JVER v28n1 - The Beauty of Teacher Collaboration to Integrate Curricula: Professional Development and Student Learning Opportunities

Volume 28, Number 1

The Beauty of Teacher Collaboration to Integrate Curricula: Professional Development and Student Learning Opportunities

Laura Eisenman
Douglas Hill
Rodney Bailey
Carrie Dickison
University of Delaware


Academic, vocational, and special educator high school teams participated in a year-long, business-, school-, and university-based institute on integrated academic/occupational learning. We describe the Institute and examine its impact on teachers' beliefs and practices. Based on analyses of teachers' discussions, interviews, written products, and our classroom observations, we trace the transformation of teachers' thinking about the purpose of integrating academic and occupational curricula as they experienced other workplace cultures and implemented collaborative projects in their schools. We discuss implications for structuring professional development in ways that compensate for limited opportunities for teacher collaboration within schools and enhance students' opportunities for learning and inclusion.

Integrating academic and occupational learning is a core principle of school-towork and vocational education reforms of the last decade ( School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 ; Carl Perkins Amendments of 1998 ). The emphasis on integration has been one response to the increasingly technical nature of many jobs, requiring a workforce comprised of skilled problem-solvers with strong applied academic preparation ( Resnick & Wirt, 1996 ; Stasz, Kaganoff, & Eden, 1994 ; Stern, Finkelstein, Stone, Latting, & Dornsife, 1994 ). By reforming traditional academic and vocational curricula through integration, proponents argued that schools would increase student engagement, persistence, and learning at the secondary level and facilitate student transitions to postsecondary education and careers ( Bailey, 1997 ; Grubb, Davis, Lum, Plihal, & Morgaine, 1991 ; Resnick & Wirt, 1996 ; Stasz et al. ; Stern et al. ). Integrating academic and vocational curricula also has the potential to reduce educational inequities in high schools that track students of different social, racial and ability groups into segregated academic or vocational courses of study ( Grubb et al. ; Oakes, Selvin, Karoly, & Guiton, 1992 ).

Research reviews on outcomes of integrating curricula and other school-to-career initiatives ( Eisenman, 2000 ; Hughes, Bailey, & Mechur, 2001 ; Stasz et al., 1994 ; Stern et al. 1994 ) have concluded that there may be benefits for students, educational systems, and employers. However, difficulties inherent in evaluating multicomponent, diverse interventions coupled with a small number of empirical studies make these findings tentative. Students appear to benefit primarily in terms of school engagement. They may exhibit greater interest in school, see connections between school and their career interests, take more challenging courses, persist toward high school diploma attainment, and increase their career awareness. Solid links to higher academic achievement have been harder to establish.

At the heart of expectations for positive effects from integrating academic and occupational curricula are fundamental changes in teaching practices. Integrated learning in its simplest forms includes individual teacher infusion of academic or occupational content into courses and collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships. At its most complex, integrating curricula appears as whole school reform such as senior capstone projects, school-based enterprises, and career academies. In whatever form, integrating curricula requires that teachers have knowledge beyond their chosen discipline areas, including practical understanding of how academic and occupational knowledge is used in non-school settings, and pedagogical skill at promoting active student-centered learning environments.

Because of the centrality of teacher-implemented curricula and instruction, professional development is a key to integrating academic and occupational learning. We created the School-to-Work Professional Development Institute to assist interdisciplinary teams of academic, vocational, and special education secondary teachers to design, implement, and evaluate integrated academic and occupational learning activities. The purpose of our study was to explore the impact of the Institute on teachers' conceptual knowledge of integrated academic and occupational learning and their professional practices. We had three guiding questions:

  1. How would participation in various components of the Institute affect teachers' understanding of integrated academic and occupational learning?
  2. What roles would the collaborative aspects of the Institute and different school contexts play in changing teachers' practices?
  3. How would teachers' understandings of integrated learning relate to the types of projects created, implementation issues, and student learning?



Our questions focused on understanding the interaction and outcomes of teacher beliefs and highly contextualized activities (individual projects created and implemented by teaching teams across multiple schools) within the framework of a particular case (an institute) over time. Therefore, we chose a descriptive and naturalistic approach, which is useful for understanding the complexities of a particular case and the meanings individuals' ascribe to phenomena ( Lincoln & Guba, 1985 ; Stake, 1995 ). Further, the Institute staff served as instructors and facilitators of Institute activities as well as investigators. Adopting participantobserver roles is another hallmark of qualitative research. The degree to which we were participant-observers varied -- more so during the early phases when Institute activities were primarily university- or business-based and less so when teachers implemented activities in their schools.

