ERIC Identifier: ED390112
Publication Date: 1996-01-00
Author: Walker, Dean
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Integrative Education. ERIC Digest, Number 101.
A growing number of education reformers are justifying their reform
strategies by pointing to the findings of research on the learning process. They
are basing their theory and practice of education on developmental brain
research, theories of information processing, and the needs dictated by today's
These reformers contend that teaching facts and skills in a school day
artificially compartmentalized into separate subjects fails to prepare students
for a swiftly changing world. Through integrative education, educators seek to
improve students' basic skills in language arts and mathematics while also
teaching thinking skills, physical and sensing skills, and social skills (Betty
Jean Eklund Shoemaker 1989).
WHAT IS INTEGRATIVE EDUCATION?
A single definition of "integrative education" is elusive. Shoemaker brings together several themes to
create an eclectic definition. Integrative education, she writes, "cuts across
subject-matter lines, bringing together various aspects of the curriculum into
meaningful association to focus upon broad areas of study." It reflects the
interdependent real world, and involves the learner's body, thoughts, feelings,
senses, and intuition in learning experiences that unify knowledge and "provide
a greater understanding than that which could be obtained by examining the parts
Integrative education bases its practices on the characteristics of the human
learner and on the interdependent nature of reality. Instead of artificially
dividing the world into "subjects" and using textbooks and seat work,
integrative education immerses students in an enriched environment that reflects
the complexities of life. This provides a holistic context for learning that
leads to a greater ability to make and remember connections and to solve
problems (Susan Kovalik and Karen Olsen 1994).
IS INTEGRATIVE EDUCATION NEW?
As early as 1918, Kilpatrick
elaborated a "project method," in which education proceeded from the interests
of students rather than from disciplined subject matter. In the 1930s, thirty
schools participated in a long-term experiment with integrative education called
the "Eight-Year Study." Although this study documented the benefits of
integrative education, the study had little impact on the traditional structure
of education (Daniel L. Kain 1993). In spite of its shortcomings, the practice
of breaking down instruction into separate academic disciplines has seldom been
While integrative education is not new, current supporters offer proof of its
wisdom by pointing to recent research that indicates information is most
securely encoded and best retrieved by the brain when it can be connected to a
web of meaning. Jane Roland Martin (1995) argues that integrative education
allows curricula to educate through the experiences of diverse races, genders,
and classes, thus creating a place of significance for each child.
IS INTEGRATIVE EDUCATION MORE EFFECTIVE THAN TRADITIONAL EDUCATION?
In the "Eight-Year Study" conducted during the 1930s, students
who received the "fused" curricular design displayed more intellectual
curiosity, a better attitude toward learning, and higher achievement in college
than students in a traditional college-prep program (Kain). A recent study of
15,000 eighth-graders showed that students from schools using an
interdisciplinary approach scored higher on standardized tests than peers who
were enrolled in single-discipline subjects (Ed Lawton 1994).
Kain notes that findings on the effectiveness of integrative education are
inconclusive. He suggests in many instances findings are biased by the values
that drive the traditional subject-discipline curriculum. These values are
inherent in the standardized measures of assessment that researchers have used
to examine the impact of integrative education. Kain believes that the true
impact of integrative education studies will only be ascertained when the entire
experience of students and teachers who participate in integrative education is
HOW IS INTEGRATIVE EDUCATION IMPLEMENTED?
districts mandate across-the-board implementation of an integrated curriculum,
while others allow individual schools, teams of teachers within a school, or
even individual teachers to work toward integration.
The advantage of a district mandate is that staff can rely on each other for
support and resources, and fragmentation into cliques of "traditionalists" and
"integrationists" is avoided. The advantage of the piecemeal approach is that
teachers who choose to integrate will focus their energy on success rather than
sabotage. When the seeds planted by these pioneers are nurtured by
administrators, integrative education can grow organically to encompass the
system (Jane Braunger and Sylvia Hart-Landsberg 1994).
David Elkind (1994) notes that elementary teachers have the advantage of
being trained in cross-disciplinary education. They do not need
cross-certifications in subject matter, and are unlikely to perceive integration
as a threat to their professional identity. With its emphasis on developmentally
appropriate practices, early-childhood education can serve as a model for the
implementation of integrative education throughout the primary school years.
