Cross-curricular teaching: Starting small

Most teachers I talk to are aware of the concept of cross-curricular teaching. However, if I had to inquire how many are actually practicing it, I am sure that the numbers would look discouraging. Why is this so?

The answer lies in the fact that teachers attempt to implement the approach in its entirety instead of starting small. A lot of teachers are already doing cross-curricular instructions in one way or another. However, to be successful, they need to become more aware of its usage, recognize appropriate opportunities when such a technique would be effective, and become more deliberate in applying it in the classroom.

A simple example would clarify what I mean…

I had the privilege of observing a teacher in his class recently. He is a good teacher and does his best to make learning meaningful and fun.

At one point in his class, he talked about the two types of costs that companies usually incur: fixed costs and variable costs. He went on explaining the meaning of fixed costs and gave a few examples too. He checked for understanding by asking students to give a few more examples. Apparently, the concept did not pose much of a challenge to students.

Then the teacher moved on to the next concept which is variable costs. However, I sensed hesitation, doubt and concern (from the teacher) about whether or not students would understand this concept as well and as easily as the first one. He was correct to feel this way (for a reason I would state later) – but he was not able to make use of this “golden” opportunity to engage in cross-curricular teaching. What do I mean?

The reason he was hesitant, doubtful and less confident about the ease with which students would understand the second concept was because the word “variable” is not as commonly used in daily life as the word “fixed” – while fixed costs is almost self-explanatory in nature, variable costs may not be so. So, the actual concern here was not the understanding of the concept itself; rather, it was the concern that most students may not be familiar with the word “variable,” let alone the way it is used in this particular lesson.

Although his realization was correct (hence he accurately diagnosed the potential problem), he failed to remedy the situation. He had a great opportunity right there and then to engage in cross-curricular teaching (i.e., teaching vocabulary and business management) – instead of taking the same approach and explaining what “variable costs” is, he could have spent a few seconds or minutes sharing the actual meaning of the word “variable” – he could have refreshed their memories about the word being taught in their high school math classes, etc.

Teaching the meaning of an important word such as “variable” would go a long way to help students understand its usage in a variety of contexts. Once they understand the word, they would be able to assimilate its meaning and use it for the rest of their lives. Most importantly, the teacher would have had the assurance that students successfully acquired understanding of the concept of variable costs. This is one of the most practical ways to engaging in cross-curricular teaching, especially for those who wish to take a small step toward improving instruction and increasing quality of students’ learning.