Institute Components

Building on recommended practices for quality professional development efforts, the Institute provided teachers with extended (year-long) learning opportunities in school, university, and business contexts and supported their collaboration with other professionals. Reviewers of the literature on inservice teacher professional development concur on several critical elements ( Hawley & Valli, 1999 ; Little, 1993 ). The primary focus of all activities should be on studentlearning and strengthening teachers' instructional practices and content knowledge. Further, professional development activities should extend over time to permit systematic teacher inquiry; unlike the more common and infamous "one shot workshop" approach that provides little opportunity for teachers to develop and reflect on their work. Also, professional development should be responsive to teacher-identified needs and support collaboration within a broader professional community.

When designing the Institute we also consulted professional development models specifically related to the integration of academic and occupational learning ( Finch, 1999 ). We closely aligned our Institute with the Classrooms That Work model ( Ramsey, Stasz, Ormseth, Eden, & Co, 1997 ; Stasz, 1997 ), because of its emphasis on observing and enhancing classroom practices, incorporation of a workbased learning component for participating teachers, and its orientation toward adopting research-based practices. The major components of that model included:

  1. Six weeks of university, business, and experimental classroom-based sessions;
  2. coverage of topics on an integrated learning model, related teaching practices, assessment strategies, observational methods, and action research; and
  3. activities such as worksite observations, creation of problem-based curriculum units and instructional design, piloting a unit with volunteer students, and daily peer feedback on instruction during pilot.

We extended the model by forming interdisciplinary teams within schools and using an instructional team that included a university faculty member with expertise in secondary special education, the director of a state-wide business and education alliance, and a district-level school-to-work coordinator. We included additional readings, case studies, and discussions about alternate approaches to integrated learning. We provided a longer time for observations and interactions at business sites. Similar to the Classrooms That Work model, teachers created instructional projects as a culminating product of their summer experiences. We asked teachers to base their projects on workplace problems or issues that would address both academic content standards and generic workplace skills. We followed teachers during the school year as they implemented projects in their own schools and classes, rather than in simulated classroom situations. The teachers sought feedback about their projects from colleagues at their school, had informal meetings with project staff, and attended a mid-project session to discuss their progress. The teacher teams evaluated and then reported on their projects at a final class meeting later in the year. Table 1 provides an overview of the Institute schedule of activities.

Table 1
Institute Schedule
Institute Schedule

The Institute was supported through the State's federally-funded School-to-Work Opportunities Act systems change implementation grant. Teachers received university course credit and a stipend ($800) for their full-year participation. Teachers could also request funds for project-related instructional materials ($125/teacher) and for travel related to dissemination of their projects at local and regional professional conferences ($200/teacher).

Participating Teachers

Teams were recruited by mail and e-mail sent to principals and transition specialists in all middle and high schools in the State. Teachers and others who inquired were sent information about the Institute and registration materials. Only interdisciplinary, three-member teams were accepted. Team members signed a commitment statement indicating their willingness to participate in the year-long activities, and they secured their principal's signature as an indicator of administrative support.

Four high schools created teams for the Institute: Asher, Doyle, Miller, and Thomas (pseudonyms). The schools' student enrollments ranged from 1200-1500 and drew primarily from urban and suburban areas. We wanted teams to include three teachers representing academic, vocational, and special education. In actuality the teams' compositions varied considerably as did their prior experience with collaboration. The Asher team included English, special, and business education teachers. Each had 25 or more years of experience. The Doyle team included a library media specialist, English and special education teachers. Their teaching experience ranged from 5 to 9 years. The Miller team had the least experienced teachers (2 - 3 years each). Each had responsibility for special education classes: one taught students in a functional (non-diploma) curriculum, another taught multiple academic and life skills subjects, and the third taught mathematics and English. The Thomas team included an agriscience teacher with 26 years experience, a technology teacher with 6 years experience, and a special education mathematics teacher with 2 years experience.

At the beginning of the Institute half the teachers reported limited or no collaboration with other teachers in their school during the past year. The other half stated their prior collaboration had been moderate to extensive. The most typical examples involved informal teacher-to-teacher cooperation and shared equipment for special projects. The teams exhibited varying degrees of collaboration throughout the Institute. Although the Asher team had not formally collaborated previously, they quickly formed and sustained a strong bond during the Institute. The team was recruited by one member whose colleagues said they agreed to join because she was a fun person whom they respected. They arranged to have dinner together occasionally during the summer and went on a retreat to write their final project report in the Spring.

