Integrated curriculum or approach in teaching learning has been a buzz word and more and more schools are opting this approach. This article is an attempt of such applied method on the basis of my direct observation while working as a teacher in Rato Bangala School Lalitpur, Nepal. Therefore, it is an account of how teaching learning activities are organized in chronological order as integrated curriculum approach is applied in the classroom.
An integrated approach: What and why
Curriculum is mostly presented in a very direct and isolated form in most of the textbooks in schools. But many themes in those course books are interrelated and over lapping. When the contents are treated in isolation, the application becomes complex for the young minds. Further, it makes students memorize what is learnt only as the chapters of the textbook. Learning does not take place in a holistic mode. Most of the times, the children are not able to relate how their learning applies in the real world. In response, the integrated curriculum model is an approach which is sensitive to the students’ needs. This model places an emphasis on advance content knowledge, which relies on higher order thinking skills, and focuses learning on major issues that cross several disciplines (Van Tassel-Baska, 1987). This approach adds the practical way of ensuring their learning which becomes more meaningful through participation applying many strategies and levels of application.
The market study can be taken as a long-term project, a socioeconomic activity, which is closely related to the daily activities of our lives. This can be the pivotal around which many other themes and objectives of curriculum across the subjects can be integrated. Researches show that students in integrated programmes achieve better (or equal to) academic result than students in discipline-based programmes (Drake and Reid, 2010). Likewise, an integrated project such as market study creates a platform for students to learn English as a foreign language by using it meaningfully in various contexts. In this connection, Gibbons (2002) states that “integrated program takes a functional approach to language and places its teaching focus on language as the medium of learning, rather than on language as something separate from content” (pp. 119)
How does market study foster learning across disciplines?
To begin with, children are encouraged to answer a simple question like; how does food come on our plate? A thinking process begins in the mind of children to create a hypothesis around the question that is put up. Their thinking will be validated only with a research; valid ideas and areas that need to reform. This is mainly around the social studies theme but in other subjects what would be the areas to work and what can be introduced in the periphery of making it a holistic learning. Day-to-day things are happening simultaneously in different subject areas and themes that work for their learning.
Children in Mathematics class start with gamification (hands-on-activity, learning in playful environment). The students are given only a kind of block to build houses. They get to work in groups and design a house. Soon they realise that they need other blocks to construct and they find their solution in exchanging what they have with what they need. Therefore, students are introduced to the initial stages of a barter system and the beginning of trade in ancient times and gradually they are introduced to the system of using money for the trade. Children are given fake currencies to play and they practice selling and buying in the classroom to be more acquainted with the process of setting up a real market. This allows them to practice the conversation style during the market set up and be familiar with the terms used during buying and selling. At the next level, the concept of loan, buying and selling, added surplus and the profit is given.
Children are introduced to informal and formal letter writing. For the formal letter writing students write to the school administration for a loan. As Market setting is the main epitome of all the activities, a three day market is set for students to run and take firsthand experience of buying and selling and earning profit. The loan is sanctioned by the school principal, then the activities begin. To plan out, what should be in the market the students’ are brainstormed about the fruits and vegetables that should be kept. But to study what is in demand and customers are willing to buy, students go in other classrooms and ask what is preferred with the help of tally marks they are able to see and visualize directly on what to buy in large numbers.
Next, the students are taken for farm a trip (e.g. Thimi farm in Bhaktapur Nepal) at the nearest locality from the school. They observe two essential things following the hypothesis of (a) how food comes to our plate and (b) potential seller of the market set up. They interview farmers and gain more knowledge about farming, sowing, planting harvesting and getting the products to the market. Students get to observe the plants; some as sapling, some while flowering and some ripe or ripening before prepared for the market. They get familiar with the tools used in the farm, the manure and fertilizer used and they observe the hard work it takes for the food to be produced before it is bought from the market and prepared at home.
During the trip, students are taken to a wholesale market, e.g. Kalimati fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Kathmandu. They get to learn that the fruit and vegetables items are priced and sold. They observe that vegetables are weighed in different ways, sometimes in digital weighing machine and sometimes in the taraju (a traditional tool for weighing) and they learn the usage of different weights from 200 gm to 5 kilogram. Then their next trip would be at the retail market and to the supermarket. They inquire about the vegetables and fruit available there. They come to conclude that vegetables are not only brought in from the wholesale market but from other districts surrounding the valley (e.g. Kavre, Dhadhing, Nuwakot, and so on); and in supermarket few fruits are brought in from other countries as well. They make their observations on the packaging and the difference of prices between the wholesale market, retail market and supermarket. By now, students know that they buy at the wholesale and sell at a school set up at the retail prices.
