enjoyed the benefits of teaching skills applied in various subjects, linked to the same 'topic'.
As a teacher, I've previously written of how pleasantly challenging it is to plan a 'topic'; piecing together sensible chunks of learning, making links between curriculum areas in order to best example exhibiting a particular skill. However, in a profession where every conclusion is "one size doesn't fit all", is a cross curricular approach always best?
Teaching in a cross-curricular way means that so much more of the learning can be transferred across different areas of the timetable. Not only is this almost a time saver, it also means that each lesson throughout the day scaffolds the next. For this reason, learners find a great deal of confidence from a cross curricular approach; increased self-esteem and being more willing to participate. It's as if they were taught the answer before this lesson, and now they can apply it to their task.
It's a real skill for a teacher to be able to match up the various learning objectives, in order to ensure the children are reading a book in English, that links to a period of History, that took place in that specific Geographical area, allowing a study of Technological advances during the time (and maybe designing and making a version of your own) while immersing yourselves in the the culture (music, religion, art, etc) of the area it all happened in!
Such a focus on a particular area gets the class fired up; with one buzz-word or topic on their mind, they are free to do their own research. Outside of the classroom, parents are able to talk to their children about, or take them to visit, or help them investigate a variety of things linked to this single subject they are coming home to talk about!
Linking curriculum areas allows better rehearsal of the most basic skills, wrapped up in an exciting context; writing the newspaper article about..., solving a problem linked to…, etc. So much of the vocabulary can be used, outside of lesson it was introduced in, as they may require it for a piece of writing or to aid them in their reasoning.
All of the above only counts if the 'topic' is something the children care about. While much of it is down to delivery (some elements of the curriculum need real acting skills to model how 'exciting' they are), perhaps there are just some curriculum targets that some learners aren't interested in?
Picture this, a cross-curricular theme that the quietest, most polite learners really disengage with, you'd never know because they don't make a fuss; learners in your room that don't give two hoots about different mountain ranges around the globe, the explorers that climbed them, writing a diary entry from their 'journal' and plotting a graph about the heights of each. Or that group of children who aren't fussed by the gory details of the Egyptians, writing a story of an archaeologist, or investigating different types of triangle that didn't make it to the final pyramid design. Through a topic that's solely about either of those, that's potentially 6 weeks of learning missing the key ingredient; motivation.
Equally, while I write above that planning a topic that requires a huge amount of skill, there are some elements that just don't fit. Consequently, we run the 2 main risks:
The solution? Well, you can't ignore the objectives they find boring or that you can't make purposeful links with. It's in the curriculum; they need to learn about it at some point. So perhaps teaching the mountains in Geography and the Egyptians in History, as discrete lessons, means you can appeal to more interests over a longer average period of time, without missing as many curriculum ideas.
My most recent setting has really got me thinking; it's less 'cross-curricular' than I was used to, and I have been really surprised by the differences I have seen.
First of all, I have never seen a group of children so excited about the different curriculum areas; they have a real passion for particular subjects, and this differs from child to child. Now, some will say that we need to get them excited about ALL of the different subjects, but common sense will tell you that's not likely to happen. They keep checking the visual timetable for when Science or History is, or whether Music or RE is coming up. I've never experienced this before, but this is likely due to the fact I never made the 'lines' between the subjects clear enough; we were never learning 'History', we were learning about the Romans (and within that we tackled so many other subjects, that I also didn't specifically state).
Secondly, I've been thinking about how cross-curricular learning, in a sense, could potentially be counter-productive for making the links at the core of being cross-curricular. What links are the children making, when we've been the ones to package it up so neatly for them? My brain ticked over again, and considered how this could also hinder meta-cognition and training the brain to retain and apply information and skills; if I have planned for you to complete a 6 week topic, does that mean you delete everything in time for the next topic to start, or do I need to plan a further week, to revisit this topic, in a few months time to see what you've remembered?
Perhaps a weekly discrete lesson, for more than 6 weeks, encourages the brain to store information more efficiently, over an extended period of time, because you're required to use it more often, with greater gaps between each instance? Like how Maths and English are a constant cycle of revision and extension to ensure the appropriate method of addition, use of adverbial phrases or how to find equivalent fractions, spell homophones or convert to digital time are less likely to be forgotten!
In conclusion, while teaching is extremely fad-led, don't lose sight of making the best choices for your class. Ask them how they learn best, or how they would like to tackle something. At different points in your year, plan chances to be cross-curricular but also remember that everyone in your room has different tastes; perhaps a single unit in a subject would be an enjoyable breather?
What do you think? Cross-curricular all the time, or back to how you and I were taught?