Arts Integration: Fundamentals for Getting Started
Becoming an arts-integrated school doesn't happen overnight, but there are ways to enhance the process. Two veterans of successful transitions share tips from their experiences.
A former principal of arts-integrated schools, John Ceschini (right) now spreads the word about the positive impact of arts integration, such as the improvements in academics and behavior seen at Bates Middle School (left).
Credit: Zachary Fink
Arts integration (AI) is an approach to teaching that interweaves arts education with standard curriculum to help create a richer context for learning and can deepen student engagement. Educators at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland, where all teachers have been trained in and are committed to using AI, credit the strategy for successfully turning their school around.
Here are some tips from two veterans of successful AI transformations.
For the Administrators
Principal John Ceschini successfully transformed two Maryland schools with arts integration. Since then, he’s served as the executive director of the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS).
- Culture: Ceschini believes one of the most important things for an administrator is the right attitude. The leadership must decide that the arts are essential for all children and be willing to make funding, scheduling, and hiring decisions accordingly.
- Funding: “I’m not talking about a great deal of money,” says Ceschini, “because it’s a mind-set that you’re changing more than anything else. But administrators have to put some funding into the arts because teachers understand that if leaders put up the money, that means the program is important.” In the case of Bates, the district applied for and received a four-year grant to help them get arts integration started. The bulk of the grant money has gone to professional development. Because the arts have helped build community awareness about the school through public performances and school- and community-based projects, donor campaigns for musical instruments and art supplies have been successful.
- Schedule: Time must be built into the schedule to accommodate both PD and collaborative planning time (PDF). At Bates, one hour every day is earmarked for collaborative planning, and they have PD sessions every other Thursday, at least one of which each month is about the arts.
- Hiring: Most teachers will not have had experience teaching with AI, so you will need to hire people willing to take on the challenge of integrating the arts in their lessons and learn to maximize art’s potential to engage their students. “At first I was not sure about it,” says Bates Middle School math teacher Laura Casciato. “Now, with the practice and training I have had, I look at my pacing guide and think, ‘Oh, I can develop a dance to show that.’”
For the Teachers
Pat Klos was the dedicated arts-integration specialist at Bates Middle School and recently was appointed the arts-integration specialist for the county, where she will work with multiple schools. Her primary goal is to provide the resources and support teachers need to grow their repertoire of arts-integrated lessons and techniques. She brings in teaching artists and visiting artists, develops and leads PD sessions, and collaborates with teachers to create integrated lesson plans. Here is some of her advice on how to help teachers be successful with arts integration.
- Professional development serves many purposes: It enables teachers to learn the fundamentals of various art forms (PDF); it teaches them how to develop integrated lessons; and it provides them with the opportunity to experience art for themselves. The biggest resistance that Klos has encountered from teachers is that they think they’re not artistic. But with PD they realize the arts are for anyone, and they come to better understand the experiences they’re giving their students.
- Use AI intentionally. At Bates, every teacher is required to use AI in some shape or form, although not every lesson needs to be, nor should be, taught with AI. Klos uses two main criteria for implementing AI:
- Look for a natural fit with the content. Don’t try to shoehorn it in or it can make the concepts more confusing. “The idea behind arts integration,” says Klos, “is that it opens a new door to understanding so it has to connect with the content standard for it to make sense.”
- Identify where the students are struggling. AI can be an effective way to differentiate instruction and break through with hard-to-reach kids. It provides a context that will help students build connections and gives them triggers for remembering the content later. At Bates, teachers use formative and summative assessments to find the areas where kids are struggling and then target these standards with arts-integrated lessons. They track the standards (PDF) that are taught with AI and have seen clear improvements in comprehension and retention.
- Collaborate and brainstorm. Brainstorming is one of the best ways to develop arts-integrated lessons. Bouncing ideas off each other within and across subjects and disciplines helps develop deeper lessons, the goal of the daily hour of collaborative planning time at Bates. As lessons get classroom-tested and refined, you can build a repertoire of vetted lessons on a shared drive.
- Leverage community resources. You can bring in teaching artists and trainers from arts programs or partner with community art organizations, or teachers can enroll in PD programs such as Changing Education Through the Arts from The Kennedy Center. At Bates, getting involved with the community has resulted in greater support from the community in return, including donations of time and resources.