Cross-curricular teaching and learning 5: Definitions

My book has defined cross-curricular teaching and learning in the following way:

A cross-curricular approach to teaching is characterised by sensitivity towards, and a synthesis of, knowledge, skills and understandings from various subject areas. These inform an enriched pedagogy that promotes an approach to learning which embraces and explores this wider sensitivity through various methods.

I will justify this definition in two ways. Firstly, by considering some of the key words with the definition; secondly, by drawing together some of the themes from the previous four posts.

1. Sensitivity, Synthesis and Subjectivity

These are key words in the definition. They refer to the ways in which teachers should approach the knowledge, skills and understanding inherent within every curriculum subject. These are exemplified in curriculum documents but also have a historical legacy that is underpinned in various ways, not least in teachers’ and others’ conceptions about a particular subject and how it should be taught. Understanding this is a vital step that needs to be taken before moving into collaborative curriculum ventures.

These words also refer back to the act of teaching. In other words, they are important, informing teaching principles that impact on learning. Cross-curricular teaching is not about weakening and watering-down subjects in any way. Rather, it is about the development of an enhanced pedagogy that a skilful teacher adopts for the explicit purposes of enhancing teaching and learning. This leads on to the second set of key words.

2. Enriching, Embracing and Exploring

The new, enriched pedagogy of cross-curricular teaching will embrace and explore the teacher’s sensitivity towards, and synthesis of, the different knowledge, skills and understanding within curriculum subjects. In order for this to happen, there are at least two premises: firstly, teachers will need to understand their own ‘intrinsic’, and their subject’s, ‘subjectivities’; secondly, teachers will need to ensure that their subject knowledge is extended beyond their own subject areas. When this occurs, teachers will be in a position to develop a cross-curricular approach to learning that utilises as range of methods or techniques in line with the following principles and purposes.

The Principles of Cross-Curricular Teaching and Learning

Cross-curricular teaching and learning is:

  • Based on individual subjects and their connections through authentic links at the level of curriculum content, key concept or learning process, or through an external theme/dimension;
  • Characterised and developed by individual teachers with excellent subject knowledge, a deep understanding of their subject culture and a capacity to reconceptualise this within a broader context of learning beyond their subject, and with sensitivity towards other subject cultures;
  • As much about a the development of a skilful pedagogy as anything else;
  • Coherent in its maintaining of links with pupils’ prior learning and experience;
  • Contextualised effectively, presenting opportunities for explicit links with pupils’ learning outside the formal classroom;
  • Demanding in its use of curriculum time and resources, requiring flexibilityand often needing the support of senior managers if collaborative approaches are to be implemented effectively;
  • Underpinned by a meaningful assessment process that is explicitly linked to, and informed by, the enriched pedagogical framework;
  • Normally collaborative in its nature, requiring meaningful and sustained cooperation between subject teachers with support from senior managers.

The Purposes of Cross-Curricular Teaching and Learning

The purposes of cross-curricular teaching and learning flow from an understanding of the definition and principles described above. As with the principles, these purposes benefit teachers and pupils alike. The purposes of cross-curricular teaching and learning are to;

  • Motivate and encourage pupils’ learning in a sympathetic way in conjunction with their wider life experiences;
  • Draw on similarities in and between individual subjects (in terms of subject content, pedagogical devices and learning processes) and make these links explicit in various ways;
  • Provide active and experiential learning for pupils;
  • Develop meaningful co-operation and collaboration between staff leading to the dual benefits of curriculum and professional development;
  • Contribute towards a broad range of teaching and learning opportunities located within individual subject teaching, across subjects and in relationship to specific external curriculum themes or dimensions;
  • Promote pupils’ cognitive, personal and social development in an integrated way;
  • Allow teachers the opportunity to evaluate and reflect on their teaching and be imaginative and innovative in their curriculum planning;
  • Facilitate a shared vision amongst teachers and managers through meaningful collaborations at all levels of curriculum design.
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