An integrated curriculum is described as one that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities connected to real life. An integrated curriculum aims to connect the theory learned in the classroom, with practical, real-life knowledge and experiences. The practical and experiential learning aspect of an integrated curriculum is facilitated through service learning. There has been extensive research done on integrated curriculums and what they look like in the learning and teaching space. This research identified three particular integrated curriculum paradigms, each of them having overlapped and aligned elements. These include:
Focuses primarily on the disciplines. This approach relates different subjects around a common theme. In this approach, teachers fuse skills, knowledge, or even attitudes into the regular school curriculum. In some schools, for example, students learn respect for the environment in every subject area.
In this approach to integration, teachers organize the curriculum around common learnings across disciplines. They chunk together the common learnings embedded in the disciplines to emphasize interdisciplinary skills and concepts.
In the transdisciplinary approach to integration, teachers organize the curriculum around student questions and concerns. Students develop life skills by applying interdisciplinary and disciplinary skills in a real-life context.
Service-learning is used as a tool in each of these paradigms to create engagement with students, enhance their learning experience, and motivate them to learn. Service-learning, as part of an integrated curriculum, addresses real issues and community needs, which creates more engagement and makes students more likely to invest their time and effort in their learning.
Can Service-learning be Incorporated into any type of Coursework?
Many educators often struggle to understand how service learning can be integrated into their coursework and curriculum. We have to agree with Barbara Jacoby’s answer to this, where she states that “service-learning is certainly not appropriate for every course, but it can be effective in every discipline. This is because service-learning works well for students across a wide range of learning styles, from theoretical learners, who learn best through abstract conceptualisation, to those who learn best from active, concrete experience”.
An example of a Serve Learn Curriculum is a unit on sustainability. Students will understand how systems of nature, economy, well-being, and society are interconnected. Awareness of consumption and implementation of innovative, practical solutions help us uphold our responsibility to live sustainable lifestyles. Students investigate the concept and through action research methods they are able to understand the needs and issues. Students select areas of focus that they are interested in: nature, economy, well-being, and society- based on the verified needs of the community they are able to plan and prepare for action.
Students work collaboratively with peers, partners, and teachers, building skills and dispositions to solve real-world problems for effective change together. They reflect before, during, and after meaningful service-learning experiences as they continue to learn and grow. To celebrate with partners and share their service-learning with the community they demonstrate and communicate the service-learning for sustainability.
Service-learning within an integrated curriculum enhances the learning experience and facilitates more engagement between the student and teacher as well as the course work. The concept selected in the Serve Learn example of sustainability is transdisciplinary, and various conceptual lenses are applied to sustainability.
How do you implement an integrated curriculum in your school?
The benefits of an integrated curriculum both for teaching and learning are endless. For an integrated curriculum to be effective, the curriculum does need to be thought out and developed. Here are a few steps that need to be considered when developing an integrated curriculum:
- Select achievable learning outcomes
- Consider what service experiences are most likely to enable students to achieve the desired outcomes
- Approach potential community partners
- Plan the experience in detail
- Determine how you will prepare students for the experience
- Select activities that are appropriate and meaningful for the students
- Integrate critical reflection through experience
- Address logistical issues
- Develop a plan to measure the achievement of students and community outcomes
- Seek closure, recognise and celebrate success
By creating an integrated curriculum using service-learning, you are changing the teaching and learning experience for both the teacher and the learner. Integrated curriculums allow students to have a deeper understanding of the course subject matter and how to apply the material that they have learned in the classroom in a real-world situation. This ultimately helps prepare them for their future studies, career, and lives in general.