A brief comment on James Beane's The Middle School: The Natural Home of Integrated Curriculum

Essay by richardvanraay June 2008

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James Beane (1991) makes an interesting analogy when he surmises that a discipline based curriculum is similar to giving a student a jigsaw puzzle without showing them the completed picture. Beane (1991) writes that this is how students may view the discipline based school curriculum; they are working on blind faith that what they are learning is somehow connected and of real value to them. The boundaries of this curriculum design limit the potential for students to make worthwhile connections. He states that "Without the picture, we probably wouldn't want to bother with the puzzle" (p.9) inferring that students would be hard pressed to find intrinsic motivation when studying a fragmented discipline based curriculum.

Curriculum integration should involve personally meaningful questions that students find interesting and are motivated to seek answers to. Early adolescents can raise serious questions about humanity and the world they live in. Beane (1991) says these questions may be about physical changes students are experiencing, their self-identities, relationships and concerns for their future.

Young adolescents have genuine concerns about the changing world environment, social and class distinctions, war and peace, cultural diversity, racism and so on. All of these questions display maturity in thinking. These questions could and should be utilised to generate a meaningful integrated learning curricula. They are powerful opportunities to engage students in self directed learning and developing life skills such as communicating, questioning, problem-solving and researching. The theme and subsequent activities emerge from the genuine concerns of the students rather than the teacher. The meanings are created and linked by the students rather than imposed by the teacher. Students use their knowledge and skills to search for answers to questions that they find relevant, interesting and motivating. The teacher's role is altered from knowledge dispenser to guide and facilitator. Such an integrated...