09 March 2009

Separate But Equal

Someone made an intriguing comment to me last week about curriculum integration. And while I'm sure the comment wasn't intended to elicit as much thinking as I have done about it, I've been grateful for the prompt.

Here was the basic statement: curriculum integration (e.g. science + literacy) can only be effective if the teacher has depth of knowledge/expertise in both areas.

As I think about this, I fear she may be right. I also think that there may never truly be such an animal as integrated curriculum (but that may be due to how I'm defining it in my own mind). When I think about all of the reading and writing skills and strategies I've used with students over the years, I have to say that I taught them as discrete skills first. Science may have provided a context for constructing a graphic organizer or application of 6-trait writing, but the focus really was on the skill itself. The tool itself could be applied in any content area. My goal was to have kids use the tool as a vehicle to understanding the science content. Does this make my lessons "integrated"? Or was I just wearing different hats at different times? I can't say that I knew my Teaching of Reading even half as well as my Teaching of Science. Perhaps this did inhibit integration---I didn't have the ability to see more connections.

Here's another thing I was thinking about. If an elementary teacher uses a non-fiction text following a hands-on science experience...does this count as integration?

What I think many elementary teachers want is to "double-dip." In other words, if I use a non-fiction text on a science topic---can I count that time for both reading and science? Because let's face it: there are only so many instructional minutes in the day and expectations for what should happen in that time are unreal. I don't have time for both reading and science, so if one lesson can count for both, I'm golden. This is not some comment about elementary teachers slacking off or cheating kids of learning---this is the reality of the burden placed upon them to perform curricular miracles in only a few hours a day.

But back to the original thought. Does true curricular integration exist to the point where it is nearly impossible to see where one facet ends and the other begins? Or will it always be separate but maybe equal bits of knowledge with a tenuous connection?


teacherninja said...

Interesting question, but I don't think it would exist out in the real world--outside of schools. Out in the real world everything is connected. It's all reading/math/science/art/etc. Sure, you may focus on bits of it at a time or have expertise in an area, but it all flows together. Whether you're reading the morning "paper," planning a trip to Disney, or buying a car, you're dealing with many integrated literacies at once.

So I guess that's just my long-winded way of saying ALL teachers should see themselves as literacy teachers first, then subject area teachers. I know this isn't the way most teachers go about it, especially at the secondary level, but it should be.

Stidmama said...

I was going to echo a similar thought: perhaps what most teachers need is to know their main discipline and ALSO be actively involved in helping students navigate literacy skills. Our local middle school does a lot of literacy work in all classes, and it seems to pay big dividends as the children go off to high school. When we homeschooled, much of the curriculum revolved around teachable moments, which don't show up in neat, compartmentalized packages. I think children in general benefit from realizing that reading takes place in many venues and that their writing "counts" even in math class!