A combination of cross-subject learning and traditional single-subject learning
The tremendous power of a river is diminished when it is fragmented into little streams. However, when the streams are channelled together, it then can develop a deep flow. So it is with learning.
Children are free thinkers. They tend to make free associations in their minds linking experience to knowledge through memory as they come across the “new” in life. This is particularly true for pre-school children and greatly explains why these early years are ones full of the wonder of discovery. Good primary schools can prolong this golden age of learning but often when the child arrives at secondary school the river of learning is split into many unconnected channels. For example, the student goes from a physics class to a history to French and each subject has no relation to the other. The child might have been inspired by something in the physics class but he has to drop it to move onto something completely unrelated where the teacher is too busy with his own lesson plan to worry about what has been learnt elsewhere.
Students want to learn in a way that engages them by making connections between the theoretical and the practical, between one subject and another. They want to feel that learning is actually useful, fun, enchanting, inspiring and relevant. Life is not separated into subjects. If learning about the sugar in science and PSHE were taught at the same time as learning about slavery and the sugar plantations, would it not make much more sense to the student and put both science and history into a wider, context? If they studied pigment and light in art alongside electromagnetic wavelengths in science they would have a far greater understanding of the theory and its application in our lives?
In Hebden Bridge School our curriculum provides an academic framework that encourages pupils to embrace and understand the connections between traditional subjects and the real world, enabling them to become analytical, reflective, and creative thinkers who are able to realise the interconnectedness of all things. We teach through a combination of cross-subject learning and single subject learning.
This means part of the curriculum is learnt through topics that embrace a variety of subjects while other aspects of the curriculum are taught through traditional classes to make sure students cover everything they need to prepare them for their GCSEs. They are not forced to think in boxes but openly and freely; being encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings. Even when being assessed students are given points for creativity, originality, interconnected thinking and expressing complex emotions and ideas.
The cross-subject curriculum is planned by all the teachers together and taught as a whole. Each teacher is aware of what the others are doing and every effort is made to connect the learning in one classroom to that of another. The teachers themselves broaden and deepen their practice by linking their subject to others and excitement of learning is spread all around the school. This collaborative approach to planning, teaching, assessing and evaluating allows us to be holistic in the true sense of the word as it is genuinely a whole school approach.
An example of a cross subject study topic would be:
Science: carbohydrates, proteins, fats. Molecules. The digestive system.
PSHE: addictions, health effects.
History: slave trade. Link to cotton industry and The Calder Valley.
Music: the music of the slaves and its connection to rock and roll, soul, gospel, jazz and R&B
Human geography: economics of sugar. Processed food industry
Maths: the economics of the sugar industry. Health statistics.
Visit: The Tate Gallery Liverpool and Liverpool International Slavery Museum.
Dance and Drama: samba, capoeira, batuque, carnival.
Art: represent what you have learnt and what it means to you (creative freedom)
The mind makes connections that link up theory, experience, and imagination in a profound and broad way. It does not fix rigidly on one subject for 50 minutes and then move onto another. This way of learning will allow the child’s mind to explore freely and is a far better preparation for life outside the classroom. Subject integrated learning is rather like what is already done at many primary schools and one of the reasons students tend to find primary school a lot more rewarding than secondary.