Although this definition of integration dates back to 1995, it is still very relevant today in any concept-based teaching and learning environment. When cutting to the core of what integration means, it’s about creating as many authentic opportunities as possible for students to learn about important concepts and skills in a way that transcends discipline specific boundary lines.
However, creating the right conditions for authentic integration is no easy task as it requires carefully structured collaborative planning that is specific and purposeful in order to maximize the impact that the integration can have on student learning.
Although I’ve seen many great examples of quality integration in different PYP schools over the years, I’ve also seen many examples of integration that were very tenuous as they lacked any kind of depth or genuine purpose.
When I first started working in the PYP many years ago, collaborative planning around integration was done in ways that served no real purpose. Although every teacher and curriculum coordinator was well-intentioned in regards to making planning purposeful, traditional round table type of sharing dominated these meetings. I’ve seen this style done in many schools and think it's not even close to being the best use of planning time. Authentic integration requires genuine collaboration not just cooperation and sharing. When teachers come together to plan, effective use of time is of the essence as it honors each person at the table ensuring relevance to all.
What I mean by traditional round table type of sharing is this:
Classroom teachers from the same grade, teaching the same unit sit around a table. Seeing as it’s an integrated unit with the single subjects, the single subject teachers are also in the meeting. What traditionally happens in meetings such as this is that each classroom teacher shares what they are doing in the unit, one by one. Then each single subject teachers also shares what they are doing in their classes. As the single subject teachers are sharing, classroom teachers listen quietly or work on their own planning. There may be a general discussion that is sparked from this sharing, but that is pretty much it. I'm not implying this type of planning is done in all schools, but in my experience, it used to be a pretty common thing to see.
This type of meeting, to me, is a waste of time and does very little to deepen integration or enhance student learning as there is no real guts to planning in this way. We have to remember that the act of sharing is not collaboration, it’s just sharing. So, how can we ensure we are delivering more rich and meaningful learning opportunities related to integration?
In order to create the conditions for deep collaboration that goes well beyond surface level planning, there needs to be clear and specific structures in place which begin with being explicit about the exact depth of integration. Traditionally, integration is referred to as being full integration or partial. If it is not full or partial integration, it is considered a stand alone unit of inquiry.
In the levels of integration model that I'm sharing with you in this blog post, it's important to understand that there is no 'stand alone' unit of inquiry. Although the unit of inquiry in the classroom and the units happening in the single subjects may seem as though they are galaxies apart in regards to any kind of connection, I would argue that this is far from the truth.
A carefully crafted and well-thought out curriculum has, at its core, opportunities to reinforce and deeply develop the essential skills necessary for students to succeed (socially, emotionally, and mentally) in school and in life. I will go into specific examples later in this blog post, but for now, I want to summarize the levels of integration. When looking at the photo below you will see each level of integration. If you are not a PYP teacher, I hope you can still glean some insight from this model and how it might be applied in your own curriculum.
Level 3 Integration
A level 3 integration is what some consider full integration, meaning that the single subject unit and the unit of inquiry in the classroom have a lot of overlap in regards to the central idea, conceptual lens, related and key concepts and even ATLs and Learner Profile.
Level 2 Integration
The focus of a level 2 integration is more on similar concepts. The central idea probably doesn't fit in both the single subject unit and the classroom UoI. Instead common links are found elsewhere through some conceptual connections.
Level 1 Integration
At minimum, I firmly believe that there are opportunities for a connection with at least one Learner Profile attribute or an Approaches to Learning skill. This is what I mean when I say that there is no stand alone unit. As educators, it is our responsibility to create opportunities for important learning that transcends subject specific boundary lines.
Once the level of integration is determined, the real collaboration begins. There is no more going around the meeting table, one by one, sharing what is happening in the classroom or in the single subject. Instead, teachers make firm decisions about the concepts or skills that will be focused on and when these things will be unpacked over the 6-week unit. We then plot these concepts and skills out on our planning timeline (see planning timeline blog post here).
