Thematic Studies aka Interdisciplinary Units of Study

In interdisciplinary teaching, educators apply methods and language from more than one academic discipline to examine a theme, issue, question, problem, topic, or experience. Interdisciplinary methods work to create connections between traditionally discrete disciplines such as mathematics, the sciences, social studies or history, and English language arts.

Keith Barton and Lynn Smith suggest that interdisciplinary learning is especially important in the early grades so as to "provide authentic experiences in more than one content area, offer a range of learning experiences for students, and give students choices in the projects they pursue and the ways they demonstrate their learning."

There are many topics that are not addressed in schools because of the breadth and depth of information that is accessible in a globalized, technological society. Much of the curriculum that is contained in textbooks is neither timely nor relevant to learners? lives.

Additionally, the daily schedule often fragments learning so that each teacher is given a defined time block to cover material that will likely be assessed on a state-mandated test. All of these hindrances make it difficult for teachers to engage students in studying any material in depth and to make connections between subject areas and topics. The interdisciplinary model of teaching enables students to see the links between subject areas (e.g. the relationship between literature and history or mathematics and science).

Considerations For Developing Interdisciplinary Curriculum

"Students should have a range of curriculum experiences that reflects both a discipline-filed and an interdisciplinary orientation" students cannot fully benefit from interdisciplinary studies until they acquire a solid grounding in the various disciplines that interdisciplinary attempts to bridge.?

Teachers must design and implement curriculum based on the scope and sequence of the integrated disciplines and be flexible enough to form and revise the curriculum according to the students? needs.

"Interdisciplinary curriculum should only be used when the problem reflects the need to overcome fragmentation, relevance, and the growth of knowledge."

Interdisciplinary units should be shared with all faculty, administration, and community members so that they can have the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and skills.

Interdisciplinary units should engage students in epistemological questions such as "What is knowledge?" "What do we know?" and 'How can we present knowledge in the schools?"

Interdisciplinary units offer students the opportunity to see connections and relevance between topics and provide a variety of perspectives.
Students should be involved in the planning and development of interdisciplinary units.

Jacobs recommends that the development of interdisciplinary units must involve:

Selecting a focus or thematic topic.

  • Generating ideas or connections between related topics.
  • Establishing guiding questions for the scope and sequence of the unit.
  • Designing activities to fulfill the goals of the unit.

Jacobs, H. (1989). Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (p. 4-5).

Barton, K. & Smith, L. (2000). " Themes or Motifs? Aiming for Coherence Through Interdisciplinary Outlines." The Reading Teacher. 54(1), pp. 54-63.