The most experienced Thomas teacher agreed to participate in the Institute because the integrated curriculum approach "matched his philosophy of teaching" and he had "done it for years." The other teachers on the team were recruited by him and his district's school-to-work coordinator. The teachers had worked together previously as athletic coaches and had done some informal teacher-to-teacher sharing of information and resources.

Previously, the Miller team had worked on a limited basis on collaborative projects as members of the same special education team. They characterized these prior collaborative opportunities as frequent but informal. They also reported rarely having common planning time. This team lost a member three weeks into the school year when she accepted a position at another school.

The Doyle team also had little prior collaboration and had the least success forming a team during the Institute. They had been brought together for the Institute by their school's school-to-work services coordinator. Their special education team member withdrew before the end of the summer for personal reasons. The remaining two members struggled to find common meeting time during the year. Ultimately, they completed different aspects of their project and submitted separate final reports.

Teams were matched with host businesses based on proximity and interest from a pool of 17 businesses that had volunteered to serve as externship sites. Businesses reported that they were eager to participate because of the potential for networking and partnering with local schools. They wanted connections to their future workforce and opportunities to promote career awareness and internship activities. The final four host businesses represented a state environmental agency and finance, chemical engineering, and entertainment industries.

Data Sources and Analyses

In order to construct a description of teachers' experiences and probe for changes that occurred in teacher understanding and practices, we collected multiple documents and interviews across the year. We engaged in ongoing, iterative qualitative analyses and used QSR NUD*IST 4 (1997) software to manage documents and support analyses.

Sources . Information sources included project staffs' notes about teachers'discussions during Institute class sessions, teacher's project plans and reports, and teacher and business host evaluations of the Institute. Teachers completed two evaluations of Institute activities. The first was completed at the end of their intensive summer experience that included coursework, a business externship, and instructional project development. They completed the second evaluation in the Spring following instructional project implementation and submission of teams' final project reports. Business hosts completed an evaluation following the summer externship experience. Additional data sources included multiple individual and team interviews across the school year with members of two teams (Thomas and Miller) that agreed to take part in interviews and observations in addition to the regular components of the Institute. Involvement in these additional elements was voluntary and not a condition of participation. One teacher shared his project journal. We also conducted individual interviews with the two teachers who did not complete the Institute. To gain additional insight into teachers' projects, we interviewed students who participated in activities of one team and conducted two observations of those students engaged in project activities.

Semi-structured teacher and student interviews were conducted at teachers' home schools. We asked for summaries of recent project-related activities and their thoughts about what was working or not working with the project. We also asked the teachers to share ideas they had about principles or practices for integrating curricula. We then pursued ideas and issues raised by teachers and students in their responses, and we asked for commentary on ideas that had emerged from our initial analyses. We audiotaped and made field notes following each interview. Tapes were not transcribed, but were retained to assist us in verifying or clarifying the field notes. During observations, we made field notes about the students' activities, content of dialogue, materials, and forms of student involvement.

Analyses . In our early analyses we conducted open coding and memo writing on all documents, and then in later analyses we used axial and selective coding ( Strauss & Corbin, 1990 ). We used independent open coding as a technique for making comparisons and building categories of ideas and events across documents and observers. Memo writing served as a method for organizing our initial ideas and raising questions about the activities and changes we were observing. To support axial and selective coding we constructed matrices, which were created by intersecting the codes and data from each Institute phase (initial coursework; externship; end-of-summer activities; implementation; final activities) with codes and data corresponding to major concepts within initial research questions (understanding of integrated learning; role of collaboration and context on practice; student learning). As a result of examining relationships within the codes and data, we generated three themes that characterized the major shifts that occurred in teacher understanding and practice.

We also conducted member checks following major Institute activities (e.g., after each class, during and after the externship) and after interviews or observations to compare our notes and discuss what appeared to be the critical ideas and issues. We examined these ideas and issues with teachers in subsequent class discussions or interviews and revisited them in later member checks to determine their continuing relevance to helping us understand what was happening. Faculty colleagues (external to the project) also served as peer reviewers at two critical points. First, they provided suggestions regarding approaches to data collection and analysis in the Fall when we were concerned that none of the teams might actually implement their projects. Second, they reviewed a written summary of the projects and tentative findings; offering critiques and alternate interpretations.


