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Being a teacher entails much creativity in planning lessons for students if one wants to engage them in learning. Planning the curriculum takes much time, effort and research. Over the years, curriculum planning has evolved into many forms and currently, teachers are in a position to select from a variety of choices on how they can create one that best suits their learners.
It is evident that any curriculum definition one way or another puts emphasis on the learning process, gained knowledge and skills, subject content and students' comprehensive learning experience. In designing an appropriate course curriculum, an essential process needs to be considered including which curriculum model is most suitable for the needs of the learner. The process of learning is as important as the content learned (Newby 2005).
Professor Colin J. Marsh (2004) suggests that any definition of curriculum gives insight about its main characteristics and emphases. One of his definitions notes the significance of 'permanent' subjects such as grammar, mathematics, reading, logic and literature of the Western world which represent necessary knowledge. This has been known as the "knowledge-based curriculum". This model of curriculum has been implemented in most schools. An example of this could be the National Curriculum in the UK which has specific content subjects with specific goals for student achievement. It is essential to remember that subjects and syllabi need to be adjusted to fit current culture and the society. Griffith (2000) views that knowledge-based curriculum would not survive on its own if it is dependent on time and space.
One of the most traditional and most commonly used models is "content or syllabus-based". Blenkin et al (1992) suggest that curriculum is delineated into subjects and delivered through a bulk of knowledge-content. Education, he states, is the route where these can be transferred to students using efficient teaching and learning methods. This type of curriculum emphasizes students attending schools to learn subject-specific facts. It also helps to use this model in assessment process where students, according to their gained qualification can be grouped in to high and low achievers. Furthermore, it dictates what route a student will be able to take. Students with high grades traditionally would be expected to progress to universities where less successful students would be advised to take a non academic route (i e. study a vocational programme or gain employment elsewhere). It is interesting to note that most of the employers are not as interested in a depth of ones' subject knowledge but more on practical skills such as problem solving, analysing, evaluating, self-reflection and self discipline which are directly related to work (Ross, 2000). However, this does not discount the fact that subject-based curriculum will always have a place in education.
Currently, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL, 2006) proposes changes in the National Curriculum of the United Kingdom. The curriculum model proposed should start with the pupil in mind - his needs and interests and should be designed in terms of the skills and attitudes educators would want pupils to pursue and develop. Emphasis of the curriculum must be transferred from being knowledge-based to being skills-based to adequately prepare them for more work-based learning in the future. More than content, learners must be engaged in various learning processes - "how to discover things, make sense of them, package them in different ways, and put knowledge to use in a wider variety of forms and for more, and more diverse, functions" (Newby, 2005, p. 298). Ways of knowing will be given much significance rather than the knowledge itself. So apart from concentrating on the academics, the curriculum should have elements that would develop skills in physical coordination, control, manipulation and movement; creativity; communication; information management; learning and thinking skills; interpersonal; citizenship. ATL advocates for a curriculum that "should be built from the foundations up, i.e. from the Early Years Foundation Stage through to the successive Key Stages" and one that specifies "what learners are able to do, rather than what they know" (ATL, 2006, p.3). Also, curriculum should be relevant to the pupils, so a locally designed curriculum will be more appreciated and become easier to relate to. Hence, national testing in such a situation is not expected to yield great results and should be deferred until the terminal stage of schooling.
People will need to be able read, write and calculate. One should also be aware of his culture's history, explore facts about different places, experience the arts and learn about spiritual qualities as well as academic subjects. Content-based curriculum covers these, but emphasizes the delineation of subjects. This influences learners to view learning as compartmentalized.
A more holistic perspective of learning is now being supported by many educators, as it threads segregated learning into a more integrated one. . Littledyke (2008) has defined integrated curriculum as such:
Integrated curriculum thus refers to the use of several different strategies across several different domains and encompassing project and process approaches for holistic learning and development designed to support meaningful learning for children" (pp. 21-22).
Curriculum integration helps students recognise connections between curriculum areas. These connections are essential to the brain in order to learn effectively. Integration changes the emphasis from the instruction of discrete academic subjects to activities that promote learning through real-life tasks. It blends academic disciplines into integrated topic studies which support creative thinking and problem solving, as opposed to rote memorisation and teacher-directed instruction of isolated skills and bits of information (Krogh, 1995). Also known as cross-curriculum, an integrated curriculum consists of a number of strategies that can be applied to deepen meaningfulness and support conceptual development (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992). For this paper, the terms cross curriculum and integrated curriculum will be used interchangeably as they refer to the same definition.
