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Development of an interdisciplinary program in an elementary setting: A case study of integrating curriculum topics with the arts

Laurie J DeRosa, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This qualitative case study focuses on the development of an interdisciplinary program in a Massachusetts urban elementary school over a fourteen month period as it moved from a teacher-directed approach to a student-directed one. An underlying assumption in this study is that integration of the arts supports learning. The interdisciplinary approach employs collaboration of teachers from different disciplines. The researcher in this study is also the art specialist. This study is a teacher's story viewed through a researcher's lens. One question which intrigued this researcher is: Who should choose the interdisciplinary connections, topics, and related arts projects--teachers or students? The naturalistic methodology of qualitative research utilized in this study included data collected through a researcher's journal, participant observer field notes, formal and informal interviews, researcher-made survey questionnaires, videotapes, and student projects. The study examined three focuses: different approach styles, effect of collaborating teachers' role on the learning environment, and factors affecting students' choices when deciding topics and interdisciplinary connections for projects. One conclusion drawn from data revealed that the development of the program was unique to each collaborating team. Although seven approach styles unfolded, the same style used with some teams developed differently. Factors included prior experiences, comfort level, constant reflection and feedback. Concerns inhibiting development included time to plan and scheduling limitations. The effect of the collaborating teachers' role on the learning environment disclosed both interpersonal and intrapersonal characteristics. Collaborating teachers experienced leader, assistant, co-leader, and facilitator roles. Teachers were flexible and adaptable in each role although, at times, the roles felt uncomfortable. The program's development influenced personal teaching strategies and styles, and fostered companionship among members. One concern to emerge was the learning environment itself. It appeared that the location (classroom or art room) effected the choices and effort students put into their projects. Another conclusion drawn from this study is that students should have a voice in the process of learning. Grade four students favored choices in the decision making process and experiences which involved movement or manipulation of materials. These conclusions support elements of brain-based learning and learning through the arts.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Art education

Recommended Citation

DeRosa, Laurie J, "Development of an interdisciplinary program in an elementary setting: A case study of integrating curriculum topics with the arts" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841863.