Several techniques contribute to the credibility of the interpretations that arose from our analyses of this case: prolonged engagement, persistent observation, triangulation, member checks and peer debriefing ( Lincoln & Guba, 1985 ). A potential limitation of our efforts is that not all teachers in the Institute agreed to participate in the additional interviews (due to time constraints). Additional interviews would have given us more material for comparing, contrasting, and illustrating individual teacher insights. Also, we conducted relatively few project classroom observations and student interviews, because teachers struggled to implement their projects. Thus, although we had information from all the teams across the school year from a variety of sources, our final data set contained considerably more information about two schools. We attempted to remedy this possible bias by examining whether we could find support for insights or ideas in more than one source. However, we never discounted the insights or comments of a single teacher; these were sometimes of great value in understanding underlying issues.

Although our findings led us to suggest implications for structuring future professional development on integrated learning, we do not mean this report to be used as a new and improved formula. Neither can we comment on whether or in what ways teachers sustained their integration efforts after their involvement with the Institute ended. We think this case study best serves as an illustration of, first, how recommended professional development practices interacted with particular individual and institutional resources and constraints and, second, what might be learned from engaging teachers in studying their attempts to implement innovative student-learning activities.


We present our findings within the framework of the three major themes that trace the transformation of teachers' ideas about integrated learning through the phases of the Institute. Teachers shifted their thinking about integrated learning from: (a) Being a means for accomplishing the academic goals of schools, to (b) the idea that integrated learning would be a vehicle for teaching students about the importance of teamwork, to (c) valuing the surprising possibilities for more studentdirected learning and inclusion that can accompany integrated learning. The most fruitful aspects of the institute appeared to be those that facilitated teachers' boundary-crossing; i.e., activities such as the externship and cross-teacher discussions that encouraged participants to step beyond their isolated classroombound teaching and consider other communities of practice in relation to their own. Despite the fact that few of the teacher-designed projects were put into action (which means that few of the anticipated student learning outcomes were realized), teachers' own boundary crossing-experiences opened new opportunities for their students.

Getting Started: The Focus is Academic

In the beginning teachers' operating theories of student learning hinged on promoting academic goals by bridging separate realities of school and work. When asked to identify rationales for integrating academic and occupational learning, teachers focused on students' current roles as learners in schools and their future roles as workers. Teachers believed that integrating academic and occupational curricula would make academic schoolwork more meaningful to students. During a class discussion, one group summarized the idea this way:

"Students need to see their [school] work will hold some relevance when they are in the real world. Better to motivate them that way. Exposing them to knowledge and skills will help them be better workers."

Teachers agreed during the discussions that integrated learning activities must be feasible and "on target"; that is, they must align with schools' academic goals. As one teacher said, "the first priority is academic standards." Teachers believed that integration would not be successful unless parents and others outside the school supported their message to students that learning academic knowledge and skills must be their priority. Some teachers said that not all teachers would be willing to accommodate the activities that might occur in an integrated curriculum (e.g., being flexible about students missing class for a field trip), because of the importance of meeting academic standards. They felt there might be tension as teachers tried to balance the academic standards curriculum with "what kids need and where kids are."

When asked to identify principles that would help a teacher guide implementation of integrated learning in the classroom they suggested that integrated learning should be available to all students and promote students' sense of themselves as "life long learners." They said teachers must make schoolwork relevant to both student interests and workplace expectations. Therefore, teachers must be knowledgeable about workplace requirements, and they must know how to use this knowledge to help students meet academic standards. Teacher knowledge and skill would develop through collaboration with community groups, businesses, and teachers in other disciplines. They agreed collaboration would more likely occur in a school culture that focused on student academic learning, expected and provided time for developing collaboration among individuals, and was populated by teachers who were flexible and willing to share ideas. They suggested that ultimately teacherto- teacher collaboration would lead to a greater sense of community within a school and students would "see teachers in a new light" and as "mentors."

Discovering Workplace Cultures: A Focus on Teamwork

Teachers reported that the externship was one of the most positive aspects of the Institute. The externship served as an opportunity to explore other workplace cultures in-depth; a boundary-crossing experience that few had undertaken before. The fact that this exploration took place in the company of other teachers as fellow travelers and provided multiple opportunities to debrief within and across teams contributed to a sense of discovery and appreciation.

