Book Review: Wood, Karlyn E. Interdisciplinary Instruction: Unit and Lesson Planning Strategies K-8. 5th edition. Long Grove: Waveland Press, 2015. 196 pp. Paperback ISBN 13: 978-1-4786-2712-8.
Reviewed by Melissa Paz
The highly interconnected world in which we live is one that can more easily allow collaboration across disciplines, but the task of implementing interdisciplinary thought effectively within K-8 schools is slow and often fraught with many challenges. While one might advocate for collaboration across disciplines, there are systems and structures in place, such as the way we currently divide subject matter in elementary and middle schools, that can hinder the unification of lessons from various subjects around a single topic.
The fifth edition of Interdisciplinary Instruction by Karlyn E. Wood lays out a practical map for how to weave various disciplines together, without sacrificing the cultivation of learning content or the ability to meet state and federal standards. Wood’s extensive background in education builds trust for readers searching for a practical handbook on how to adopt effectively these ideas within their classroom. Drawing on his seventeen years of experience with the method in elementary schools, Wood develops outlines that serve as helpful templates for designing units for elementary level and middle school classrooms.
A major strength of Wood’s work lies in the balance between theory, practice, and a consideration of obstacles that stand in the way of effective instruction. After delivering a substantial, albeit unfocused, description of the distinctions between multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and integrated approaches (gathering all three under the umbrella term “interdisciplinary” ), the ideas become clearer. The overall point is that multidisciplinary instruction “makes use of two or more disciplines but maintains a greater focus on individual disciplines involved and combined only at the conclusion of the study” and is therefore more appropriate for departmentalized education. Interdisciplinary instruction, on the other hand, is more appropriate for a setting that allows integration between departments, such as elementary school classrooms. The step-by-step approach to unit and lesson design that follows displays how these units, lessons, and assessments can be designed for interdisciplinary classrooms (i.e., kindergarten through grade 6) versus multidisciplinary classrooms (i.e., grade 5 through 8).
This book aims at (and succeeds in) providing readers with criteria for interdisciplinary instructional strategies—the planning of which can seem daunting—and backs it up with theory. Each chapter culminates in an activity that can be used to assess one’s level of understanding and practice with the concepts mentioned within the chapter. Moreover, after going over the theoretical basis for interdisciplinary instruction and moving on to address the challenges and considerations prior to jumping in, Wood lays out a range of examples that can be used as a template when attempting unit, lesson, and assessment planning on one’s own time. These examples are aligned with federal standards and New York State standards, with the intention of allowing a reader to map the approach with an eye to their own state standards.
Wood has supplemented this handbook with concrete examples for the reader to analyze, samples of good and bad examination questions to guide assessment, and unit plan web design templates. This book focuses on the process involved in bringing interdisciplinary-based practices to the classroom, and it walks readers through every step of the planning along the way. It poses questions that encourage readers to think about and to practice the method it offers through examples that reflect varying educational contexts. It should be said that while this book offers guidance through a wealth of examples, it does not offer concrete advice on how to navigate the muddy waters of departmental changes and alignment among various instructors, which I believe is an appropriate choice for the author to have made. This is, after all, a book about planning and not one that aims to describe systemic changes across various schools. Therefore, while this book is not the end-all-be-all guide toward a change in the direction of interdisciplinary instruction, it is certainly a useful tool with which to begin that journey.