Sunday, 9 July 2017

Redefining, redirecting and re'doing' integration

One of the challenges that I have is figuring out how to use the short amount of time I have with my year 9 social studies class to ensure they come away learning something that is meaningful and purposeful inevitably to achieve 'success'.  When I say short, I am talking 4 x 50 minute periods a week, and if we take away 20 minutes for AR reading, then it is actually 180 minutes or 3 hours a week!  And in the 3 hours, I am expected to cover the achievement objectives of the social studies curriculum, ensure students have conceptual understandings of key concepts key skills needed to interpret and understand resources and teach them to understand how 'societies work and how people can participate as critical, active, informed and responsible citizens' (Social Sciences in the New Zealand curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2007).

I am not alone in this feeling of frustration.  I know each subject area at high school feels that they don't have enough time. So why in the world would you want to have an integrated curriculum when there is never enough time already to do what you have to do??  Critics say that developing an integrated curriculum has the risk of losing a subjects individuality and time away from their own contexts and their own goals that they have to achieve.  But more and more research shows that an integrated curriculum increases 'motivation and engagement leading to achievement' (Costly, 2015)

In term one, our year 9 theme across the school was 'Sustainability' and single subject areas had the opportunity to jump on board and adopt the theme to support our students learning.  The idea of a subject area leading the integration was suggested so that there could be more co-ordination of teaching and learning across the school.  I took it upon myself to volunteer our Social Studies department to lead the unit for the year 9 school.  I was passionate about the topic and keen to lead this change, even though I was I knew it would be a challenge.

One of the struggles I had was trying to co-ordinate other subject areas on board with the unit, even though they knew it was coming.  We had been planning for the unit since 2016 and were provided PLD opportunities and time in department meetings to discuss how to implement that theme in our departments.  And yet when push came to shove, I felt some departments withdrew back into their own programmes and did what they knew best - teach to their curriculum.  The theme sustainability did lend itself to certain subjects more then others and although I had hoped that departments would of jump on board and embrace the theme and the idea of working across curriculum areas more, I felt they struggled to see where they fit or more accurately, how it would fit into their programmes.  

On reflection, what I found at the end of the unit was the term 'Integrated' teaching and learning was loosely adopted by some departments and feedback from HOD's was that there needed to be more planning time across curriculum areas and a common calendar to keep everyone on track.  They also felt there needed to more direction to determine the level of integration and involvement was needed by all departments.  From this feedback, I was able to ascertain that moving towards an integrated curriculum needs to come from the top at a school wide level to ensure that all subject areas are involved and that it is 'all or nothing' - meaning we all give it our all, 100% or don't bother trying.

Moving forward, I am using the learnings from the sustainability unit to change direction.  There are two projects I am part of that look at 'redefining' an integrated curriculum at our school.

The first looks at the use of a common cross -curricula writing framework that can help our juniors with their writing.  This is linked to my inquiry and in term 3, I am working closely with the English teacher of my year 9 social studies class to develop common writing frameworks (more information to come in my blogs).  My department and I are also developing a unit for all of the year 9 classes in social studies for term 3 to utilise writing strategies more effectively and more purposefully.

The second project is looking at developing a better more direct integrated programme for term 4 under the future focussed principle of 'citizenship'.  With the help of the Liggins institute who have been instrumental in developing cross-curricula programmes in the Cook Islands and Tonga, we have set up a lead team that includes our principal Soana, a member of our BOT, our school nurse and other HOD's who have put their hand up to take up the challenge.  I will be discussing our Liggins relationship in blogposts soon.

I am excited to see if these projects work!  Watch this space.

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