Crossing Boundaries and Creating Connections

Knowledge is a complex, interconnected system requiring new pedagogical methods for successful learning to take place. The siloed system which is still present in many schools does little to help learners see the connections between disciplines. 

Interdisciplinary curriculum which involves bringing together two or more disciplines in a conscious manner through team teaching, co-ordinating the contents of separate courses, teaching two subjects together, or by exploring a theme through various discipline-based activities is typically teacher directed. This model combines disciplines to enhance both as well as to to give understanding of how they are connected and how they relate to the world around them.

An integrated approach “transcends disciplinary-bound knowledge in the exploration of a more unified and realistic view of knowledge” (Mathison & Freeman, 1997). While this is inquiry-orientated and thematically based, it is still teacher-directed. This model incorporates the idea that there is unity between forms of knowledge and is organized around abstract themes or global issues.

The integrative approach “starts with students’ and teachers’ concerns and ideas, transcends the disciplines in a search for coherence and meaning and is built through daily negotiations and interactions” (Mathison & Freeman, 1997 ). When personal relevance, collaboration, and citizenship skills are the goals this has to lead to learning which is more engaging and meaningful. This approach seems to be the ideal as it puts teachers and students in partnership in curriculum design. It emphasizes the personal interests, and cultural and affective nature of the student more than the other models described.

While an interdisciplinary approach is more in line with traditional curriculum and pedagogy, the integrated or integrative approaches “require a complete restructuring or reconceptualization of what is meant by learning and teaching” (Mathison & Freeman, 1997). Consequently there is more risk involved in the latter and more flexibility needed within schools to allow for its design and implementation.

In our schools where we are bound by traditional systems such as timetables, siloed disciplines, and where National Standards dictates a learning hierarchy it takes innovation to provide learners with a negotiated curriculum. Perhaps an interdisciplinary approach could be used as a way to transition towards a fully integrative approach; and this could assist our learners, as well as teachers, many who see subjects as separate rather than connected because that is the way it has always been. 

In my own context I have made efforts to provide a negotiated curriculum through initiating #NZreadaloud. Collaborating with teachers across the country, the #NZreadaloud leadership team, and immediate colleagues, we have devised some shared goals for the programme. We understand the implementation of #NZreadaloud requires flexibility. Participants come to understand that #NZreadaloud is an innovative way to carry out ‘the disciplines’ in a more integrative way which has learner interests and motivations at the heart. The difficulty is how to share the potential of this programme to teachers when there are still systems in place which prevent or make innovation hard.

I have recently been approved for a Grass Roots Initiative Project to investigate and research the effectiveness of #NZreadaloud. My hope is that through this I can collaborate with teachers who have expressed interest in providing evidence which we can then present at ULearn17. I am confident that this collaborative effort will result in a variety of learner voice and evidence which creates a clear picture of the value and benefit of class participation in this connected experience.

My long term professional goal is to provide a fully integrative approach whereby the learners are co-designing the curriculum and can make their own judgements about their progress and success. Teaching in an Intermediate I see that we do have the flexibility to be able to do this and through collaborative practices we can make it happen.

Here is my Interdisciplinary Connections map created using



Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from




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