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assessment, attention, differentiation assessment, instruction, mathematics, teacher preparation, technology

Integrative Instructional Design

The pre-service teachers I work with often here me tout  “Instruction is not a one size fits all approach”.  This notion is based on Tomilson’s theory of differentiated instruction. Tomilson contends that teachers can and should provide multiple pathways to learning by differentiating three areas of instruction: content, process and product.  The idea of presenting content in multiple ways can feel like an overwhelming task.  Moreover some students might not find different representations of the same content meaningful or engaging.  Similarly having multiple products or processes can be extremely overwhelming for new teachers to manage and be effective, especially with younger children or students  who may not have the foundational skills to work independently.

Building on the notion of differentiation instruction is integrative instructional design. Similar to the idea of presenting content in multiple ways, integrative design  builds on students interests and readiness and makes connections across content areas in the context of a theme or unit of study.   This approach to instruction is extremely effective for English language learners who can apply academic language across content areas rather than learning new words in isolation and without meaningful experiences.  Furthermore teachers can provide explicit direct instruction, and support collaborative group work experiences with exemplars, higher order questioning and resources that”fits-all” in multiple ways.

This week I had third graders build on their knowledge of multiplication/division in the context of designing a garden and determining the area each student would receive.  This was part of their science unit on investigating the impact of different types of environments has on plant growth. Not only where students able to use their math knowledge to determine the area but they were able to apply calculations in a real-life situation which included students measuring the plot and using string to create equal spaces.

So where do you begin? Think about an essential question that can begin your investigations into a theme.  For example “What do plant’s need to grow”.  Then begin your investigation with activities that will support the central theme such as identifying parts of a plant, tools for the garden and sorting and counting seeds. Teachers can begin their planning by thinking about how the unit of study can overlap into other content areas.

This instructional approach is also extremely useful for secondary students to go deeper with skills and strategies to promote mastery of learning.  Co-planning with other subject teachers at your school site can provide for a much more in-depth unit of study.  Check out this unit of study on ratio and rates which is built on a unit of eating healthy and includes activities from other subject areas such as social studies, health, technology and writing.

How might you use an integrative approach in your classroom instruction?


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About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


5 thoughts on “Integrative Instructional Design

  1. @Dr. Dickenson

    I really enjoyed reading your post about differentiated instruction and integrative instructional design, there is no question that teachers must find ways to offer content in a variety of ways as a means of better meeting the needs of the various learner types in any given classroom. Especially helpful was the example you provided where your third grade students were able to apply math concepts in the real life situation of calculating equal garden plots. I can imagine they were much more excited about applying the concepts in that type of environment! I appreciate you not only providing evidence around the need for integrative instructional design but also including some concrete steps that new teachers, such as myself, can take in getting started.

    Thank you! 🙂

    Joseph Gordon
    (Your current graduate student in TED531A)

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Joseph Gordon | October 12, 2016, 1:04 am
    • Thank you Joseph for your points! When we teach with an integrative lens students are much more capable of transferring information into a different context and develop mastery of a concept. When concepts are taught in isolation students do not have associations to make connections which aids in recall and remembering. Alas it is the case of “I taught this last week and my students don’t remember”.


      Posted by Dr. Dickenson | October 17, 2016, 6:18 pm
  2. Hi Dr. Dickenson,

    Integrative instructional design sounds like it really help students find their motivation to study some content. I hear a lot of students in my sixth grade class say they don’t like Math, or they hate writing. But, since the majority of my students like science, it would be extremely helpful to get the students into a science theme, and work Math and writing into it. For example, we are currently in a unit in social studies on Ancient Mesopotamia. The students seem very interested in the content. I know this because during their free time, I see them in the back of the room reading the chosen books on Mesopotamia that have been left out for them. They also chose books on this subject during our Library time. They ask a lot of good, targeted questions, and they put a lot of energy into their upcoming projects. I could capitalize on that level of interest and motivation by integrating some math skills into the Meopotamia theme. We have talked a lot about the canals that the Sumerians built around their city to harness water when the rains were low. In Math, we are adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. I could create work problems based on water levels in the irrigation canals, using positive and negative integers. I could also integrate writing into this theme, by asking them to write a short narrative story about Hammurabi’s Code, and imagine a person that broke one of the rules.

    Thank you for the ideas! They were very helpful to get me thinking about different avenues. I am a student in your current student teaching seminar!

    Nicole Huckaby Green

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Nicole Green | October 13, 2016, 6:12 pm

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