A ‘typical day’ for most of us relies on multi-tasking and using a variety of skills simultaneously. Many of these skills are often associated with what we learnt at school such as budgeting your income and paying bills (Mathematics), navigating your way to a new destination (Geography and Technology), interpreting a report and crafting an accessible response (English), just to name a few.
We use a raft of skills each day in various contexts and often concurrently, yet the traditional education model, particularly in a senior secondary context, is built on a premise that subjects are taught in silos. While this form of instruction has served its purpose, in our Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world where we are, as some would say, at the beginning of ‘Industry 4.0’, our younger generations need to be engaged in a deeper learning that combines relevant content and inspires a new thirst for knowledge and inquiry.
One of the catch phrases I often hear is the idea that schools need to prepare students for the world beyond the School walls. This statement is valid, however, to deliver on this outcome it is important we recognise that working in silos does not deliver on this idea. Learning opportunities must be planned around interdisciplinary actions to foster and grow the ‘real world’ 21st century skills that we consistently hear and read about. Skills like collaboration, understanding, curiosity communication and adaptability must be in the toolkit of current and future school students.
Research shows that interdisciplinary teaching, also known as cross-curricular learning, can improve students’ comprehension of problems, confidence, thinking skills, creativity and the ability to pose complex questions. These are all key competencies for the world of today and tomorrow.
Cross-curriculum learning sees lessons structured across subject areas to encourage a deeper understanding and context of the subject matter. Cross-curriculum learning allows students to look at the material from a variety of viewpoints and positions to help see how the different perspectives and understandings contribute to the outcome.
Cross-curriculum preparation does require more planning and collaboration from a teacher’s perspective, however invariably a higher level of engagement and understanding is the usual outcome for most students.
St Stephen’s School was founded on this idea. Staff offices and staff rooms across the School are structured across learning areas. We have teachers from a variety of disciplines sitting alongside each other daily, which encourages conversations that focus on both student cross-curriculum learning as well as student wellbeing.
Some of the most recent examples of cross-curricular learning at St Stephen’s School include our recent senior production of the life of Lindy Chamberlain, set inside a courtroom. Our Drama teachers and students worked with Politics and Law teams for resources and advice on the set and delivery to stay ‘true’ to the text. The students’ higher level of understanding made for an enthralling performance.
Our Year 11 and 12 ATAR Visual Arts students also visited the School’s Science labs over several lessons to begin their inquiry work for their Semester 1 studio pieces. Students were asked to consider how Art and Science have been treated as two separate disciplines but when studied together, what changes and how does one discipline impact on the other? Students engaged with the idea that there is a great deal of creativity required to make scientific breakthroughs and Art can often be an expression of scientific knowledge in another medium.
Cross-curriculum learning is not just for our older students. Some of our littlest ones in our Early Learning Centre are combining lessons about Art and Geography by studying artistic designs from different parts of the world. Students learn about the country’s position on the map and delve into the art and culture behind it, setting them up with a richer understanding right from the start of their learning journey.
Cross-curriculum learning also overcomes the idea that if a student can simply repeat or memorise information they are seen as ‘mastering’ that subject content. It provides them with the scope to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions based on the material and information provided or researched. This results in higher order thinking and more transferrable skills.
Knowing the effects of cross-curricular learning, we must support teachers in employing strategies which develop deeper learning opportunities so future generations will be best equipped to engage with the world of the future.