Reflecting – Does Integration Prevent Disengagement in the Middle Years?

 

Five differently-coloured paperclips joined together into a chain. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.  http://quest.eb.com/#/search/118_797605/1/118_797605/cite

Five differently-coloured paperclips joined together into a chain. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/#/search/118_797605/1/118_797605/cite

Traditional educators have long focused on imparting a body of canonical knowledge to students through school curricula in a singular disciplinary approach.  What I question about this approach is the ability of this school curricula to provide real-world, contextual learning environments and opportunities for students of the twenty-first century.  The question here is, as the environment around us rapidly transforms, shouldn’t the education we provide our students reflect this? We are at risk of experiencing disengagement by our students if we continue to push learning opportunities in school that focus too much on equipping students only with knowledge, instead of focussing on students developing skills that allow them to form new knowledge and understandings throughout the continuum of their learning journey.   With the development and instillation of the Australian Curriculum, educators must now consider how they balance such a content-heavy program while providing their students with engaging learning opportunities.  

An Argument for Integration

The notion of multi-disciplinary integration has long been adopted by schools within Australia, however, I would assert that this has become increasingly necessary with the introduction of the Australian Curriculum.  Multi-disciplinary integration involves exposing students to a ‘realistic’ way of learning where they are not bound by disciplines, and learning reflects the normality of the world outside of the classroom.   Whereas traditional approaches to learning focus on developing structured disciplinary knowledge and concepts independent from all other subjects, integrated approaches promote the development of skills and knowledge transferable across disciplines to build connections and partnerships between subjects.  The argument for integration centres around providing engaging learning opportunities for students that are holistic and don’t discriminate against subject-based preferences.  While integration promotes student engagement through its connections to the experiences of students outside of school, it also provides a solution to the various research suggesting traditional approaches are increasingly failing to do this.  Apple and Beane articulate the increased engagement through integration when they suggest,

    “[integration] involves putting knowledge to use in relation to real life problems and issues.. Rather than being lists of concepts, facts and skills that students master for standardized achievement tests (and then go on to forget, by and large), knowledge is that which is intimately connected to the communities and biographies of real people.  Students learn that knowledge makes a difference in people’s lives, including their own” (1999, p.199).  

Whilst it cannot be suggested that traditional approaches to learning should be forgotten, there is a reasonable argument to suggest that integration could be the solution to improving student engagement in the twenty-first century.  

The Negatives of Integration

Integration is often given looked down upon by educators as they believe it minimises the content and knowledge acquired by the learner. It is common to hear educators state that they won’t teach an integrated curriculum because it will subtract from the academic value of their specialised subject area.  However, in this case, the impact of pedagogy on the curriculum and learning experienced by students in a classroom is overlooked.  As the beliefs, knowledge and understandings of a teacher in relation to their pedagogical practices directly influence the success of learning in the classroom,  these factors must be considered to assess whether they are indirectly minimising the increased engagement that multi-disciplinary integration could observe in students.  

It is essential then, to consider whether integration could perhaps, boost the engagement of our students, while providing a solution to covering such a content-heavy Australian Curriculum in the classroom.

Reference List

Apple, M.W. & Beane, J.A.  (1999).  Lessons from democratic schools.  In M. W. Apple & J. A. Beane (Eds.), Democratic schools: lessons from the chalk face (pp. 118-123).  Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.  

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2 thoughts on “Reflecting – Does Integration Prevent Disengagement in the Middle Years?

  1. Very important points and issues raised here. I have long been an advocate of integrated and interconnected curriculum. In fact, middle years philosophy has this as one of its central principles. It is now, however, in the 21st century that this holistic approach to learning is seen to be discussed more openly and with good reason; it serves to enable learning that allows for greater creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and of cours, relevance. The general capabilities in the Australian curriculum have these(and other elements) as central drivers. It is definitely time in more secondary settings to consider this approach to learning more fully, and many are. PBL and IBL are not as effective without drawing on relevant skills and knowledge across the curriculum.

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  2. An interesting post Kathryn. It strikes me that the proven mantra “it’s teachers that make a difference in classrooms” echoes through all that you have presented here. Teachers who understand C21st literacies will seek all avenues to give kids opportunities to connect to the world beyond the classroom walls.

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