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Professional Context - Crossing Boundaries

Curriculum integration can be defined as “any approach that combines two or more subjects or learning areas to produce a course of study that draws on the content and processes of both learning areas…underpinned by the idea that learning is more relevant and meaningful if it is organised around concepts that are relevant to students”(Boyd & Hipkins, 2012).

According to Philip Jellyman  the implementation of curriculum integration in New Zealand secondary schools has no common structural template and "pedagogical approaches within similar structures vary considerably, particularly in terms of the extent to which the curriculum is pre-planned versus student negotiated" (2015). However, he recognises six basic models:
  1. Core subject based integration
  2. Paired teachers
  3. Multiple teachers-One programme
  4. Integrated Curriculum as a subject
  5. Project based
  6. Combinations of the above.
Deborah Fraser (2013) distinguishes between curriculum integration and thematic units. "Thematic units are part of the continuum of curriculum integration and are an important starting point, but this is not always the case. Thematic units, for all the fun and interest they can promote, are not curriculum integration and may stop teachers from developing pedagogy that fosters curriculum integration".

Neither one or the other have traditionally been associated with Secondary schools, which are seen as the epitome of subject-based education. I decided to look into my Y12 Spanish syllabus (CIE) to explore potential interdisciplinary connections...and this is what I came out with:

The programme is organised around five yearly topics, plus a language knowledge component. Students are required to write essays on those topics for their end of year examination. This constitutes 50% of their grade.

Interestingly, the difficult part of it is not to draw the linguistic proficiency in Spanish for them to write these essays, but the content. Early this year, we had a trial activity in which they had to access learning from other subject areas in order to complete a speaking task, and the results (which were measured against a traditional essay-writing task) were exceptional.

Many students of languages also take history or/and Art, which gives me the perfect opportunity to explore the interdisciplinary approach by constructing thematic units around which our students can inquire. However, since curriculum integration is not the school policy, any change introduced could only be incremental.

Considering Mulligan & Kuban's model of Interdisciplinary collaboration (2015) implies overlapping qualities/attitudes, common goals, and workplace conditions and, although I don't foresee any major complication in relation to the first two areas,  identifying common goals will be the major challenge. I will have to make sure that Spanish is not only benefiting from this exchange, but also contributing.

Source: Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from

This approach would allow students to make connections within and across subjects, so they can focus on issues relevant to their world. This will encourage greater depth of thinking and questioning (personalising their learning) and enabling them to focus is on real world issues. Also, collaboration will lead to improved decision making and the ability to think critically and creatively.

Echoing Mulligan and Kuban (2015) "as educators, we recognise the globalisation of society and the overlapping nature of most occupations, and we want our students to have diverse, interdisciplinary experiences". NCEA offers a fantastic platform from where to take full advantage of flexibility, personalisation  and even integration with blockchain, allowing students to build an education around their own needs and interests.

We will just need to continue providing our SMTs with outstanding examples of it in action, until they have no more option than embrace it.


Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Student inquiry and curriculum integration: Shared origins and points of difference (Part A). SET: Research Information for Teachers (3), 15–23.

Fraser, D., Aitken, V., & Whyte, B. (2013). Connecting curriculum, linking learning. NZCER Press.

Jellyman, P. (2015.). Models of Curriculum Integration in New Zealand Secondary Schools (Sabbatical Report.). St Dominic’s Catholic College.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from


  1. Great points here. I feel that Senior managment teams are slowly changing and looking for ways to give our students diverse, interdisciplinary experiences. and yes, NCEA is a wonderful way of doing this. It just requires the teachers and the students to come up with plans of action. have several students in my senior school where we run personal programmes for them . An example last year was a student who is heavily into politics. We devised a course that had aspects of English, media Studies, Social Studies and History all together around a political theme. She did extremly well. I have had discusions with two just this week about what we can do next year. I am probably lucky in that I work in a small school where an individual or group approach works.
    but I feel this is the way that we are going and think it is very positive.

  2. During the break I had the chance to go to Ulearn17, and one of our neighbouring schools (Howick College) was presenting their new Innovation Stream. A fantastic idea implementing an interdisciplinary approach. Innovation Stream offers four 'new' courses instead of the traditional English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. These four courses still include the same curriculum content as for the four core subjects, however the content is integrated across Community Action, Creative Design, Problem Solving and Future Studies. The content of the course are the 6 "C" (Character-Communication-Creativity-Citizenship-Collaboration-Critical thinking) and the subjects are just the context. In 2018 their first cohort will reach L1, so it would be interested to see how they work their way around examinations, but I have no doubts they will succeed on that. NCEA is the right qualification for these type of courses.


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