Integrated Studies

Integrated Studies Research Review: Avoiding Pitfalls

Here are a few tips and caveats that will help you develop and implement effective integrated curricula.
Teacher and three young students sitting together at two desks pushed together in conversation
Learn more about this school.
Teaching about finance begins in the early grades at Ariel Academy. The curriculum aims to help students develop decision-making skills in real-world contexts. Photo credit: Zachary Fink

Ready to start putting this practice in place? Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure that you and your students can get the most out of integrated studies.

Team teaching takes time.

In team teaching, teachers from different subjects plan thematic units that enable students to connect ideas in different disciplines. For example, a thematic unit on the Civil War may involve literature, history, government, and social studies. Research suggests that middle school interdisciplinary teaching teams can achieve more effective problem solving when meeting with other faculty and/or parents to discuss interventions and progress, can create a greater sense of community, and can lower feelings of isolation (Mac Iver, 1990).

Other studies have added some caveats to team teaching. To optimize team teaching, Erb and Stevenson (1999) recommend that team-teachers meet four or five times per week for at least 45 minutes, and that the teacher-student ratio should be 1:25 or less. In addition, students should spend the majority of the school day with a teaching team, and teaching teams should be together for three years or more (Erb and Stevenson, 1999). According to a ten-year study (Gunn and King, 2003), teaching teams need time to work through their differences and establish trust, and to the extent possible, membership in teaching teams should be considered a long-term commitment.

Collaboration, democratic deliberation, inquiry, and trust are key elements of professional learning communities.

These components enhance a school's capacity for instructional changes to improve student learning (Gunn and King, 2003). In a ten-year study by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research on high school interdisciplinary teaching teams, researchers found that team teaching produced positive outcomes for students, and professionalism and morale improved when teams developed collective authority and accountability.

Integrated curricula must be aligned with learning standards.

Using state standards as a guide can make integrated curricula purposeful and relevant and can increase student achievement while also being creative, innovative, and interesting for students (Drake and Burns, 2004).

Continue to the next section of the Integrated Studies Research Review, Annotated Bibliography.