Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching involves a conscious effort to apply knowledge, principles, and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously. The disciplines may be related through a central theme, issue, problem, process, topic, or experience (Jacobs, 1989). The organizational structure of interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching is called a theme, thematic unit, or unit, which is a framework with goals/outcomes that specify what students are ex-pected to learn as a result of the experiences and lessons that are a part of the unit.
There seem to be two levels of integration that schools go through: The first is integration of the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, writing, thinking) (Fogarty, 1991; Pappas, Kiefer, & Levstik, 1990); the second involves a much broader kind of integration, one in which a theme begins to encompass all curricular areas.
Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching is often seen as a way to address some of the recurring problems in education, such as fragmentation and isolated skill instruction. It is seen as a way to support goals such as transfer of learning, teaching students to think and reason, and providing a curriculum more relevant to students (Marzano, 1991; Perkins, 1991).
Values and Benefits of Interdisciplinary/Cross-Curricular Teaching
Applies, Integrates, and Transfers Knowledge
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while students are learning the basic information in core subject areas, they are not learning to apply their knowledge effectively in thinking and reasoning (Applebee, Langer, & Mullis, 1989).
Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching provides a meaningful way in which students can use knowledge learned in one context as a knowledge base in other contexts in and out of school (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989).
Many of the important concepts, strategies, and skills taught in the language arts are “portable” (Perkins, 1986). They transfer readily to other content areas. The concept of perseverance, for example, may be found in literature and science. Strategies for monitoring comprehension can be directed to reading material in any content area. Cause-and-effect relationships exist in literature, science, and social studies. Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching supports and promotes this transfer. Critical thinking can be applied in any discipline.
Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching can increase students’ motivation for learning and their level of engagement. In contrast to learning skills in isolation, when students participate in interdisciplinary experiences they see the value of what they are learning and become more actively engaged (Resnick, 1989).
Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching provides the conditions under which effective learning occurs. Students learn more when they use the language arts skills to explore what they are learning, write about what they are learning, and interact with their classmates, teachers, and members of the community (Thaiss, 1986).