Monday, September 6, 2010

Negotiated, Integrated Curriculum

I came across James Beane and Barbara Brodhagen's Negotiated, Integrated Curriculum Model when listening to Alfie Kohn's 2009 lecture for PACE University.

I have quickly summarized the ten steps Beane and Brodhagen provide that I plan on following to negotiate an integrated curriculum with my students:

1 Have students individually brainstorm a list of questions about themselves. I post this question on our class Ning as a discussion forum topic.

2 In small groups, students will share their questions about themselves and group common questions into potential categories and subcategories.

3 Students brainstorm a list of questions they have about their world.

4 In small groups, students will share their questions about the world and group common questions into potential categories and subcategories.

5 In small groups, with adult support, students consider ways to connect their 'self' questions with their 'world' questions. The words used to connect these ideas become possible themes.

6 In small groups, students share their ideas of themes for study. Themes are placed into categories and subcategories to remove repetition and overlap.

7 Students vote on themes and most popular themes are identified as themes to be studied through out the year.

8 A small committee of students examine all the questions and place them with their corresponding theme.

9 Students create activities to accompany each theme.

10 Unit planning is done by the teacher based on the students' input and the mandated curriculum.

11 If some of the mandated curriculum does not fit with the student input, then this is brought to the student's attention to be discussed.

I see an integrated and negotiated curriculum to be at the heart of a democratic classroom that puts student engagement as a priority.

Further reading:

Democratic Schools
A Reason to Teach
Curriculum Integration


  1. Joe-
    I like this step-by-step process. Creating units this way would help make student learning more contextual and real. It would be interesting to see this played out in a class because it could create a beautifully crafted bridge between student questions and curriculum outcomes.
    I also think that a major benefit for this would be the transparency of the curriculum outcomes for the students and the teacher. All parties would know the targets for the unit- what they need to learn and why they are learning it. While this process would be intensive, the pay off would be great.
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. I love this approach and have used it, or something similar with some success. I have revised my process to begin with more modelling of critical questioning and critical inquiry. This process is rewarding and very labour intensive. I have just read a blog post by Will Richardson about whether or not teachers are skilled (trained) enough to be able to transform their classroom in this way.

  3. Great post. I struggle with how I could make this play out in a scenario where I and my colleagues do a lot of co-planning and co-teaching of the same course at the high school level.


  4. @ Derek: if working with others on something like this, it's quite important to premise all this with the understanding that having high standards and standardization are NOT the same thing. If this is your point of departure, it's easier to understand why everyone not only can but needs to do things differently based on what kids' needs.

    What's the best way to root all this out? Stop asking "how" do we grade, but start asking "why" do we grade. As a cohort, sit down and actually discuss your motives.

    In the end, standardization and grading are more for the system's convenience than the kids' needs.

  5. Joe, I found this intriguing and passed it along to one of my star teachers. She is adapting it and implementing it in her class tomorrow. She thanked me and I'm passing that along to you. Getting things started by asking teenagers to talk about themselves is good business in the classroom. Juxtaposing that against world needs provides an excellent transition, and I'm sure that the students will invest deeply in the negotiated curriculum.

  6. I used this technique for adult learners and it worked out very well. It was a little difficult getting started as so many adults have been conditioned to "do" the learning that is placed in front of them rather then being given the opportunity to discuss what learning will take place. The ideas that they had were far better then anything I could enforced on them. They were invested and engaged and I will do this again for my next class. Thanks

  7. Hi Joe,
    I'm just exploring your wonderful blog and am blown away by common interests and shared concerns.
    Beane's work (including Areason to Teach: Creating Classrooms of Dignity and Hope) is excellent for inquiry learning and teaching. Another great source for negotiating the curriculum is Garth Boomer's work (Negotiating the Curriculum)from Australia, where they have also made connections to Beane's ideas.
    Thanks for effort and wisdom in producing this site!!!


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