Curriculum integration in Years 5-6: Fostering democratic citizenship in Aotearoa New Zealand

Year: 2017

Author: Dowden, Tony, Fogarty- Perty, Barbara

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The concept of curriculum integration occupies a backwater in mainstream education systems yet it keeps resurfacing in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ). Innovative teachers in NZ, who traditionally have held an enduring commitment to tenets of progressive education, have implemented versions of curriculum integration in their classrooms for many decades (Dowden, 2011). In recent years, increasing numbers of NZ educators have been attracted to student-centred approaches to curriculum integration in the tradition of the American Progressive movement. Some teachers in the middle years of schooling (Years 5-10) have utilised the democratic model of curriculum integration developed by American educator James A. Beane (1997) because it is especially amenable to encouraging young adolescent students to develop key learning skills and experience a specific kind of schooling that promotes deep and meaningful learning. In the process, the democratic design of Beane's model allows issues of diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism and social justice to be successfully tackled by empowering young adolescents to 'make a difference' within their communities. In the same period, educational stakeholders in the middle years of schooling have expressed growing concerns about increasing levels of student disengagement, absenteeism and teacher stress at the middle level (Middle Years of Schooling Association, 2008). In NZ, student engagement in the middle years has been shown to be deteriorating, with a 'long tail' of underachievement being especially apparent (Gibbs & Poskitt, 2010). Indeed, accumulated research evidence currently shows "a predictable, measurable decline in student achievement in the middle years" (Pendergast, 2017, p. 4).

This presentation discusses the design and implementation of Beane's model via the professional narrative of a primary school principal who instigated the model throughout her school in a rural region of NZ. The focus of this study is on the implementation of Beane's model in Years 5-6 classes and how it promoted good learning outcomes. It explains how Beane's curriculum design, and the associated pedagogy and assessment utilised in Years 5-6, aligned with the developmental needs of young adolescents. This study advances the claim that Beane's model of curriculum integration can help students to achieve excellent learning outcomes in both the academic and social domains. It finds that implementing student-centred curriculum integration in contexts that are meaningful and personally relevant to students has the capacity to significantly enhance the value and impact of students' learning. In particular, Beane's model helps young adolescents to develop key social skills needed for democratic citizenship, especially the ability to negotiate, compromise and see others' points of view.