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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

Ryan84's picture
Ph.D. student in music education

I don't mean to be snarky, but where are you getting your Bernstein information? I've never heard the programmatic information that you're attaching to the meters. Most importantly the song, "America," doesn't alternate between 4/4 and 3/4 at all. It's usually written in 6/8 alternating between duple and triple feel (2 and 3). I think we need to be careful about making sure arts-integration lesson plans have some measure of truth.

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

Ryan - thanks for your points above. You are correct in that the original piece moves between 6/8 and 3/4 to provide that duple and triple feel. For that version of the lesson, you can view this link: http://educationcloset.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/west-side-shifts.pdf The link referenced above is meant to be used with students in elementary grades who are just learning the difference between meter and the feel of duple and triple. There are versions of this piece that are written in 4/4 and 3/4 to isolate the idea that meter may change within a composition. Please keep in mind that this is a seed and not a full lesson. A full lesson would use a recording of the original piece along with the example variation and go into great depth about the differences and place an emphasis on the original composition. I apologize for not making this more clear in the article. Hopefully the point of this lesson and the others that are referenced provides readers with an understanding that integration is in matching 2 or more authentic standards from across contents and assessing both equitably. Thanks again for helping to provide more clarity for this particular lesson seed.

Leslie's picture
First grade elementary teacher from Tupelo, Mississippi

Ms. Riley,
I love everything that you are saying about arts integration and couldn't agree more. I teach first grade in an arts integrated elementary school. We have also recently adopted common core. When I use the arts to teach my students come alive and really enjoy learning. I can also feel myself becoming more enthusiastic about teaching. I have used art prints for teaching nouns and verbs and we sing about everything we are learning. I have a hard time incorporating drama, but I am trying to better myself at that. I think it is because I personally am not comfortable in that area; however, I do try readers theater occasionally. I love the fact that students can see that art can happen anywhere with anything and that it is more than painting a picture. I am also a parent of an extremely creative child and I see the benefits in her education as well. I like your points on collaborating with the art teacher. The art teacher at our school is very helpful when we go to her with lessons we are planning. I am always looking for new ideas so thank you for posting samples.

Erin Jacobson's picture

Thank you for your realistic yet thoughful words. I agree that making room for the arts within our lessons is essential to the engagement of our students. As an instructional coach, the amount of attention that has been shifted to the specifics of the Common Core is somewhat alarming. Creating chefs rather than cooks is a great analogy that I will hold with me and we create an understanding of the Common Core standards. thank you

John Hofland's picture

I have just discovered Philip Yenawine's book Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines. Though I haven't read it yet, it looks like it could make a worthwhile contribution to the present discussion. If it's anything like Studio Thinking 2, by Hetland, et al., it will earn an important place on my shelf.

Kelly Nellums's picture

Susan - Thank you for your very informative article. I teach sixth grade math and science at a school that is currently transitioning from a STEM school to a STEAM school. I will be sharing your article at our next PLC meeting. The teachers at my school are split down the middle with arts integration. Half are very excited about it and others are intimidated. Your explanation of shared features, strategies, and sample lessons will be very beneficial for this transition. It is amazing how much power the arts have to engage students and provide ownership in their learning. The increased collaboration between content teachers and related arts teachers has also been very eye opening and rewarding. Not only are the related arts teachers assisting the content teachers with integration, they are asking how they can integrate the common core into their arts lessons. The collaboration among teachers is helping students to make the crucial interdisciplinary connects putting them on the path to become chefs rather than cooks. I love your chefs to cooks comparison and will be sharing it with my team members.

Robert's picture

I am glad to see coverage of the arts in Edutopia, but I take exception to some of the information that is being presented. First, there are many highly qualified art educators out there. We are artists who have chosen to share our passion, but that doesn't mean that we aren't professional educators too. Qualified art educators, not content teachers, should be delivering and assessing art education. Second, art education should not be devalued by saying that its only relevance is to provide an avenue for teaching other content. Arts are at the center of every civilization and educating our children about the arts matters. By continually portraying the arts as secondary to other content, we disenfranchise our students and, without intention, we treat non-content teachers as secondary. Third, the so-called standards that are given in the sample lessons provided are tied to one state and are not relevant to many other states. Also, the art standards (I only assessed the visual art) are not being assessed, but are cursorily referenced. And last, in order for any students to do the things that are asked for in the arts standards, they need enough time to master the vocabulary, concepts, and skills for the explicit arts. We need to make art a priority, not decoration for the Common Core.

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

Thanks for your comments, Robert. I truly understand your point of view from the arts educator standpoint, as I started my career as a K-5 music educator and I am passionate about holding true to the integrity of arts education. Please allow me to address some of your concerns and provide some clarification, which I think may be helpful.

First, Arts Integration is not a substitute for Arts education. In fact, I believe strongly that you CANNOT implement Arts Integration with any integrity if you do not have high-quality arts education programs and specialists within your school. In order for Arts Integration to work, students must receive direct instruction in the arts from arts specialists who are trained and certified in their specific discipline to ensure that when the arts are used in the classroom, they are being applied with fidelity. Arts Integration is when a topic or idea is being taught in and through the arts in natural alignment with one or more content standards. Classroom teachers therefore depend upon the arts teachers to teach those standards to students in dedicated arts classes, so that the skills and processes may be used in connection with other standards. This makes the arts teachers even more critical in schools! The point of this article was not to suggest that classroom teachers take over teaching the arts. Instead, this article was to help classroom teachers to understand how arts integration can be used as an avenue to deepening and enriching the Common Core State Standards.

The standards being referenced in these lessons are based on MD state arts standards, as that is where I am based, and these standards are developed from the 1994 national arts standards. Once the Core Arts Standards are released, these lesson seeds will be reworked to include those common arts standards to help facilitate their use across the country.

In terms of the assessment piece that you mentioned - I believe that assessment is very different from evaluation. Assessment is the measurement of growth in a topic, whereas evaluation is making a judgment about mastery or achievement of a standard. Certainly, classroom teachers should not be evaluating students on the arts standards - that should be reserved for arts educators. However, classroom teachers can work in conjunction with arts educators to assess students' growth in an arts area as it relates to specific aligned standards taught through an arts integration lesson. In the lesson seeds that are referenced within this article, we are providing a providing a prompt towards development of a full-blown arts integrated lesson plan. There is certainly a difference; none of these sample lesson seeds are meant to be used without further extension of the standards, instructional delivery, essential questions, and assessment. Instead, they serve as a framework towards thinking about a full arts integration lesson plan and assessment development.

I certainly want to honor and respect the work of arts educators like you, and hope that these clarifying points help to share that arts education for the sake of arts education is a critical component to using any strategy like this. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Robert!

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

Kelly - I'm so glad that this has been a helpful article for you and hope that this will help frame further conversations for your teachers as you make this exciting transition. It is very common to see classroom and arts teachers intimidated to use and/or support Arts Integration. All educators, regardless of discipline, require a deep understanding of the purpose and framework for Arts Integration in order for this to be a successful strategy to use with our students. Please feel free to connect with me further if you need any additional support - I'm happy to help!

tbender's picture

Hi Susan,

I am grad student and my current class revolves around Art integration. I am a Physical Education teacher and this week we had to find a blog about arts integration and our speciality. Needless to say I could not find anything revolving arts and PE. Not sure if you have some leads. I like the different lessons in your article and I think it will be helpful for my quest to integrate the arts.

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