Integrated learning models.

Briefing Pack

By Melanie Jones and Simon Harrison, published 22nd February 2010

Is your school on the brink of curriculum innovation that involves history? Are you in the midst of such a change and feel confused and uncertain?  Many schools now operate an integrated curriculum in some form that involves the humanities subjects. However, the extent to which schools embrace this initiative varies greatly. This pack outlines 3 case studies from schools who have more or less opted to integrate history, but to varying degrees and in different ways. It is an honest account from each school of the successes and pitfalls of adopting this approach. Those schools who have agreed to be named are, whilst others have remained anonymous.

 

School A:

School A initially held separate lessons in Geography, RE and History. This worked on a two-week timetable giving pupils 1 ½ hours of history teaching per week at Key Stage 3.

The decision was taken to adopt a fully integrated curriculum for Humanities at Key Stage 3. This would move away from the National Curriculum and instead revolve around big questions, concepts or themes that were pertinent to all 3 subjects. The rationale behind this was to show pupils how the subjects were interrelated and skills transferred.

The time allocated to this new integrated curriculum remained the same on the timetable, so overall no curriculum time was lost, instead, classes received Humanities lessons every time they would have had history, geography or RE.

The big questions, such as "what does it mean to be free?" and "who do we think we are?" were decided and staff in the Humanities faculty were put into writing teams to write the schemes of work. Each team where possible contained a geographer, historian and RE specialist. The schemes of work were written and alongside was a lesson by lesson power-point for each unit to make it easy to take through in class. Each unit lasted for 1 term. During this time, the unit would contain roughly 9 taught lessons, 3 for each specific subject, all of which worked towards the big question. The rest of the time was then given over to the resulting project, allowing pupils to work on it in lesson time ready for the period of presentation, self-assessment and reflection at the end of the unit.

This scheme encountered several successes, but also many pitfalls in its first year of operation. Pupil enjoyment of the Humanities showed evidence through pupil voice of having risen.  Pupils had the opportunity to work in groups far more often and activities were more up to date and relevant according to students. Working in groups on the whole gave pupils much more chance to bounce ideas off each-other and if groups were well organised, could help pupils to learn from one another. Project work became a bigger test of skills for pupils. Bell Wallace's TASC wheel and De Bono's Thinking Hats were used to encourage pupils' thinking skills and organisation on tasks and on the whole, pupils commented that the projects gave them a chance to actually do something worthwhile.

However, at the same time, there were a great many problems. The units of study were not well thought through because insufficient planning time was given before the project was rolled out. This meant that often, teams would think about the over-arching theme and just fit content to it, rather than actually thinking about activities that would match up in terms of key-skills and processes. At some points, units were planned only very shortly before they were due to be delivered.

Whilst it was good for teachers to experiment with different teaching styles and less comfortable subject matter, it also became a problem. Having writing teams meant that each team wrote units in its' own style, which did not necessarily suit the style of others, and it could be difficult to deviate away from this.  Many lessons involved the use of computers and group-work. Whilst every room was equipped, the age and quality of the technology in teaching rooms was highly variable, and not always reliable. Some classes adapted to group-work far better than others. Those pupils who needed a great deal of structure struggled more. Added to this, some pupils took the opportunity to take a back seat and let others do more of the work, although with effective teaching, this was less of a concern.

Timetabling of these new style Humanities lessons was also an issue. Whilst no teaching time was lost, individual teachers were expected to deliver lessons in subjects outside of their specialism, which did not sit comfortably for all.  The Key Stage 3 results did not show that students who had received integrated lessons made any more progress than those who had not been taught in this way - in fact, they made slightly less progress; however, this was to be expected in the first year of the programme and it was accepted that a constant cycle of improvement and review would be needed to make improvements.

Assessment also became a real issue. There was some confusion over the level of integration that a project like this meant. On the one hand, there was the feeling that integrated humanities meant full integration, and yet on the other hand, the units were organised in such a fashion that the subjects still kept their individuality. Coupled with this, it was decided to assess pupils according to the Humanities, rather than in individual subject levels. This was very difficult being that there are no specific Humanities levels and at some point, there is always going to be the need to separate out the subjects.

In School A, there was a definite feeling that pupils enjoyed the change, although results did not support this in their levels of achievement. The pitfalls became clear and most surrounded the planning of the project, which over time will be ironed out into a more effective programme. With flexible staff and effective planning around issues, it is clear that the programme will begin to bear fruit.

 

School B

School B operates separate lessons for History, with the exception of year 9. In 2007 school B identified through lesson observations and pupil interviews a lack of engagement from pupils in the year 9 curriculum post options. This was not just history but also across most of the optional subjects in Humanities and Arts. At the same time their work on Curriculum 2008 led them to look at how well they were preparing pupils for the more independent approaches needed at Key Stage Four and beyond. In History the fear was that approaches such as a two year KS3 or a skills based approach to the curriculum could be detrimental to the quality of learning, a fear shared by other subject leaders.  Therefore, they designed a curriculum model that was thematic, integrated cross curricular skills but ensured that this was delivered within subject areas and by subject specialists. Both the themes and the skills were drafted by staff and then adjusted by pupils.

