Monthly Archives: September 2018

My Thoughts and Opinions on Interdisciplinary Learning

I think interdisciplinary learning can be an effective tool in schools and can provide fantastic learning opportunities for children. For our ‘Developing Effective Teaching and Learning’ module, we have been asked to read 3 pieces of literature and discuss how that correlates to what our understanding of Interdisciplinary learning (IDL) is.

Through this reading, my positive attitude towards the approach was enhanced and I also gathered new knowledge regarding the topic that I previously wasn’t aware of. For example, I never realised the history behind IDL and cross curricular learning and the extent to which it has developed, and this surprised me as I was of the impression it was quite a new approach to learning.

I also did not realise that it has been through a tough journey to be significant in our curriculum. One of the major reports, the ‘Plowden Report’, talked about the disadvantages of separating subjects rigidly, however at the time many schools remained very teacher led, staying away from active learning and IDL. Even when told that they did not have to use rigid subject boundaries, they still opted to do it. This was due to the attention given to league tables.

I was surprised at how much politics impacted the attitudes towards IDL and depending on whoever was in charge at the time, correlated to how much it was used in schools. Attitudes towards IDL have changed dramatically in recent times and it has become more prevalent nowadays especially through Curriculum for Excellence. This reading has increased my understanding of how interdisciplinary learning can be an important learning experience during primary school and can really allow them to make connections between subject boundaries. The examples of literature I have read have strengthened my belief that this type of learning can be more engaging and stimulating for children and really lead to greater child autonomy and control over their learning. There is a key importance for teachers to make the IDL learning relevant to children. This involves teachers improving their knowledge of the children in their classroom, including their interests and hobbies for example. Implementing this into lessons can of course increase engagement and motivation and create a willingness to learn.

My own understanding of the key areas of good interdisciplinary learning have been improved and I have a deeper understanding of what teachers must do to enhance the experience children receive. The teachers must be confident and competent on the subjects they are teaching and IDL requires significant planning beforehand to provide good positive learning. The learning intentions must be clear and discussed with the children. This could even involve getting children participating in the process of creating the learning intentions. It is vital that there is a reason for IDL and it is not just done because the teacher feels they have to.  In order for the learning to be meaningful, there must be new learning and knowledge involved and to do this, it must be enjoyable, but provide a challenge for pupils, which links directly to the Curriculum for Excellence concept of ‘Challenge and Enjoyment’. As with every subject area, there must be progression being shown clearly throughout learning. One of the biggest areas of importance when it comes to IDL is that it must provide opportunities for children to apply their knowledge and learning from subject areas in relevant real life situations. This truly shows how much learning has been done.

A key piece of information I was able to take from the reading by Barnes was that the teacher shouldn’t be just a facilitator and if there is an opportunity to use the children’s questions and answers and turn them into positive learning opportunities to develop their understanding, this should be grabbed by both hands. This is something I hope to transfer to my teaching in the future.

There are of course crucial issues which I have noticed while reading, and these have included the lack of time. Teachers struggle to give children a balanced experience of all the subject areas and adding IDL to the equation can put more stress and pressure on teachers, especially due to the planning which is required. I have discovered, through reading, that this is an issue that has been around for a while as a balanced curriculum was usually not given to children because of time restraints and the prominence of testing in schools and inspections which were given priority. A way to help reduce planning stress and also benefit children’s learning would be getting them fully involved in the process of planning and allowing them to think about their next steps. There is the chance that some children may also learn better in ways that would not work well alongside an IDL approach, so knowing your class and how they learn is of vital importance to teachers when thinking of implementing an IDL approach into your classroom.

My understanding of Cross Curricular Learning and IDL has definitely improved as I did not know that there were various different types of Cross Curricular learning, not just IDL. There are many different approaches to Cross Curricular Learning and they have different aims and strategies that can provide diverse experiences and have differing impacts on children’s learning. Each approach has varying effectiveness, but that may depend the situation, such as the type of pupils, teacher’s attitude and teaching methods etc.

In general, my understanding correlates to the reading I have undertaken, but I now feel as if I have more of a grasp and deeper understanding of what IDL can bring to children’s learning but also know what is important to think about to ensure children receive the best possible learning experience. I would love to implement some IDL in future placements and my career as a teacher as I believe it can really create motivating and stimulating experiences for children to take control of their learning. If used and planned correctly, it can be a powerful tool for learning.

Topic Work – My Opinions and Experiences!

We had our first lecture to introduce the ‘developing effective teaching and learning’ module on Monday 17th September. We were discussing topic work and how it can often be the most memorable sort of work that we did at primary school and how it can be a vital tool for interdisciplinary learning.

