Using Integrated Learning In The Classroom
Integrated learning, also known as integrated studies, combines the study of different subjects. Teaching this way makes learning more like the real world – when was the last time you needed to accomplish tasks that were separated into math, english, science, and social studies? As teachers know, one of the first things many students ask is, “Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use it?” Integrated learning shows students why.
Research has also shown that integrated learning has the following benefits for students:
- Increases motivation.
- Improves retention and understanding of concepts.
- Improves critical thinking and creativity.
- Increases ability to synthesize and apply information and skills across disciplines.
In addition, integrated learning can also help teachers cover their standards more deeply and effectively. Without integrating, there can be pressure to rush through skills without allowing the time for students to achieve mastery. It’s actually fairly easy to combine complementary standards, which allows teachers to create units of study in which students learn and apply skills.
Furthermore, integrated learning will directly improve students’ reading comprehension. Research has shown that background knowledge plays a key role in reading comprehension. Therefore, it makes sense to teach reading lessons as part of a science, math, or social studies unit.
How to Use Integrated Learning
If you are new to integration, start with pairing a few standards. Just as we do with students, practice the new skill in steps. After you have mastered integrating a few lessons, you can work up to a unit.
Start with Content
It is easier to integrate skills into content than content into skills. First, you need to focus on skills your current students need, and that can change with each group. Second, each grade and course has specific content knowledge that needs to be taught. I always start with the topic of study and pull out those standards, then I think about which skills I could integrate into that unit.
Some common integrations are math/science and social studies/language arts, but it is also possible to integrate more than two subjects.
An example of a unit would be a study of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Students also need to learn how to write an opinion essay, so I would teach the content first. While teaching the content, I would also pick a reading skill that students have struggled with – perhaps they have had difficulty with supporting their reasoning and inferences with text evidence.
After the students had learned about the content and practiced writing opinion statements and paragraphs with text evidence, perhaps I want to give a summative task to determine their level of mastery. I might choose my Should Students Wear Uniforms Paired Passages set, which deals with First Amendment rights, and have students read and develop an opinion essay.
I prefer to integrate multiple skills into a unit of study. The trick is that you want to select ones that are a natural fit, and you also want to avoid “overstuffing” the unit with skills. Remember, you want students to master skills – and that won’t happen if you throw too many at them.
Generally, I try to select a new skill in each subject that fits – perhaps one core language arts skill and a math skill. I will also add in review skills if they fit easily and make sense in the context of the unit.
Sometimes the skills come together in the summative project and not necessarily in the instruction. One of my most popular resources is my United States Geography: Region & State Research Project. Leading up to this project, I would teach the U.S. regions and practice using text features in informational texts to find information. I would also select focus skills in both math and writing.
For the project, students select two states in each region and find information on them. After completing the research, they plot the fastest route for a trip to visit their chosen states. I had my students create a pretend journal, in which they wrote what they did each day and how many miles they traveled. At the end, they had to add up how many total miles they went.
Over my career, my outlook on assessments has changed. In the beginning, I used to kill myself (and I am sure my students) by grading their work on a gazillion standards. This wasn’t an effective tool for either of us.
Instead, when planning the integrated unit, decide what outcomes your students should have at the end of the unit:
- What content should students know?
- Which skills should students have mastered?
- How will students show that they have mastered both the content and identified skills?
Throughout the unit, use formative assessments to check students’ understanding and skill development. For my American history classes, I made these quick exit tickets. The resources include a variety of questions at different levels of Higher-Order Thinking and give teachers a good snapshot into what students know.
When creating the summative assessment, focus their grade only on the skills and knowledge you identified during planning. For example, if you decided students would work on using text evidence, then focus your rubric on grading how well they mastered just that – don’t worry about grading for spelling, grammar, etc. It isn’t that they don’t need to also learn those skills, but that wasn’t the focus of this unit.
A new idea for assessment is the single-point rubric. Instead of using a holistic rubric that grades students on multiple skills, a single-point rubric focuses on the targeted outcomes. It allows teachers to provide more specific feedback on a narrower set of skills, and students find it less overwhelming. If you would like to learn more, this is a great article.