The curriculum covered two terms, with a different theme each half term (Identity: Who am I?, Where are we going?, Money makes the world go round? and America, China and Us). For each theme pupils were presented with six subject specific challenges, from which they chose three to follow. Each challenge was then taught in a fortnight across three four hour lessons. This ensured pupils continued to experience high quality learning in History, delivered by subject specialists. Through longer lesson time it also enabled a wider range of learning beyond the classroom including work with archaeologists, family history, field trips and museum visits. Thus this approach addressed a skills based agenda, whilst also allowing us to broaden the history curriculum and provide pupils with a range of compelling and memorable experiences that would not otherwise have been possible.

Quality assurance showed that pupils enjoyed the lessons, were able to work more independently and liked the choice and variety offered. External assessors also commented that the curriculum enabled innovative approaches without compromising the integrity of individual subjects. However, some pupils and staff found the four hour lessons difficult, and there was not always coherence across subjects in the way the themes and skills were developed. Assessment also proved difficult. A common skills and attitudes framework was developed across the seven subjects involved, but attempts to link this to a common target level proved ineffective given the wide range of potential each pupil displayed across the subjects. The fact that pupil groups changed every two weeks also made it difficult to give and follow up feedback. A new version of the curriculum this year has been designed to address these issues.

 

School C: Homewood School, Tenterden, Kent.

The germ of an integrated curriculum was sown in 2003 at Homewood school and they were one of the first schools in their area to adopt such an approach. The school had funding for new buildings, which made life easier as the new build was designed with the integrated curriculum in mind, giving the ideal space for such a project to work.

Homewood School planned the move over a period of 18 months. This planning time was crucial according to senior management at the school.The scheme was given a 1 term trial in one year group. It was at this stage that early teething troubles were ironed out and the scheme was then rolled out fully.

 One of the key questions during planning, was how far to integrate and which subjects to use. A 2 year Key Stage 3 operates in the school and it was decided that the Humanities, English, Maths and ICT would work together. The key fact was though, that whilst these subjects all took part in the integrated model, all still maintained subject integrity by also having separate lessons timetabled. Therefore, in the case of History, pupils would receive one project lesson per week and one separate history lesson per week at Key Stage 3.

Each project is designed to last a term and is designed around a single key word, such as change, environment, Freedom, conquest, or revolution. Each subject area involved would be in charge of particular projects so that across the key stage, they were handed out roughly speaking evenly. At the same time, it would also be up to each department to contribute to other projects, for example if there were a unit which involved very little history, it would be up to the history department to provide resources to remedy that. Each project will last up until the last week of the term, at which point the timetable for project lessons is collapsed and pupils work on an end task.  In some projects, an element of pupil choice is also involved. Each department will put on a lesson surrounding the topic, and students sign up for which lesson they want to go to and when. Pupils must eventually attend all of the lessons, but they decide when they do them. According to Homewood, this has been an effective tool in aiding pupil engagement.

In terms of assessment, the school argues that  the fact that separate lessons have been kept has made this easier; pupils are still assessed in their separate lessons according to NC descriptors. In their project lessons, AFL is used, and pupils are given a chance to self and peer evaluate.  Every pupil in the school has access to a laptop and pupils are able to view lessons and upload work onto a virtual learning area.

Whilst the integrated model now works well for the school, as with any new initiative, there are always teething troubles and Homewood was no different. Lesley Munro, Principal Teacher for History at the school explains that for history, one of the initial problems was chronology. The units had to be re-organised in order to fit together better as pupils were getting very confused, especially when at one point they were being taught the Holocaust in project lessons whilst in History they were doing World War I.

Another problem concerned staff. Again, the problem of non-specialists teaching a topic was an initial problem at Homewood, especially when you consider that these people may be asked to teach topics such as the Holocaust.  This problem was partially addressed by the provision of training for staff and that where possible, subjects offer to train each-other.  Departments also stay in contact regularly through weekly meetings to discuss issues. Added to this, pupils also benefit from purpose built rooms that enable groups of 60 to be team-taught.

The initial feelings of "are we losing history?" were also difficult to overcome and a great deal of work convincing people that  history lends itself to cross-curricularity very well and that in fact there is history in pretty much everything had to be done.

Homewood point out that to make integration work, a constant cycle of review and improvement is needed.  This kind of curriculum needs a flexible staff that do not expect it to be perfect straight away. It requires a great deal of careful planning beforehand and lots of training opportunities. With this approach, Homewood say they have been able to create a new generation of independent learners, who just get on with the work, they don't need to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do. Now they are just waiting to see how this will affect their GCSE pupils, who are less happy to have to go back to a more traditional style of learning as they prepare for their examinations.

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