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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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These days, integration in any area, be it STEM or the arts, seems to be the buzzword to curriculum designers everywhere. There are so many resources floating around out there with the claim of integrating content areas. Yet, true integration is often difficult to find. Indeed, integration is a rare yet seemingly "magical" approach that has the capacity to turn learning into meaningful practice.

Which of course, as any teacher will tell you, is anything but magic.

Integration requires collaboration, research, intentional alignment and practical application on behalf of the teachers who take on this challenge. From the students, integration demands creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration and the ability to work through the rigorous demands of multiple ideas and concepts woven together to create a final product. Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together. It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically alongside meaningful assessments which take both content areas to a whole new level. Put together, these components set the foundation for how we will be able to facilitate the Common Core State Standards.

Shared Features

So far with Common Core, the often-highlighted integration approach is through STEM. However, Arts Integration is just as effective yet many times overlooked. What is striking is that both STEM and Arts Integration are linked through definition as an approach to teaching through two or more content areas. Still, the arts have some unique parallels to the Common Core Standards that may make their implementation a beneficial addition for teachers and administrators. These parallels attest to the rigors of the arts and the need for their processes in today's global workforce and the unforeseen future.

1. Process Produces Product

I developed many of these Arts Integration lessons which provide students with time to compare sources, conduct research and focus on the process of their work. The products created are naturally richer and more extensive than from a "traditional" approach. The importance of shifting our focus from products to processes can be found within the Common Core Math Practices -- most of which are aligned with the Artist's Habits of Mind.

2. Access Points

An Arts Integration approach is naturally engaging to students and to teachers. Almost everyone has one art form (visual art, music, dance or drama) with which they connect and use to make sense of the world. And our society places a high emphasis on the arts. We are bombarded with advertisements for iPods and iPads, music, movies and shows that are often produced with high visual impact. By weaving the arts into and through our content in naturally aligned ways, we are providing relevance to student learning, and giving them an opportunity to connect their world to our classrooms.

3. True Equity

The emphasis on process-based learning and using access points that are relevant to every child makes teaching and learning an equitable opportunity for everyone in the classroom. By using Arts Integration, teachers and leaders can ensure that students are learning in a way that meets their own unique cultural, social, emotional and intellectual needs.

4. Analytic Practice

When studying any piece of art, composition, drama or dance, one must be able to analyze the components that create the whole. Additionally, the ability to synthesize these parts into a whole work is critical to making meaning for each audience member. Common Core Reading and Math Standards have both identified the need for this critical practice, and many teachers are struggling with implementing it in the classroom. Arts Integration may be a pathway to providing those opportunities.

Strategies for Implementation

Arts Integration seems to be hidden from view because teachers are nervous about their own artistic abilities, and also their ability to effectively facilitate a lesson that includes authentic arts standards. Yet Arts Integration strategies have a variety of levels, and many can be implemented quite quickly in classrooms. The keys to using Arts Integration successfully are:

  • Collaboration between arts and classroom teachers to find naturally-aligned objectives
  • Using an arts area in which the classroom teacher is comfortable (for many, this starts with visual arts)
  • Creating a lesson that truly teaches to both standards
  • Assessing both areas equitably

Here are some quick sample arts strategies to try if you're just starting out. (For full descriptions, just click each link.)

1. Mirroring

A drama and dance technique, this is a fantastic way of connecting to Common Core Math Standards. It provides students with a way to share understanding using movement, concentration and problem-solving skills. This technique involves partnering students and having them "mirror" each other’s actions.

2. Stepping into the Painting

This visual arts strategy involves carefully inspecting a chosen painting as a way to interpret personal meaning for each student. Students then combine their interpretations to create a global story from the painting.

3. Call and Response

This music technique is practiced all the time in general music classes as a way to build improvising and composition skills, and to practice fluency. It can be used effectively with reading or math concepts and, because it is rhythmically based, the classroom teacher can guide the exercise with simple handclapping.

Are We Building Cooks or Chefs?

Arts Integration is about the tools that we use to provide the opportunities for teachers and students to create their own meaning. By taking a traditional approach, we are shortchanging our teachers from the true art of their craft. This leads to burnout and resentment, which we desperately need to address if our students are to succeed. And our students deserve an opportunity to own their learning for themselves and to make deep, meaningful connections through the curriculum. Arts Integration allows us to build chefs who make choices -- not cooks who merely follow the recipe. By fostering a community within our schools where authentic Arts Integration is taking place, we can meet and exceed expectations set by Common Core and move into a culture of true inquiry and learning.

Sample Arts Integration Lesson Seeds

Looking for Arts Integration lesson seeds that connect with Common Core Standards? Click the links below for some samples that I have created. Please share your own lesson seeds in the comments area below.

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jessica's picture
I am a mother of 4 and a college student learning teacher education.

Currently I am studying at our local state college to become a teacher. I have always had my children involved in the arts whether through our community or at home. Sadly I only hear of an art lesson maybe once a month in their public school. Your article was very informative regarding the arts integrated into our everyday lessons. Thank you!

Diana's picture
Dance Educator from Connecticut

Love Love Love this article!! I am a dance educator who has become very interested in arts integration. Last year I received a grant to design and implement a curriculum to use dance to teach geometry to second graders. (More information on the program and a copy of the curriculum is available on my site This year when I approached another principal about integrating dance, I was told that her focus had to be on Common Core Standards and that left no room for any extras!!! I might send her a link to this post! =)

Andrea Distelhurst's picture
Andrea Distelhurst
Seventh and Eight grade science teacher from Bradenton, Florida

Art infused classrooms offer students a new way of seeing. Art, as a communication tool, lets students learn and speak a new language that will let them share their ideas with a global arena that may not understand their native tongue. Science is the perfect subject area to use art as a communication vehicle: the art of the natural world is unmatched, be it light spectrum or rock formation. Teach students to see with their creative filters and they will comprehend the world around them.

Bekah Lund's picture

I love the rationale behind your arts integration approach. I think that sometimes we as teachers feel challenged to integrate art in a way that does it justice, but I feel like some of these ideas are very doable. I love your comparison of chefs vs. cooks, this idea hits the nail on the head in terms of creating critical, creative thinkers. Thank you for your ideas!

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

So glad you found this information helpful, Bekah! Arts Integration can seem intimidating, but when we collaborate together, it's a powerful medium for learning.

John Hofland's picture

This is a really well-written, helpful article that combines theory with useful suggestions for practice. I'm glad I found this. I'm going to include a reference to this on my ArtAchieve website. The article promotes exactly this kind of thing we're trying to promote, and you say it so cogently. Thanks for a great article!

safaa's picture

Hi, i'm an art teacher who has experience in Art of education more than 10 years ,but the most exciting things that happened to me that I worked last 7 years in international school which made me professional and have a chance to teach art curriculum by integrating art with other subject .but till now I don't have a fixed core of art American department which can help me to put my art curriculum ,if you can help me to send a printable curriculum for subjects that I can used it to envolve art with for example social studies ,science and Math i'll be thankful because their is many curriculum on internet .thanks

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