Rationale for Curriculum Integration
Those who argue passionately for curriculum integration see it as, simply, a better way of doing things. The first and most fundamental aspect of this approach is collaborative planning between students and their teachers. For Beane (1997), two fundamental questions should be asked. First, “What questions and concerns do you have about yourself?” Second, “What questions and concerns do you have about the world?” These questions should first be answered individually by students, and then analyzed in small groups. The small groups should attempt to draw out key themes that will then serve as the basis for planning activities.
A key phrase for Beane is “performing knowledge”. He advocates large, whole-group projects that are problem-centered, involve social action, and are complex. Therefore, these projects allow for diverse learning styles, interests, skills, and multiple modes of expression. Assessment of these projects is varied and authentic because students are actively involved in the process. Traditional tests, portfolios, and self-evaluations are used BUT they are often developed collaboratively. In essence, student work counts for something more than just a grade.
Two other clear benefits of integration are its capacity for fostering community and relationships. Curriculum integration explicitly promotes social integration. Community building is intentional, for “it is meant to bring young people together in a shared experience rather than to deal with independent interests of each individual” (Beane, 1997, p. 65). This collaborative environment also ensures that students of diverse ability are included in meaningful learning rather than being left behind. Furthermore, integration fosters positive classroom relationships. Teachers are no longer in complete authority. A fundamental shift of power occurs when decision-making is shared between students and their teachers. Moreover, “…these shifts in power suggest much deeper commitments to student engagement than simply using flashy activities” (Beane, 1997, p. 67).
According to Beane, “high pedagogy” permeates classrooms where curriculum integration is practiced. Powerful teaching and learning is possible for several reasons. First, the teachers involved respect the dignity of young people. Second, democratic power structures ensure more rights for students. Third, in this type of environment, diversity equals strength. Next, these teachers believe that learning should be focused around big themes or ideas. Additionally, teachers who undertake integration are risk takers with a high sense of efficacy. More often than not, they are master teachers. Finally, these teachers have an entrenched interest in excellence and equity, for “these teachers seem to know what to reasonably expect from young people and how to appreciate what they can do rather than harping on what they can’t do” (p. 69). Though it is risky, though it is incredibly hard work, Beane asserts that any teacher who engages in curriculum integration will not revert to the traditional discipline-based delivery of curriculum. This pedagogy “has more to do with a way of thinking than with instructional techniques. In fact, this pedagogy is a way of life” (p. 70).
What is needed for students today?
There are a variety of places that one could look to answer this question. One could draw on experience or personal opinion. One could ask the students themselves. Perhaps the best source of information, however, might be post-secondary institutions and employers who will be receiving students once they leave secondary schools. One source of this information, in particular, is the Conference Board of Canada, an association of Canadian educational and business institutions. The Conference Board (2003), in its Employability Skills 2000+, suggests that the ability to work as a part of a team, the ability to think and solve problems, and the ability to learn continuously determine a person’s employability. Curriculum integration, particularly when conducted via problem-based learning, definitely fosters these skills.
"The unknowable future is not a sound basis on which to plan curriculum"
(Eisner, 2003/2004, p. 6).
A counterpoint to the previous rationale is worth considering. Rather than focus on employability or some future skill set students need, Dr. Eisner proposes schools should focus on core skills and concepts. In short, schools should teach judgment, critical thinking, meaningful literacy, collaboration and service. Judgment refers to the ability to give reasons for the choices we make. Eisner (2003/2004) suggests that we need curriculum which consists of problems that can be dealt with on multiple levels. He further advocates these problems have multiple resolutions (not a solution). A logical offshoot from this concept is the development of critical thinking skills, namely the ability to critique ideas and enjoy exploring what we can do with ideas. Eisner's third goal, meaningful literacy, means that students should be able to examine a wide variety of the symbolic forms which express our culture - print, media, visual arts, dance. Next, collaboration means schools should help student learn to work with one another on meaningful projects. Finally, by teaching service, we reaffirm the importance of developing socially responsible citizens.