Educators often talk about the benefits of cross curricular provision in schools, and schools to include it in the curriculum, but usually as a single project, or a few one off days of activities. But is it really beneficial to have cross curricular projects? And are one off’s projects good enough?
Creative curriculum days or cross curricular days are often disruptive to the school routine which can be difficult for some pupils, and diminish the relevance for others. Cross curricular activities have to be balanced with the content that needs to be taught and the attainment that needs to be reached. However, more regular cross curricular activities would reduce the disruptive effect as they become more regular in occurrence.
Pupils often lack the ability to transfer skills form one learning environment to another, for example drawing graphs in maths but then struggling to draw graphs in science. The general principals of graph drawing are the same in both lessons, but because they are taught separately in separate areas of schools, the skills are seen as disconnected. Cross curricular projects are supposed to link the curriculum areas together to enable pupils to realise that they can combine skills from all areas of their education to increase attainment.
Ofsted published a report in 2010 entitled ‘Learning: Creative approaches that raise standards’ which examined creative approaches to learning across 44 schools, while visiting many more schools for comparison. Creative doesn’t always translate to cross curricular, but in good examples of creative learning Ofsted found “Approaches developed successfully in traditionally ‘creative’ subjects such as the arts and English were often incorporated into other areas, such as science and mathematics.”
Linking subject areas together is the central purpose of cross curricular activities, which was recognised n the report.“Teachers were seen to promote creative learning most purposefully and effectively when encouraging pupils to question and challenge, make connections and see relationships, speculate, keep options open while pursuing a line of enquiry, and reflect critically on ideas, actions and results”.
The National Teacher Research Panel found that there were obvious benefits to the pupils when cross curricular learning was in effect; increased confidence led to more pupil participation and ultimately more learning. The report stated that
“This project has provided evidence that cross-curricular work using thinking skills benefits students of all attainment levels, and in different ways. The approach has encouraged students to see how thinking skills, like sorting and classifying, can enable them to approach a topic from a different angle. It also seems to help them see the transferability of such skills across their learning in a range of subjects. This could lead to a greater awareness of themselves as learners, and how they learn.”
Teacher observed that pupils responded positively to the project and actively took part, more than expected.
How can cross curricular be succussful? Noted author and educator Ben Johnson wrote a blog last summer stating that “collaboration is necessary” promoting the idea of teachers sharing professional expertise in order to create better learners, combining subject areas to reflect and reinforce skills learned.
So are cross curricular projects really beneficial? Yes. Are one offs good enough? Ben Johnson states “When professional educators combine their energies and reinforce the same deep learning, the stream of information is clearer for the student, the learning activities are more fluid, and the student's reservoir of knowledge and skill fills faster.”
The more cross curricular projects educators can include, the greater the benefit to the learner.
Ofsted report – Learning: Creative approaches that raise standards