Ann Ross and Karen Olsen (1993) discuss five models of implementation for
middle schools and high schools, each providing a foundation for the next.
First, there is "single subject integration," which presents the content of
one curriculum subject as it appears in real life, and requires students to
apply skills within this meaningful context.
Second, in the "coordinated model," two or more teachers teach integrated
single subjects to the same students separately but cooperatively, to ensure
that the desired skills and content are taught.
Third, in the "integrated core model," one teacher remains with students for
two or three periods. For example, a teacher might teach language arts in the
context of science or social studies as the "core" around which the rest of the
school day is planned.
Fourth, in the "integrated double core model," two teachers instruct the same
students within two integrated cores. For example, one might teach math skills
in the context of science, while another teaches language skills within a
Finally, in the "self-contained core model," one teacher with
multiple-subject credentials remains with one group of students all day,
teaching all skills and content within one or two meaningful contexts.
HOW CAN ADMINISTRATORS SUPPORT INTEGRATIVE
Principals can introduce the concepts of integrative education at
staff meetings and allocate funds to training. Release time can be arranged for
staff to visit successful integrated programs (Braunger and Hart-Landsberg).
When one or two teachers set out to integrate the curriculum, they need
significant input into decisions about appropriate materials and student
schedules. For example, they may wish to trade journals for textbooks, project
materials for worksheets, or field trips for lectures. As more teachers become
involved, especially at the middle and high school levels, schedules must be
arranged to allow common prep time for teams of teachers who have previously
taught their subject matter in isolation. Team teaching facilitates integrative
education even in primary schools, but is indispensable at higher levels, where
teachers are trained as subject specialists (Kovalik and Olsen).
Student schedules are rarely a problem when integrating education in the
elementary school, but special administrative measures must be taken at the
middle and high school levels to ensure that teachers from different subject
areas who wish to teach integrated units based on a common project or theme are
scheduled with the same students in different blocks of time. When only some
teachers are integrating their curriculum and team teaching, the students in the
integrated section should be scheduled first, before releasing the remaining
students to complete a traditional registration (Ross and Olsen).
Principals can give students exposure to professionals and business people by
encouraging site-based councils, school-business partnerships, and other social
programs. Appropriate technology--phones, electronic mail, and fax
machines--should be available, not only for teaching, but for extending the
teachers' ability to interact with partners in integrative education (Braunger
An integrative education emphasizes the interdependence of knowledge and
processes. Educators who wish to implement an integrated curriculum must reflect
its values by recognizing and benefiting from their own interconnection.
Braunger, Jane and Sylvia Hart-Landsberg. "Crossing Boundaries: Explorations in Integrative Curriculum." Portland, Oregon:
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994. 58 pages. ED 370 239.
Elkind, David. "Early Childhood Education and the Postmodern World."
"Principal" 73, 5 (May 1994): 6-7. EJ 483 341.
Kain, Daniel L.. "Cabbages--and Kings: Research Directions in
Integrated/Interdisciplinary Curriculum." "The Journal of Educational Thought"
27, 3 (December 1993): 312-31. EJ 476 405.
Kovalik, Susan, and Karen Olsen. "ITI: The Model. Integrated Thematic
Instruction." Third Edition. Kent, Washington: Books for Educators, Covington
Square, 1994. 374 pages. ED 374 894.
Lawton, Ed. "Integrating Curriculum: A Slow but Positive Process." "Schools
in the Middle" 4, 2 (November 1994): 27-30. EJ 492 890.
Martin, Jane Roland. "A Philosophy of Education for the Year 2000." "Phi
Delta Kappan" 76, 5 (January 1995): 355-59. EJ 494 703.
Ross, Ann, and Karen Olsen. "The Way We Were... The Way We CAN Be: A Vision
for the Middle School through Integrated Thematic Instruction." Second Edition.
Kent, Washington: Books for Educators, Covington Square, 1993. 239 pages. ED 371
Shoemaker, Betty Jean Eklund. "Integrative Education. A Curriculum for the
Twenty-First Century." "OSSC Bulletin" 33, 2(October 1989). Eugene, Oregon:
Oregon School Study Council. ED 311 602.