I teach with a phenomenal group of teachers on our team. And I mean PHENOMENAL. They are truly some of my closest friends and very much like those beautiful orchids you find growing in the old oak trees of the Florida scrub – rare and amazingly evolved. Did you know there are orchids who have evolved to have petals that mimic the color/shape of specific insects in order to propagate their species? There are orchids who look like bees or wasps, and these insects with either try to attack the flower or, embarrassingly enough, mate with it, only to be covered by the orchid’s pollen. Pretty ingenious, if you ask me.
Sorry about that. I get a little carried away when I take a moment to realize how amazingly diverse the planet we inhabit really is. Now, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post – team teaching. We teach our units through collaboration and integration. What does that mean, you ask? Well, the integration we utilize really is a representation of how we think rather than simply an intersection of curriculum. The terms “transfer” and “connections” are embedded in every portion of the vocabulary we use with one another as well as in our curriculum. Our goal is to demonstrate that transfer takes places when a student is able to apply knowledge in multiple situations – so not just while in math, but also using the same skills while in science or social studies. An example of this would be a student earning excellent grades in Spanish class for 4 years, but still not be able to communicate at an effective level if immersed in a Spanish speaking society. That is where learning is compartmentalized and provides a boundary or division between learning and transfer.
To compound our ambitions, we also employ the multi-grade model, where 7th and 8th graders are meshed together in a team area, all learning the same curriculum and taking the same assessments. There are several benefits of multi-grade grouping, including the formation of long-term relationships, continuity, and a family atmosphere. Our team embraces the philosophy of teaching our students to become self sufficient learners, as self-learning generates more confidence and autonomy in the students. Students on our team experience a stronger sense of community and security, especially amongst the younger students who are new to the team because there are older students who have the opportunity to mentor them and "show them the ropes" of our mutli-grade culture.
So what’s the big deal, right? I mean, collaborating with one another is very time consuming and who wants to do that, right? Well, it might take time, practice, patience and flexibility but it is SO beneficial to our students. And that’s why we do what we do, right? For the kids, I mean. The benefits to curriculum integration are very strong and time tested, such as:
1. Curriculum integration fosters the ongoing reinforcement of skills and information learned in one area of study when utilized in another area.
2. Curriculum integration provides students a richer academic experience by broadening the context and applicability of information and skills that are learned.
3. Curriculum integration maximizes the utilization of learning time by “borrowing” from one area to support another. This is particularly important in the public school system where educators face time pressures in all curricular areas.
What we want to make understood is that just because students read the novel Night in language arts and study the holocaust in social studies does not necessarily ensure that transfer is taking place. An integrated unit is effective and appropriate when it promotes progress toward significant educational goals, not simply because it crosses content areas.
Of course, as with any program, there are some impediments to implementation. But, we believe (and have witnessed) that meaningful interdisciplinary instruction can take place when motivated educators are provided with ample planning time to successfully create and construct integrated units.