Our task was to write a blog post discussing one memorable experience of topic work from primary school. My experience was when we did our World War 2 topic and it still sticks with me even to this day. We looked at events that happened during the war and the way people lived, which led to looking at how that compared to our everyday lives. The way the teacher engaged us using creative tasks and very practical hands on activities always made the lessons fun and interesting. I also think because of the way it was taught made the whole class more motivated and eager to learn more about the war. The teacher used different methods whilst doing this topic with us, we would watch different videos on the war and how people lived, and we would talk and answer questions that included working in pairs and small groups to engage us in discussion.

Doing topic work in general always made me feel excited and I always had a smile on my face whenever we were told that we were going to do it. What I didn’t realise at the time as a pupil, but I do now as a trainee teacher is that it is a perfect opportunity to combine many different subjects in a way which stimulates children’s interests. I think for me it was great as there were no different level groups which is the norm in maths and literacy for instance. It was everyone together having fun and taking part in wonderful learning experiences.

For example, one particular experience that really makes it memorable for me was when we used all of our knowledge and learning to put on a show for the rest of the school and local community which of course involved us combining our topic work with drama. It was all about the war time and my part in the show was to perform the World War 2 song ‘Run Rabbit Run’ by Flanagan and Allen with my friend David. It was such a fun, engaging learning experience for me, as I was able to do something I really enjoyed, whilst learning at the same time. During this show, we invited the local care home also to come along as we thought it would be a great idea to allow them to get all nostalgic about the olden days and their youth. They all loved it and it was a wonderful opportunity to bring together the wider community and open our classroom up and show what we had learned at the same time.

 It was also great fun to dress up in clothes from that era, which we did on several occasions, not just for the show.

I also particularly enjoyed the opportunities it gave me to sit and interact with family as I had to talk to my gran and grandad about their experiences and I found this fascinating to learn about how they lived and what they experienced during that time. I was even lucky enough to borrow my grandad’s ration book to take to school. My grandparents also enjoyed reminiscing and sharing their memories.

Another fantastic topic at school was Falkland Palace and Scottish History, more predominantly, Mary Queen of Scots. This is another experience that I remember very well and again, the practical element of this project made it memorable and for me was a powerful learning experience. The context behind the project was looking at Scottish history and how that impacted our lives as well as looking back at past events and stepping into the shoes of some famous characters of Scottish history including Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox. Some aspects that I remember vividly include having to use our researching skills to discover more information regarding events that occurred, as well as using our literacy skills to try our hand at different writing tasks. These included writing newspaper reports on the murder of Mary Queen of Scots private secretary David Rizzio and writing diary entries and letters as if we were Mary writing home from France to her family. Reflecting on this experience now, I can see how this is an excellent way to practice and improve writing and literacy skills in a stimulating way where the children don’t actually feel as if they are doing ‘proper’ work. As the topic they are writing about is interesting, children will be more motivated to complete the task and to a high standard. We also took part in creative art activities such as making and designing booklets and filling it with information about Scottish history, events, weapons etc.


One of the best opportunities we had during this topic was to visit Falkland Palace for the day. Our journey began with a tour of Falkland learning about the past and were then taken to Falkland Palace where we learned all about Scottish history and the story of Mary Queen of Scots. We also got to dress up like characters from the past which was always great fun. I was Lord Darnley. We really felt like we were experiencing first-hand how the people lived and the use of actors to portray the characters that day really helped spark my imagination. In my opinion, class trips such as this are essential as they can allow children to get out of the classroom environment and really experience something first hand. It could also perhaps result in children who may not flourish in the classroom environment to do so.

This whole experience of this topic made me feel like I was actually there during the time of Mary Queen of Scots and the practical, full on element of the project meant that it was never boring. It really stimulated and challenged me and constantly made me think, whilst providing me with so much learning and knowledge. Something that still stays with me today.

I believe that project work can provide children with fantastic opportunities to learn so much about a certain topic and the element of wonder and surprise during these experiences can be a very powerful learning tool. I particularly like the fact that it can meet the needs of all children and everyone can take part and have fun doing it. It is a very inclusive type of learning and this can only be good for children’s confidence and development. Of course, the effectiveness of this type of work can depend on the approach the school and teachers use, as well as the attitude the teacher has towards topic work. But on the whole, if links can be made across subject areas, creative teaching strategies are undertaken, and the children get to participate in a variety of engaging activities then in my opinion topic work can be one of the most memorable experiences you can have in primary school. I know it certainly was for me.