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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.

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Comments (23) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

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.

Portside Arts Center's picture

Hi Susan,

We really loved your article! Portside Arts Center is a non profit arts center based in Philadelphia Pa. We have just created our own visual arts integration curriculum with the intention of bringing it into different schools in Philly. We are still very new at this and we wanted to know if you could suggest another articles that explains "authentic arts integration" and its benefits. Thank you so much!

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi, you might find this link to be very useful, it's a resource roundup by Edutopia on Arts integration: there might be some links there that discuss the authentic strategy. This link also contains a video that might be helpful: Last one is this post that contains another resource round up with lesson plans, PDF links and more: hope that helps and best of luck!

kbeckwith's picture

Hi Susan!

Can you give more information about your three methods for implementation? I would like to begin integrating the arts in instruction and love your ideas but would like more information and maybe even examples.


Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

Hi! The three strategies that I shared in the article are truly just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many strategies and methods for integrating the arts. If you'd like to view the strategies and get more step-by-step details, feel free to watch our archived online workshop on using art, music, theater and dance strategies in the classroom here:

Guest's picture

Hi Susan,

I am a High School math teacher who is currently undertaking an arts integration course through a masters program. Prior to this course I had little exposure to the potential value in arts integration, however after reading your article and similar materials I'm very curious as to the possible outcomes of arts integration in my classroom. I have no doubt that integrating music, dance (and other movements) or interpretational elements to my lessons will increase student engagement. My struggle (like others on this blog have voiced) is connecting my curriculum to find naturally aligned objectives that truly teach to both the math and art objectives. I teach Algebra 2 and Geometry, however our learning objectives are so specific to math content it's difficult to find connections to art that are less than forced. I really like the suggested technique of "Mirroring" and can see how connecting a mathematical process to a physical movement may help students better recall the skill. I suppose it takes a significant level of creativity on the teachers part to recognize when and how to apply a technique such as this to a lesson. Thanks for the interesting article!

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