How can I create an integrated curriculum when I am locked into covering the standards?" asked Adrian DeTullio, a teacher with three years of experience.
Behind DeTullio's question were two assumptions: one, an integrated curriculum leads to more interesting learning experiences; and two, standards constrain teachers to a discipline-based curriculum.
DeTullio teaches 4th grade at St. Ann School in St. Catharines, Ontario, an affluent community where parents want demonstrable measures of academic success. The school is one of 11 research pilot programs in Ontario studying the effects of parental involvement on school improvement planning. Success on the pilot project will be measured, in part, by results on provincial and schoolwide testing.
Unlike some teachers, DeTullio liked the standards because they offered structure. Typically, he would choose one standard from a standards document and plan his lesson around it. Then he would move to the next standard, checking off the standards he had covered. But although he felt accountable, DeTullio was also frustrated. His lessons didn't seem as interesting as they could be.
I teach at the local university and interviewed DeTullio for the research pilot. During the interview, we strayed into my area of interest—integrated curriculum. DeTullio was skeptical that he could teach an integrated curriculum in a test-driven culture. His skepticism echoes that of many educators.
An integrated curriculum enables students to see the big picture, to understand the topic's relevance and real-life context, and to engage in higher-order thinking skills. Some teachers view standards as fragmenting knowledge, impeding instructional flexibility, promoting minimum achievement rather than maximum performance, and failing to lead to higher-order thinking skills (Vars, 2001). I see an integrated curriculum as the only way to handle the requirements of the standards movement and the knowledge explosion (Drake, 2000).
Could we develop a vibrant curri- culum that covered the standards and prepared students for required assessments? DeTullio and I decided to find out. Debra Attenborough, a freelance educator and doctoral student, joined our planning team. Another 4th grade teacher, Dagmar Midgley, implemented the curriculum with DeTullio.