Getting started with cross-disciplinary teaching

by Marshall Cavendish Education | Jun 05, 2017

The cross-disciplinary approach to teaching and learning has been gaining some attention lately and in one way or another, popularised by Finland’s education system. This approach has helped them progress immensely over the years and now, many others are learning from Finland. 

3  ways to get started

Stop compartmentalising teaching (resulting in isolated learning) and start teaching knowledge in the context of other knowledge domains. For a start, teachers should be more open towards starting a collaboration with teachers who are subject experts in other domains.

Research has shown that cross-grade and cross-discipline nature of collaboration between teachers in professional learning communities (PLCs) in science and mathematics (Nelson & Salvit, 2007) contributed to some of the successes in cross-disciplinary teaching and learning. According to Ben Johnson (2014), there are three general phases of teacher collaboration in cross-disciplinary teaching:

(1) Aligned collaboration;

Topics of study such as those in both Art and Science can be aligned throughout the year and taught concurrently. However, the modes of assessment have to be modified to enable teachers to evaluate students’ learning of both Art and Science. In this way, students will be able to better understand and appreciate the ‘big picture’ and build a better foundation in their learning when they see more connection in both subjects in the real world.

(2) Cooperative collaboration;

It is best for teachers who collaborate to synchronise their pace of teaching. For example, both Math and Science teachers could teach the same topic of graphing cooperatively, helping out each other by either teaching it separately in their own lessons or jointly in team-teaching. Both teachers must agree to employ the same method of teaching so that students are not confused by the different methodologies that may arise by having two teachers teaching the same cross-topic.

(3) Conceptual collaboration;

Lastly, the teacher must commit to a deeper conceptual understanding of the other subject area apart from his/her own specialisation. In cross-disciplinary teaching, teachers must have excellent knowledge that is sufficient to teach both subjects conceptually. Being an expert in two or more subjects can be challenging, so team teaching is still a choice solution. A case in point would be having a social studies teacher working closely with the science teacher to help students understand the scientific reasons of landslides while exploring its effects on the human population staying near the affected area at the same time.

Are you ready for cross-disciplinary teaching?

Teachers need to be receptive towards collaboration and be able to negotiate a shared meaning on their teaching focus to achieve the goal of cross-disciplinary teaching. It will take time to develop mutual understanding and trust in one other’s teaching style which perhaps could be easier for those who previously had more opportunities in shared professional experiences. After all that has been discussed, it is worth to ask ourselves if this approach is suitable for our context and teaching and learning environments.


Brewer, PE, Mitchell, MA, Sanders, R, Wallace, P & Wood, DD 2015, ‘Teaching and Learning in Cross-Disciplinary Virtual Teams’, IEEE Transactions On Professional Communication, Vol. 58, No. 2, pp. 208-229.

Johnson, B 2014, ‘Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential’, Edutopia, Retrieved from 14 August 2014, <>.

Nelson, TH & Slavit, D 2007, ‘Collaborative inquiry among science and mathematics teachers in the USA: professional learning experiences through cross-grade, cross-discipline dialogue’, Journal of In-service Education, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 23–39.


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