All the teachers commented on the importance of teamwork and collaboration within the business cultures. Teachers observed that how workplace teams were organized and deployed varied considerably. They found the workplace cultures at their host sites to be different from the workplace cultures of their schools. One team noted the high level of competition and outsourcing in one industry, while others commented on the relaxed family environment at their host businesses. All agreed that teamwork would be the most important element of the workplace culture to transfer into their own classrooms through their projects.

When we asked about unexpected or surprising aspects of the externship, teachers reported being greatly impressed by the technology resources and support available to the businesses as well as their hosts' size, diversity, and scope of operations. They compared this to their experience of schools as technology-deficient and having limited resources or flexibility with which to tackle their daily work. They also reported being surprised -- but then again not -- to learn that some businesses, especially those employing many entry-level workers in service-oriented jobs, faced the same problems that schools did with attendance, punctuality, and "teenage attitude." We were surprised, at this point, that although each team witnessed workers successfully solving critical problems within their industries, only one team mentioned specific technical or problem-solving knowledge as something they might want students to learn.

Making plans . Following the externship, teams began creating their integrated project plans. These reflected a wide range of undertakings, most of which did not link directly to the specific industries observed during their externships. Only one team elected to initiate a completely new project (research on environmental topics) that incorporated curricular areas beyond their current course assignments, but central to the work of their host business. Table 2 lists major elements of team project plans and the discipline areas from which they selected student learning standards. As the teams shared their ideas with project staff and the other teachers, we noted their enthusiasm had been translated to some degree into projects of ambitious scope. We urged the teams to consider projects of manageable size given the resources of time and support available to them, but left the final decision about scope to them.

Table 2
Teams' Project Ideas

School Project Focus & Major Activities Discipline Areas

Thomas " Creating a Process, Not Just a Program "
School-wide recycling program supported by student-run organization network; Led by central planning committee comprised of representatives from each teachers' classes; Each teacher and his students take one major responsibility: Logistics & Finance, Resources & Personnel, and Design & Development
Science, Social Studies, English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Agriscience, Natural Resources, SCANS a
Asher " TEAM: Teens, Educators, and Mentors "
Multiple projects that engage business mentors as expert speakers and consultants to students: Yearbook web-page design; Financial services - income taxes; Children's book - writing and publishing; Research papers incorporating information from interviewing and internet searching
English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Business Technology, Accounting, Banking, & Finance
Doyle " Environmental Studies "
Students and teachers conduct environmental research projects designed by mentor; Students present findings to multiple audiences
English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, SCANS
Miller " Emerging Professionals Program "
Create a self-sustaining in-school T-shirt business; Incorporate production and marketing expertise of business mentor; Overtime, create a sequence of courses designed around the business functions
English/Language Arts, Mathematics, SCANS

a SCANS refers to the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills ( US Dept. of Labor, 1991 ), a consensus list created by business leaders and educators of entry-level employment competencies including (1) identify, organize and allocate resources, (2) acquire and use information, (3) work with others, (4) understand complex (systems) relationships, and (5) work with a variety of technologies.

All teams incorporated specific student learning goals related to state-approved academic and technical learning standards as well as development of generic workrelated skills such as teamwork. Some teachers responded strongly in their project plans and our class discussions to their business mentors' messages about the need for workers equipped with generic workplace skills and knowledge. In their project plans they wrote about the importance of promoting workplace behavior in the school (e.g., "people skills," "tolerance," "punctuality") and helping students to understand the "realities" of the working world (e.g., responsibilities of individual workers, awareness of business operations, "life skills" needed by working people). One teacher commented that it might be possible to use a generic workplace skills framework as a foundation for a schoolwide discipline policy. Another commented in an end-of-summer course evaluation: "It was interesting to me, as a special educator, to see that all students have difficulty with transitioning from school to work - too often we in special ed believe WE have a corner in this problem!!"

Few teams identified methods or timelines within their plans for assessing their wide variety of anticipated outcomes. Thus, our early feedback to the teams urged them to carefully consider more specific assessment strategies for documenting student learning and project outcomes. Through the peer presentation and evaluation process, we noted that the teams applauded each others' efforts to include diverse students in all aspects of the projects. Foreshadowing the final shift in teachers' understanding of integrated learning during the Institute, the Asher team received special praise from peers for their decision to include students for whom English was a second language, students with learning disabilities, and students taking Advanced Placement English courses in at least two of their projects.

