Teachers enter the profession with a passion to inspire students. Along with that passion, we bring our own interests. Maybe we love to cook. Perhaps we enjoy traveling, hiking, and camping. Maybe we have a passion for taking care of the environment. Regardless of what it is, that interest is what inspires us -- and many times, we want to share it. Yet with all the pressures of teaching what we have to teach (close reading, number talks, mathematical practice, etc.), it can be difficult to fit in what we enjoy and share what inspires us.
Two years ago, our school participated in a three-year project with the Getty, Los Angeles' world-renowned art museum. Our goal was to look at ways of integrating the arts with the Common Core. We learned a tremendous amount about the museum's art collection and, along with teaching artists and museum educators, we learned innovative ways to integrate the arts with ELA, science, and social science. We were excited to find that we could incorporate the arts within what we had to teach. Here are some tips that helped us innovate and succeed.
1. Finding a Theme and/or Focus
When we began working with the Getty's teaching artists, the first thing we did was look at what we were already teaching. Since we wanted to integrate the language arts, our starting point was looking at our basal readers and the themes that were already there. The reader themes ranged from Taking a Stand to Using Your Wits to Teamwork. Currently, we are exploring essential questions to further integrate our curriculum.
There is a multitude of ways to focus. Ultimately, finding and deciding on a focus and theme is helpful.
2. Finding the Art
The next step we took in our arts integration was finding artwork that fit with our theme. Working with the Getty, we were fortunate to have the museum educators, who knew the museum collection and could find and present us with possible artwork that would fit in with our theme.
Once we began working more independently, we were able to go to the Getty museum website ourselves and type in our theme. This brought up a search showing many different art pieces related to that theme. The hardest part was deciding which art piece to work with.
3. Close Reading of the Artwork
After we chose the artwork, we did a close reading of that piece. This means focusing on an element of art and a principle of design. We also looked at the art through the lens of our theme.
In our work with the Getty, we used two strategies to discuss the art -- See Think Wonder and VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) -- to look closely at the artwork. Through these strategies, we integrated ELA by guiding student discussion on the artwork and how the artwork enhanced our learning on the theme.
4. Creating an Art Project for the Theme
After closely looking at the art, we developed the hands-on art lesson that connected the theme and the artwork. We worked with the Getty's teaching artists to develop art lessons. For each lesson, we focused on elements of art and principles of design. So many different art lessons are possible.
My advice for this step is to start small if you're just beginning to integrate the arts. Use pencils, paper, and crayons. There are a multitude of creative art lessons that students can do with these simple tools. After your class establishes a routine with the art materials, then you can move to other media. Ultimately, when you get into messier materials, make sure that you plan every aspect. Think about tubs for students to store all of the materials. That way, when they're finished, everything is returned to one place, and you can have helpers collect the tubs. When we first work with students making art, we always use paper and pencil activities. We also introduce routines that help set up materials and prepare lessons.
5. Writing and Discussion
Reflection is essential when going through this process. Letting students think and write about what they learned, how they learned it, and how it connects back to the theme helps them see how "the arts" is not simply a subject in and of itself. As you ask students to respond to prompts, you can help them discover how reflection is part of a big learning process -- and another opportunity for integrating ELA.
6. Reflect and Try Again
Ultimately, you as a teacher need to reflect. Reflect on the process -- what worked and what didn't -- and then do it again. But this time, do it better. It's important, however, not to give up and stop the art. Students need to be persistent, and so do you.
Integrating visual arts into your full curriculum can feel impossible, but as long as you make the attempt and know that it is a process, then it is possible.
In the comments below, please share your own experiences and tips for arts integration.