Reflection on IDL

The past few inputs we have had within this module have been about interdisciplinary learning, what it involves and how it is used in the classroom.

“The curriculum should include space for learning beyond subject boundaries, so that children and young people can make connections between different areas of learning. Interdisciplinary studies, based upon groupings of experiences and outcomes from within and across curriculum areas, can provide relevant, challenging and enjoyable learning experiences and stimulating contexts to meet the varied needs of children and young people”

(Education Scotland, 2012).


What is interdisciplinary learning?

Interdisciplinary learning is an approach to learning that aims to use links across the curricular subjects (expressive arts, health and wellbeing, languages, mathematics, religious and moral education, sciences, social studies and technologies) to enhance a child’s learning. Encouraging the integration of skills, understanding and knowledge across the curricular subjects. It gives the opportunity to develop what has already been taught and learned in new and dissimilar ways. IDL also helps to deepen learning, this can be done through problem solving, creating and finishing final projects and looking further into issues (Education Scotland, 2012).

“Cross-curricular learning occurs when the skills, knowledge and attitudes of a number of different disciplines are applied to a single theme, problem, idea or experience” (Barnes, 2015).

Characteristics that help shape IDL include;

  • Projects which are longer than a normal course of study.
  • Planned with a clear purpose.
  • Based upon E’s and O’s and taken from different curricular area within them.
  • It ensures progression in skills, knowledge and understanding.
  • The opportunity for mixed stage learning is given, which is interest based.

(Education Scotland, 2012)

2 approaches to effective IDL:

1. Not only is it good for the teachers learning but it’s helpful to show the children and give them awareness and understanding of how the curricular areas integrate. This can be developed in a number of different ways, this could be through; knowledge developed, or the ways of working, or the attributes, capabilities and skills (including higher-order thinking skills) being combined, or through a particular perspective given by different subjects (Education Scotland, 2012). 

Revisiting a concept or skill from different view deepens understanding. This can make the curriculum more meaningful from the learners’ perspective (Education Scotland, 2012).

A good way to do this is to find a common ground in 2 or more curricular subjects which means they can explore an idea in more depth. More over when an idea relates to the real world a child can better understand since the learning is more relevant. An example of this could be when learning about probability in mathematics is connected to the learning of genetics in science (Education Scotland, 2012).

2. Effective practice of IDL can also be seen when curricular subjects are used to; investigate a theme or an issue, encounter a challenge, problem solve or to finish a final project. This can be done by making a context that is real and relevant to learners, the school and local community  (Education Scotland, 2012).


How is interdisciplinary learning planned?

IDL is most effective when it is suited to and meets learners’ needs. To do this teachers could merge curricular subjects under a theme or context, ensuring that the learning has clearly identified next steps. This requires looking at progression over time in knowledge, attributes and capabilities, and skills (including higher-order thinking skills). Children can also take part in this and identify what they think should be their next steps, along with choosing the theme or topic to set the learning in. Involving learners with decisions is key (Education Scotland, 2012).

Other ways to ensure effective IDL planning include;

  • Firstly selecting E’s and O’s with care.
  • Having a purpose for using one of the two approaches to IDL.
  • Involving learners in planning.
  • Ensuring progression.
  • Making sure learners and staff know what knowledge and skills are being developed through IDL, and that this is not lost within the context. Reflection sessions at the end of lessons are a great way of discussing which curricular areas were linked and what knowledge and skills from these areas were used and deepened through the learning.
  • Identifying clear learning intentions and success criteria within short- term planning.

When thinking about long-term planning, many schools use a ‘framework for interdisciplinary learning’. This framework ensures that children get a fair experience of broad general education. It was ensures that IDL; is planned around children’s needs, takes hold of different curricular areas, adds to children previous knowledge and reduces the risk of repetition in learning (Education Scotland, 2012).

“In best practice, interdisciplinary learning provides astimulating and self-motivating context for learning and is bothenjoyable and relevant. It leads to a better, more rounded understanding of important ideas and to an increased competence in using knowledge and skills in transferable ways. Staff will be clear about the connections across learning that they want children and young people to explore and understand. They will also know what children and young people have learned previouslyand how they will apply and develop this learning in new and different ways. Everyone involved will know which skills and ideas from different subjects or disciplines they are bringing together, and why.” (Education Scotland, 2012).


Types of Cross-Curricular Learning/Teaching

Cross-curricular learning and teaching can be organised in 8 ways:

  • Tokenistic
  • Hierarchical
  • Single transferable subject
  • Theme-vased
  • Multi-disciplinary
  • Inter-disciplinary
  • Opportunistic
  • Double-focus

These can be overlapped in projects and more than one can be used at a time. Each approach has different aims and strengths within them (Barnes, 2015).


A little bit of history

  • Cross-curricular links were first seen between English, Mathematics and Science in the mid 1990s. But these were seen in small print, pushed to the outside margins.
  • Cross-curricular teaching almost disappeared between 1997 and 2003, this happened in an aim to help teacher manage their packed schedules of learning.
  • The term ‘enjoyment’ made its way into the curriculum vocabulary in 2003. This was an attempt to give flexibility to the tightening curriculum and knock down subject boundaries so show that the curriculum could be arranged so that links could be made between areas.
  • Jim Rose proposed that something had to be done about the “overcrowded yet narrowed” curriculum in 2009/10. Cross-curricular studies was a common strand to his views of change.
  • In 2010 Robin Alexander chaired a review which included aims of education and domains of learning. The domains of learning were close to ideas from Rose and curricular areas seen in Curriculum for Excellence.
  • Alexander’s domains included opportunities for cross-curricular approaches.
  • Also in 2010 the Tickle review was concerned with cross-curricular and creative approaches in the early years.

(Barnes, 2015).



Barnes, J. (2015). Cross-Curricular Learning 3-14. 3rd Ed. London: Sage Publication Ltd. pp. 49 – 82.

Education Scotland. (2012). CFE Briefings, 4 Interdisciplinary Learning. Availible at: Accessed 18/08/18.

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