In language arts lesson, the students write a creative article on a farmer’s life. They write slogans and make posters for the advertisement for their market. Students practise writing invitations to their market and give it across the other students from different classes in the school as they are customers. Posters are made with the label names of the fruit and vegetables, and their cost. Students get started with the making of paper bags of different sizes to pack their goods like potatoes and peanuts of different weights. For this they recycle the old newspapers and make the bags. They sit through the weighing in turns and each child is busy with this hands-on-activity. Customers are encouraged to come with cloth bags and the whole event is to be environment friendly.
In Nepali language, students enrich their vocabulary related to farming and farming tools used in Nepali context and surrounding. Whereas stories on farmers and farming can make all inclusive approach while students write their story on farmer in English Language.
It all starts with a prompt that leads many areas and solutions regarding different activities that come along the planning with real life implications. This method of involving the students helps them in the divergent thinking. During the three main days of the market, they carry out a number of tasks from becoming bagger, messenger, seller, record keeper and so on. All these tasks are assigned in rotation, and therefore, these responsibilities automatically become the work learning station and enhances their personal learning.
Challenges and benefits
The pros and cons of using integrated learning should be given a thought before any teacher decides to apply it in the classroom: (a) it can be quite overwhelming as it becomes a fair with almost every day some hands-on-activity throughout the term, (b) other subjects can be overshadowed, (c) there is not enough time to teach thoroughly in isolation, (d) some teachers are reluctant to change their timings and implement something that does not make a big unit in their subject matter and (e) scheduling and agreeing on array of ideas can be a challenging task.
However, the benefits of teaching with the integrated curriculum model allows teachers to focus on the basic skills needed to be taught along with the subject matter/content. It allows a deeper understanding of the content to be absorbed into the students’ experiences. It encourages teachers to make connections among various curricular disciplines and address a variety of learning styles and uses of combined abilities.
This method intrinsically motivates students to succeed in real life skills. It creates instances for the students to build their skills and strengthen it. The experience in a real life scenario allows them to inculcate the hands-on-activities to one main theme and enjoy the success. For instance, the everyday cashiers take the earning to the class and add it all up for all three days. They calculate their total amount and subtract the loan and return it to the school administration. From the rest of the profit they celebrate a snacks party and buy books for a community library. The earning of the profit gives them a boost of confidence.
They make bar graphs from the sale of vegetables, are taught the use of calculations, reflect back on their activities for the last few days and write different articles. The write-ups enable the teachers to grasp what was the impact of the activities. Students share their experiences showing to what extent the actual learning was taking place. Here are some good examples of reflective pieces that our students wrote as extracted from the school magazine named ‘Cornice’ published in different times.
Some unplanned observation made by the students
- “ We decided to distribute jobs for all of us in the market to run market smoothly: labeler, advertiser, messenger, supervisors, hawkers and cleaners…To make sure that everybody got to do most of the jobs. We did the rotation in each shift (Cornice 11-12)
- “We saw the weirdest vegetable plant and it was an onion flowering plant. It looked like a dandelion plant…the farmers work very hard to earn money. The farmers plough the fields first, then sow the seeds, water the plants and take good care of it… how a plate of food comes to our dining table.” Cornice 15-16
- “We asked the price of cucumber, and we found out that they try to take so much profit from us.” Cornice 14-15
- “Well, on the last day (of market) we had bumper sale. The prices were decreased on that day…then we counted the money. It was Rs.91, 115/-. We returned the loan we had taken from our principal madam. We now had Rs.31115/-left…” Cornice 14-15
To conclude, at the end of market study, students will be able to reflect on what they have done in each level through their active participation with the hands-on material. They will have rich experience of activities. Many researches now support that the process and activities take to deeper processing of the information and analysing rather than reproducing the information as in most of our schools. This approach allows students to be active in constructive conversation as a part of the process. It further enables them to enliven the event and develop their communication skills. At many levels, this helps to make it a holistic approach.
Drake, S. M. & Reid, J. (2010). Integrated curriculum: Increasing relevance while
maintaining accountability. What Works? Research into practice. Toronto: Ontario
Ministry of Education.
Gibbons, P. (2002). Learning language, learning through language, and learning about language: developing an integrated curriculum. Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, Ch. 7, pp. 118-139
Vantassel-Baska J. (2015) The Integrated Curriculum Model. In: Vidergor H.E., Harris C.R. (eds) Applied practice for educators of gifted and able Learners. Sense Publishers, Rotterdam,169-197.
Prakriti Khanal completed Bahelor of Arts from Sophia Girls College, Ajmer, Rajasthan in 1999. She worked as an English and Social Studies teacher at Rato Bangala School from 2009 to 2017. Her area of contribution focuses on running reading corner for the primary level students. She has conducted workshops with ECED.