Surprising Opportunities Despite Obstacles

As teachers began the new school year, they faced a variety of organizational challenges. Three of the four teams experienced immediate difficulties, which threw their project plans into disarray. Only the Asher team started the new school year with the staff, material resources, and administrative support they had anticipated. Within the first two weeks of school, the Miller team lost their member with the most knowledge of operating a school-based enterprise to another district. Furthermore, the school had been unable to fill two other positions within the special education department, which forced remaining team members to take on more and larger classes and caseloads than expected. The Doyle team returned to school to discover that the library had been badly damaged by water and mold. The new computers they had expected had not arrived, several others were out of service, and the library equipment and supplies budget had been cut. These factors severely crimped their project plans for conducting Internet and library research with multiple classes. The Thomas team reported that they had underestimated the start-up time needed given the presence of new administrators at their school and an incoming set of students who, they reported, needed extensive teacher-direction regarding school discipline and basic social behavior. One teacher reflecting with frustration on his team's reluctance to start the project, remarked "they have other things to do."

Indeed, struggling to overcome unexpected and significant organizational challenges consumed most of the teachers' time and energy for the first part of the year. The greatest barrier was limited availability for collaborative project planning, which occurred for a variety of reasons: reduced staffing, larger than usual class sizes, lack of scheduled common planning time, limited physical proximity, and new course assignments for some teachers. Teachers often used terms such as "personalities" and "chemistry" to describe what held teams together. Given the numerous organizational constraints teachers experienced, interpersonal factors appeared to determine whether or not they ultimately considered themselves a functioning team. Teams' plans rapidly dissolved into individual teacher efforts with only occasional limited forays into recovering the collaborative aspects of their work. Our repeated monthly offers of technical support to individual teachers and teams were rarely accepted, with most teachers saying they simply didn't have time because they had "too many things to do."

Given the major organizational barriers, actual project implementation was extremely limited and, therefore, minimal assessment of project-related student learning occurred. Thus, we could not fully answer our initial question regarding relationships among teacher understanding, projects created, contextual issues affecting implementation and, most importantly, student learning. However, at the end of the Institute, teachers insisted they had learned a lot. Overall, the teachers reported gaining new knowledge about school-to-work and integrated learning models and new perspectives on including all students.

Collaboration as key to relevance . Although actual collaboration with businesses or other teachers was hard for teachers to manage when they returned to the isolating workplace culture of schools, their experiences with the businesses and other teachers convinced them it was important to pursue. They argued that collaboration could reduce separation between teachers, who then could provide teamwork models for students. Further, students would be more likely to have their "needs met across the curriculum", "broaden their perspectives" and recognize the relevance of school experiences.

Teachers regularly used the terms real life and real world to describe what students would experience or come to appreciate through the integrated projects, however, we observed teachers take two contrasting views about how to promote relevance. In both cases, teamwork or collaboration was seen as key to making school-based learning relevant to students. In the first view teamwork was a set of social behaviors to be taught, while in the second, teamwork was a vehicle within integrated projects for pursuing new learning opportunities.

The first approach was illustrated by one long-time teacher who had been particularly excited about what she considered the "student as worker" aspects of the project. As the year progressed she reported that she had begun to "enforce workplace behavior" in the classroom. Others noted that the projects would help the students focus on "the real work force" and learn the "people skills" they lacked. "They don't understand the concept of work," according to one teacher. Teachers were confident that students should learn to collaborate, because that's the way "the real world operates" and it "makes sense." Yet, some teachers thought their students lacked some prerequisite social skills for cooperative learning. One teacher noted that because his students came from very different backgrounds and didn't know each other well, they began the year doing a lot of "uncooperative learning." In some cases, the expectations for and actual poor social behavior of some students became rationales for slowing project implementation and defaulting to an interpretation of generic workplace skills that closely resembled behavior expectations within schools (e.g., attendance, punctuality, respect for authority).

Cultivating connections . In contrast, we observed some teachers recognize that students were more likely to perceive relevance when guided or encouraged to use problems of interest to them as bridges to the adult world of work. Ideally, these problems would be solved through collaboration or teamwork with others. Teachers said that creating opportunities for "student ownership" of real world problems was necessary for negotiating the transition from school-based learning to work-based learning. One described this as adapting teaching to "what kids are saying." One teacher who had experience with facilitating student-led learning projects expressed this in his concern that his less experienced team mates were having difficulty getting started, and that they should be "developing the stage for students to become selfstarters, solution seekers, and explore new opportunities." Another teacher on his team agreed that they needed to get "student ownership" because being involved in the projects' organizational network would mean that others would depend upon his students, which he believed would create empowering demands upon them for the first time in their school lives.