Once the planning timeline is done, the structure of our meetings gets very precise as the teachers involved in the integration co-construct conceptual questions that will be unpacked in both the single subject space and in the classroom. My next blog post will delve more deeply into the co-construction of conceptual questions, Learner Profile questions, and ATL questions. For now, all that I want my readers of this blog post to understand is that this is when the most meaningful collaboration takes place.
Teachers must put their heads together and ensure everyone has a crystal clear vision in regards to the concepts, ATL skills, or Learner Profile attributes being focused on. Are they looking at it in the same way or are they teaching these big ideas in a way that sends different messages to students?
Once this crystal clear vision is established, the process of co-constructing teacher questions related to important concepts, ATL skills, or Learner Profile attributes begins. It is these teacher questions that are then used in both the classroom UoI or the single subject unit to being the unpacking process.
To end this blog post, I'll provide some brief examples below of what these co-constructed question might look like:
Level 3 Co-Constructed Questions
Take the concept of 'Interactions' for example. If 'interactions' was the main concept being focused on, a co-constructed question to be unpacked in both the single subject space and the UoI in the classroom might be:
"What do positive interactions look like? "
The great thing about a question like this is that it can be unpacked in PE, Music, Visual Arts, and in the classroom. The question might be unpacked at the same time or perhaps the question is unpacked first in the single subjects then followed up on and unpacked further in the unit of inquiry in the classroom.
Further collaboration is then geared around the unpacking of this question and common assessments created to be used in the single subject space and the classroom. As there are more common concepts in a Level 3 integration, more co-contructed questions could be created during the unit to further unpack things with students.
Level 2 Co-Constructed Questions
A level 2 integration is quite similar in regards to the co-construction of conceptual questions. However, the biggest difference is that the central idea and conceptual lens are probably different. Therefore, the single subjects and classroom may only have a concept or two that is in common with each other.
A great example of this is a recent level 2 integration at our school between the grade 4 classroom UoI and music and visual arts. The classroom UoI was centered around 'Well-Being'. Music and Visual Arts were focused on completely different units, however, the common link that could be focused on was the concept of 'well-being' itself.
This was the focus of the level 2 integration. The co-constructed question that the music, visual arts, and classroom teachers came up with was:
"How does creative expression affect well-being?"
The important thing to understand is that the collaboration in this level 2 integration now has a specific and explicit purpose. The visual arts and music teachers don't sit around a table and share what they are doing in the unit nor do the classroom teachers. The meeting is structured in a way that is relevant to all stakeholders. Therefore, in the 'well-being' example from above, the collaboration was structured around the unpacking of well-being and follow up decisions made in regards to next steps needed to deepen student learning around the conceptual understanding of well-being in the single subjects and the classroom UoI.
Level 1 Co-Constructed Questions
A level 1 integration should not be considered weak or tenuous at all. There can be lots of great learning that takes place as the focus is on either a Learner Profile attribute or an ATL skill. The unit in the single subject and the UoI in the classroom may seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, there are still opportunities to carefully plan an ATL or Learner Profile connection.
For example, in a grade 3 unit the focus might be on Landforms (more or less a geography focus) and in PE the unit may be Adventure Challenge or in Music the unit might be Melody.
The common connection might then be on the ATL Social Skill 'Resolving Conflict'.
The co-constructed question could be:
"In what ways can we resolve conflict with our peers?"
As the students are doing lots of group work in the Landforms unit, resolving conflict is an important skill. In PE, the students are taking part in lots of different teamwork challenges therefore this question totally applies. And in music, the students might be working in small groups to create melody making this question relevant in that subject as well.
As mentioned, I will write another blog post soon that dives more deeply into the process of co-constructing questions. I hope that this post begins to spark your thinking about how collaboration is done at your school and what you might need to change to deepen this collaboration with your colleagues in order to create more relevance, purpose, and meaning, especially in regards to integration.
Thanks for reading!!!
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.