The principle of cross curriculum pertains to a form of instruction that provides learning experiences which combine content areas across multiple disciplines collectively. The initiative to integrate curriculum began when John Dewey proposed that curriculum be linked to real-life experiences and organized around activities that interest and engage children actively. Dewey asserted that children's interests naturally progress into appropriate learning activities and extend to various areas of study. As implied by the guidelines for appropriate curriculum, the concept of integration can also be attributed to the integrated nature of development; that is, development in the different domains does not occur in isolation; rather they influence one another (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992). An integrated curriculum allows the young child to perceive the world around him more clearly. Furthermore, it provides opportunities for in-depth exploration of a topic and learning that has a thorough coverage; more choices and therefore more motivation to learn and greater satisfaction with the results; more active learning; an opportunity for the teacher to learn along with the children and model lifelong learning; and a more efficient use of student and teacher time (Brewer, 2001).
Today, many educators use curriculum webs as a response to children's pursuits and interests. Webbing is one model of curriculum integration and is a valuable resource for interconnecting school activities. Designing curriculum webs can provide an overview of an entire unit of study. Webs are common tools used by teachers to create a tentative plan and generate ideas for classroom activities and projects from an observed interest or theme. A thematic organization is a model in which skills, facts, materials, activities and subject-matter knowledge are integrated around a unifying theme (Brewer, 2001). Themes provide coherence and allow young children to understand meaningful relationships across subject and skill areas. Using themes as an instructional tool organizes learning around basic concepts and ideas, and creates a general framework which serves as a basis for relating content and processing information from a range of disciplines. Content areas in an integrated curriculum largely stem from the children themselves - their interests, questions, and passion. This gives children the opportunity to become active partners in curriculum planning and the learning process; in effect, this departs from the traditional notion of a student's role of passively listening to a teacher. The emphasis of the educational process then shifts from teaching to learning.
Katz (1999) cited the following factors to consider in selecting themes: relevance, the opportunity for application of skills, the availability of resources, teacher interest, and the time of year. Moreover, theme teaching is most effective when the following strategies are considered during planning and implementing of the selected themes (Katz, 1999). It is evident that themes are generally derived from objects and realities found in a child's immediate world. In the course of planning themes, the teacher's role in determining appropriate themes is to carefully observe and make a written record of the children's interests, discussions and play. Teachers can also promote their students' interests by providing a variety of materials, including films, educational board games and other teaching objects, pictures, and books that would invite the students to participate in activities and projects.
To illustrate cross curriculum, the simple and relevant theme of FAMILY is used. The curriculum planned out is appropriate for an early childhood or primary class. Children enjoy the theme of families because they can always relate to it and become confident in contributing their own ideas and share their experiences with regards to the topics discussed on families. There are many opportunities for learning using the concept of family. In terms of literacy skills, there is a multitude of storybooks on family that may be read in class. Children may also create their own storybooks with their families. It can be a weekend assignment assigned by the teacher where each page can highlight a separate family member - with pictures or words contributed by that family member. When the child brings it back to school, he or she may share and "read" it in class.
One project that may be done by all the families in class is a Storybook Chain. The class begins the story with the first page, with the children contributing the drawing, introducing the characters of their choice, setting and plot and giving it a title themselves. Then, turn by turn, each child will bring it home for their families to do a page or two to contribute to the story. The culminating activity can be a Family Reading Night when all the families will be invited to class for story readings by some parents, and the highlight, of course will be the reading of the completed Story Chain so all the families will know how the story turned out. Such a collaborated effort will engage children's interest in their own literature and motivate them to read and write more of their own.
Numeracy skills may be learned with counting and comparing the numbers of family members per family in class. Charts may be created on how many girls and boys each family has, or what their favorite foods are and later on compare the "statistics". This may also extend to other sub-concepts like the home, counting how many windows or doors each home for each family has. The family members, their roles and their home may be used as resources for math lessons.
The concept of family entails family participation, much like the approach followed by Reggio Emilia schools (Fraser, 2000). Teachers and parents can collaborate in coming up with age-appropriate activities for the children. The curriculum may also include community involvement as the children learn about family roles in the community such as what their parents' jobs are and how they help the community.