Another teacher noted that teachers who had the latitude to adapt curricula to address student and teacher interests could promote students' "professionalism"; that is, move students beyond a narrow focus on academic or occupational skills. He wished to expose them to multiple disciplines and balance his curricular emphasis according to student need. Another teacher noted the importance of teaching students how to "cultivate connections" and "keeping their eyes open for different projects and ideas," which is exactly what occurred for a member of his team.

Although their original project was slow to start and never completely realized, one teacher at Thomas High School and his students became part of an unplanned project when students overheard a conversation he had with another teacher. The radio class teacher asked him, because of his background in architecture, if he could help design and build a larger space for the school radio station. The students thought they could do it and suggested to the teachers that they all work on it. The two teachers, who had a common planning time, were able to discuss how to proceed and ultimately involved three sets of their students: Honors students studying architecture created the design; students in a building class actually constructed the space, and the radio students critiqued the work at each stage. The teacher reflected that one reason the Thomas' team original project was slow to start was that it was a fully developed and teacher-generated idea, which students had to adopt. The radio room project, although also teacher-generated, came to fruition because the students took ownership of the project in the idea stage, before it was fully developed. Both projects allowed for student planning and decision-making, but only the radio project allowed for initial input from the students and ongoing teacher planning.

In their final report, the team reiterated these themes of student-ownership and teachers' resources for supporting it. They noted "the success of any student-run learning experience lies in the reality that the students are indeed in charge of their own intellectual destiny," yet "creating and engendering student-run curriculums takes a painful amount of patience and flexibility on the part of classroom teachers." They noted that teaching with integrated learning approaches changes what teachers look like; teachers must be a guides, not just disseminators, and therefore, they must be prepared to engage students in learning in various and sometimes unplanned ways. One reported that his work in the Institute was "an eye opener so to speak - my role as a teacher somewhat changed. I had to create flexible lessons, empower students via ownership and allow students to fail."

Engaging and including diverse students . Reflecting on the teams' work at the end of the Institute, a teacher suggested "the beauty of the project is that it draws from diverse disciplines and incorporates diversity of kids." The teachers agreed that integrating curricula broadened school curricula, promoted critical thinking by students, and incorporated students who were "disenfranchised" from the typical high school academic curriculum. One teacher noted, it was possible within integrated projects that "every star shines bright."

The Asher team provided two examples of the potential link between integrated activities and facilitating inclusion of students. This team completed just two projects of their planned four (yearbook webpage development and income tax preparation service), because coordinating their efforts took more time than they had anticipated. They noted that completion of the two was largely due to the initiative of students in the special education classes who, because of their excitement about the projects, met on their own outside of classes. Just as teachers had no common planning time, most students did not have common classes or workplaces. The teachers believed that the most notable outcome of their projects was that the "normal separations between academic and special education students did not occur." In fact, for the first time in the history of the school, a student identified with special education was nominated for homecoming queen. Her new found popularity arose from her responsibility for taking photographs of students for the yearbook webpage.

The Asher team reported another student triumph that resulted from the income tax project. Business students identified an error in the professionally-completed tax return brought to them for proofing by a student with special education needs. With the support of teachers, the students in Business and English collaborated to compose a letter to the tax preparation firm on behalf of the individual student. As a result, she received a refund of her tax preparation fee. Overall, the Asher teachers reported multiple student learning outcomes from their projects including new information technology skills (e.g., web page design and financial software), mathematics strategies, problem-solving techniques, critical thinking skills, and assertiveness. However, the outcome that excited them most was that the usual social boundaries around learning opportunities had been crossed by their students.

Summary and Implications

Perhaps if the teachers' original projects had been more successful, and we had been busy assessing standards-based student learning outcomes, we and the teachers would have been less likely to consider and come to value a fundamental reason for investing time and effort into integrating curricula. Student learning via solving academic or vocational problems as defined by the teachers in their projects was not the major outcome. Instead, the process of exploring other workplace cultures and pursuing collaboration in ways that were meaningful to both students and teachers led to surprises about how integrated learning might promote student-directed learning and inclusion. The Institute's role was to support this process by providing teachers access to other workplace cultures, each other, and opportunities to reflect upon and critique the value of their efforts.

