What is Interdisciplinary Instruction?

Tree made of gears - Educational experiences are more authentic and of greater value to students when the curricula reflects real life, which is multi-faceted rather than being compartmentalized into neat subject-matter packages." - National Council of Teachers of English


Interdisciplinary instruction develops strong systems of engaging and efficient whole student experiences. When we think of each content area or academic field as a cog in the instructional system educators can feel overwhelmed by the complexities and expectations of teaching. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, schools can - and should - integrate multiple academic fields. Interdisciplinary instruction relies on multiple content cogs working together to develop student knowledge, problem-solving skills, self-confidence, self-efficacy and a passion for learning while supporting students' various learning styles, diverse backgrounds, interests, talents, backgrounds, and values. 

By focusing on providing interdisciplinary and project-based learning opportunities, student engagement in learning increases, whereby a culture of student-directed learning becomes the norm, not the exception. Shifting instruction and assessment from siloed content area learning to interdisciplinary will provide educators and students unique opportunities to explore learning that is both relevant and interesting to them - cultivating an environment that excites learners and sparks continuous curiosity.

There are examples of instruction that do not support the interdisciplinary approach. These are the approaches and how we define them:

                                      image of a single cog labeled intradisciplinary with a triangle and it's three vertices inside with the caption below stating entirely within a single academic field                            Image of four cogs labeled multidisciplinary with triangles and their vertices within the cogs with the caption stating several academic fields adjacent to one another                           image of four cogs labeled cross disciplinary with points in each cog and lines connecting the points across the cogs with the caption below stating a single academic field used as a lens to understand other academic fields                                    


There are many different ways to offer students a learning experience that includes knowledge and skills from several disciplines. While none of these approaches are novel, Maine DOE’s support of interdisciplinary learning better prepares our students to find an engaging and rewarding pathway. These are the approaches and how we define each:

                                    Image of four overlapping cogs labeled interdisciplinary with five triangles and their vertices touching across the connected cogs with the caption stating multiple academic fields intersecting                           Image of four overlapping cogs labeled transdisciplinary with nine points within and outside the cogs connected in multiple ways with the caption stating multiple academic and non-academic fields interacting and co-mingling