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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Tearing Down the Classroom Walls: Analyzing the Effects of Interdisciplinary Team Teaching


Research Summary

Does interdisciplinary collaborative planning and teaching affect students’ critical thinking skills and teacher creativity?


ACORN Community High School is a 9-12 public high school of over 650 students located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. ACORN. Approximately 80% of our student body is African-American and 20% are Hispanic, and 82.5% are eligible for free lunch.  The school has struggled in recent years to work its way off of the Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) List in both Math and English Language Arts, and one initiative that has been taken to improve student achievement and teacher pedagogy is to create common meeting times within individual departments in order to create continuity between classrooms and grades.

Rationale for Study
Most high school students, including those at ACORN Community High School, spend their days bouncing from classroom to classroom and subject to subject, transitioning rapidly from one discipline to another with little time to breathe, let alone eat lunch. One of my students described this process as the constant switching on and off of different parts of his brain, which seems to be an accurate metaphor for the effect that compartmentalization of education seems to have on learners. I have been troubled by my observations of students whose grasp of subject material is limited to disconnected pieces of knowledge with little or no sense of a bigger picture, of the interplay between disciplines and the need to grapple with an interconnected society. Students in my past senior Advanced English classes could not articulate how or why the historical moment in which a novel is written affects our interpretation of it. As a result, I realized that I had to approach my teaching in a different way in order to assist my students in developing higher-order critical thinking skills that would serve them across all subject areas.


Legters, Nettie E. Teacher Collaboration in a Restructuring Urban High School (1999)

Interdisciplinary team teaching increases teacher collaboration and collegiality within the school environment, which in turn improves student engagement and achievement

Legters, McDill and McPartland, Departmentalized Schools (1993)

Interdisciplinary teacher teams create a more intimate and positive student-teacher climate in which students feel personal attention and are motivated to succeed.


  1. I created an interdisciplinary AP English and History course with a History Department colleague for senior students that met in back-to-back time slots in students’ schedules so that both teachers could share teaching time.
  2. My colleague and I planned the course collaboratively, developing units of study that combined both English and History content material with skills and essential ideas that were common to both disciplines.
  3. My colleague and I developed all assignments and assessments collaboratively and graded together.


  • Student surveys (Mid-Year and End-Year)
  • Faculty survey
  • Field notes from classroom observations
  • Notes from teacher planning meetings
  • Student grades
  • Assignments/Assessments


  1. Student engagement in both courses increased measurably, as well as student work ethic.
  2. Student/teacher relationships became closer.
  3. Both teachers felt that their pedagogy improved considerably from the experience of collaborative planning and instruction.
  4. Students accessed the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and were able to find common threads between disparate academic disciplines.
  5. Students became more independently motivated to search for knowledge and incorporate it into their conceptual frameworks.

Policy Implications

  • High schools should implement grade level teams so that teachers from different disciplines are encouraged to share their best practices and find commonalities between subjects that can implemented into units of study.
  • Teachers who are interested in creating collaborative courses should be given institutional support in terms of scheduling flexibility, professional development, and paid planning time.
  • High schools should implement authentic, portfolio-based assessment that requires interdisciplinary thought.
  • Formal state assessments (i.e. Regents Exams) should be interdisciplinary and conceptual in nature as opposed to subject-specific, and should focus not merely on knowledge and understanding, but on the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.


Nicole Mirra

Research Focus:
Team Teaching

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

ACORN Community High School

Brooklyn, NY

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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