Supporting Teachers to Engage Students

Our experiences reinforced for us the idea that integrating academic and occupational learning can be a mechanism for stepping across existing social and organizational boundaries in secondary schools ( Grubb et al., 1991 ; Oakes et al., 1992 ) and, thereby, opening new opportunities for students, including those with special education needs. In hindsight, we noted that we constantly encouraged teachers to focus on the student learning outcomes produced by their work, which was not a bad thing, but perhaps too narrow. We did not direct teachers' attention toward consideration of how their efforts might interact with their students' needs and interests to produce learning opportunities . In the future, we will engage teachers earlier in their work in more discussion about ways to engage student ownership of learning problems. For example, teachers could be asked to consider students as collaborators in investigating school and other workplace cultures as one way to better promote a student-centered approach to determining relevance of learning activities. Or, through university-supported discussions teachers might share past experiences with student-directed learning activities and consider common characteristics of these events across situations. However, because the dynamic interplay of teacher, students, and schools would prohibit a prescriptive approach, we would suggest incorporating action research methods more explicitly within professional development activities (e.g., Mills, 2000 ; Schmuck, 1997 ). We think teachers would be more disposed to recognize and respond to divergent learning opportunities if engaged with colleagues in a visible structure for posing and framing questions, considering multiple sources of data and feedback, and sharing and reflecting upon their efforts as a means for shaping future action. Although Stasz (1997) , reflecting on the Classrooms That Work model, concluded that its action research mechanism was less important than the teacher-to-teacher collaboration that occurred, we perhaps provided too little structure for supporting systematic inquiry.

Related to this, teachers also needed more planning time, an administrative priority for their work, and longer implementation time to facilitate student ownership and overcome organizational barriers. We recognized that the creation of school teams, the initial summer work, and availability of technical support were insufficient to overcome their school-related constraints. In fact, teachers felt less favorably about the Institute structure during the project implementation phase than other aspects. The highly independent structure and minimal university-directed class time, which we thought would create greater flexibility for busy teachers, actually left them without a predictable anchor for collaboration and project refinement. We plan to provide more structure through the university in the form of more regularly established meetings during the implementation and evaluation phase to compensate for limited collaborative and reflective time in schools. These structured meetings would serve as an undergirding for the teachers' action research.

Supporting Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge and Skills

Although we initially observed lots of teacher talk about the pressures of academic accountability, teachers' project activities and reports appeared more responsive to living within the immediate social, daily-work cultures of their schools and less attentive to the technologies of teaching closest to student learning, such as their own teaching and assessment strategies or curriculum development. This led us to conclude that we should spend more time, especially in the first phase, examining core curriculum concepts in the teachers' academic and technical disciplines and structuring activities to assist teachers to identify related concepts, themes, and problems in workplaces. Also, we noted that learning about generic work place competencies, such as SCANS ( U.S. Department of Labor, 1991 ), became an important theme for many participating academic discipline teachers, which suggested to us that we should continue to emphasize generic workplace skills as a way that any teacher can infuse or integrate occupational learning into academic curricula.

Finally, we would build in a no-fail mechanism of having teachers create individual integrated lesson plans that they could implement and investigate even if their teams' collaborative unit failed due to organizational factors beyond their control. Besides decreasing teachers' sense of frustration that they were not accomplishing what they had intended, this would also build in more opportunities to create and practice using student assessments that would document multiple learning outcomes. Few of the teachers felt confident about how to evaluate student learning that resulted from problem-based activities. Coupled with a more systematic teacher inquiry approach, regularly examining teacher- and student-learning would become more integrated into their work.


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The Authors

Laura Eisenman is Associate Professor in the School of Education, 213H WHL, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716. e-mail: eisenman@udel.edu .

Douglas Hill is Director of the Office for School-To-Work at the University of Delaware, Rextrew Bld., 321 South College Ave., Newark, DE 19716. e-mail: dhill@udel.edu

Rodney Bailey is School-to-Careers Program Administrator for the Red Clay Consolidated School District, 2916 Duncan Road, Wilmington, DE 19808. e-mail: Rodney.Bailey@redclay.k12.de.us

Carrie Dickison received her M.Ed. in School Counseling at the University of Delaware and is a high school counselor in Massachusetts.