The project approach can be very appropriate to apply to a cross-curriculum. Projects are sets of activities with ideas mostly contributed by children and followed through and supervised by the teacher. It truly takes the children's lead in investigating matters that interest them. "Projects provide experiences that involve students intellectually to a greater degree than the experiences that come from teacher-prepared units or themes. It is the children's initiative, involvement and relative participation in what is accomplished that distinguish projects from units or themes" (Helm & Katz, 2000, p. 2). For example, on this theme on family, home is a subconcept that can be investigated in a number of ways. It can begin with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears which links it with the numeracy concept of number 3 and its quantity. The story moves the family around the different rooms in the house and the teacher can have discussions about each part (i.e. bedroom, what we do there; kitchen, what do we see there, etc.). A project map may be created by the teacher with the students, as to what they want to know about homes and children will post all possible questions and points of inquiry like parts of the house, different types of homes, people who build houses, etc. and plan out activities to investigate such questions. A Home visit may be done to some homes of the students in collaboration with the parents. A field trip to a house being constructed may also be an activity and builders may be interviewed as to what they do and what materials may be used. Back in school, the children may come up with a "housing project" building homes out of cardboard boxes and other materials. The whole process may be documented by the teacher with pictures and video and anecdotal records to present to the children and parents upon completion of the project. This integrated curriculum presents a number of possibilities and directions that the class can take. It can touch on multiple subject areas at a time and be designed to cover all subject areas (Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math, Arts, Music & Values) while developing all developmental domains in the child: Physical, Social, Language, Cognitive, Emotional & Aesthetic with the concepts and activities planned out. All the sub-concepts are directly linked to the major concept and each sub-concept may further be dissected into more and more mini-branches. This is cross curriculum at work! As always, it is the interest of the children in the topic that needs to be considered (Fraser, 2000).
This curriculum is envisioned to be implemented in an environment organized by teachers to be rich in possibilities and provocations that challenge children to explore, problem-solve, usually in small groups while the teachers act as keen observers or recorders of the children's learning. Teachers get to balance their role by sometimes joining the circle of children and sometimes objectively remaining outside the loop (Pope Edwards, 2002). Teachers are on hand to provide assistance or further challenge children's thinking to push them to optimize their potentials. They also observe children's behaviors to see which of their needs need to be met (Lambert & Clyde, 2000) and design opportunities to address such needs either through the curriculum or through their social interactions. Billman and Sherman (1997) recommend teachers to note down their observations in their journal so they can review them and adjust accordingly the curriculum to better suit the developmental needs of their students.
It is important that the curriculum is learner-centered to ensure that their interests are captured, thus their learning is engaged. This reflects a process model and is consistent with constructivist philosophy. This stems from theories of Piaget and Vygotsky. Chaille (2008) argues that constructivism believes that children are constructing knowledge on their own and the learning environment considers and respects that. "In a constructivist classroom, children are constructing an understanding that they are building their own theories and constructing their own knowledge through interaction with a knowledgeable adult and other children" (Chaille, 2008, p. 5). It has much value in helping children use their minds well. Constructivist curriculum helps promote thinking, problem-solving and decision-making in children making them flexible and creative thinkers (Cromwell, 2000).
Constructivist programs do not adhere to totally teacher-directed strategies, as most behaviorist schools do. This way, when children create their own learning through hands-on experiences, they retain concepts better and are more motivated to gain and develop skills. Schweinhart & Weikart (1999) presented studies that evidenced the long-term benefits of child-initiated learning in early childhood programs, as such activities help them develop social responsibility and interpersonal skills as they grow up.
In planning a cross curriculum, activities planned "are required to provide rigorous intellectual student's previous and current knowledge to the emerging curriculum. The relevance of curriculum to student interests therefore cannot be planned, because the learners' interests and experience cannot be assumed nor completely evaluated in advance" (Wescombe-Down, n.d., n.p). This gives the students more power in the acquisition of learning. Using prior knowledge, they are encouraged to invent their own solutions and try out their own ideas and hypotheses with the able support of their teachers. This way, they can indulge in concrete experiences that focus on their interests. The process of searching for information, analysing data and reaching conclusions is considered more important than learning facts. In further education this is evident in teachers using various teaching and learning methods like instead of monotonous lectures or reading sessions there are a lot of discussions, questioning techniques used and learners are encouraged to work in groups sharing their own knowledge and experience. According to learners, peer assessment and evaluation is most useful method of learning.
For the teacher, an integrated curriculum is a good planning device that offers much flexibility. If the children lean toward another way other than what the teacher had expected, the integrated curriculum quickly guides her as to how to integrate it to a related concept so the flow of learning is not disrupted. At one glance, the integrated curriculum shows the coverage of what the children learn in school. It advocates natural learning, as it follows children's interests and not impose the concepts that they need to learn. It follows that the skills they learn become meaningful to them, as it sprouts from their own interests. It also gets to touch on multiple subject areas and work on various developmental domains at a time.
The richness of the cross or integrated curriculum cannot be underestimated nor overemphasized. It is a great tool to help teachers and a great way to maximize the learning potentials of their students.