April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Inquiry and Integration Across the Curriculum | On Common Core

It’s the beginning of the school year and you’re being pulled in a million different directions. Your days are full to the brim as you get to know new students and their families, plan curriculum with colleagues, and consider the most effective teaching strategies and cutting-edge resources.

This school year we will be shifting the focus of our column to strategies for integrating curriculum content, Common Core State Standards [CCSS], content standards, and literature. What role can inquiry play? How can we harness an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning as a tool for integrating curriculum? And, what role does literature play in this curriculum?

We’ll be putting these various pieces together, a job that we believe is crucial, yet still largely incomplete. We’ll provide you with snapshots of what inquiry and integration look like when you and your students are studying topics in science, math, and social studies at the primary, intermediate, and high school levels—models and ideas that you can expand and adjust to make your own.

Moving towards inquiry and integration raises a number of questions for us. When we integrate reading, writing, listening, and speaking in meaningful ways, we are meeting many of the expectations of the Common Core standards. But what does using children’s and young adult literature across the curriculum require in an era of the CCSS? How do we teach for depth while also incorporating the standards? Standards are not synonymous with curriculum. Authentic learning can only take place in the context of rich curriculum; it’s about encountering big ideas, raising and answering questions, and making sense of evidence. This is not done in a vacuum, but in the context of the study of science, math, history, literature, and the world around us.


Small Steps, Large Possibilities

We can begin the integration process by taking small steps that have large possibilities for further development. Both of us have used small sets of related books many times over the course of our teaching careers. We’ve referred to them as powerful pairs, triplets, and quads and text sets. Others have labeled sets of related books as clusters. The name is not as important as the idea that even a small group of carefully chosen books can jump-start a meaningful investigation.

Here’s an example of what we mean. In our upcoming columns, you will see the following template. This will be a springboard for ways in which you can frame an integrated unit that utilizes reading, writing, listening, and speaking as a tool for accessing content, and employs quality children’s and young adult literature of all genres to frame inquiry within a disciplinary lens. One month we might consider a sample unit for primary-grade science, another month a unit for high school social studies.


Template: Each Column will Integrate the Following

Topic: Introduce a content-based topic.
Grade Span:  Primary, Intermediate, Middle, High
Disciplinary Lens:
Children’s & Young Adult Literature:
Teaching Ideas: 


We look forward to journeying with you through this school year, throughout the content areas and up and down the K-12 grade span. In the context of your busy teaching lives, we hope that these curriculum snapshots will help teachers and school librarians to work and plan together to immerse students in investigations that matter.

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.