George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Bates Middle School

Grades 6-8 | Annapolis, MD

Integrate the Arts, Deepen the Learning

Critical thinking, risk taking, and collaboration are just some of the areas where Bates Middle School educators report big improvements since integrating the arts.

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Integrate the Arts, Deepen the Learning (Transcript)

John: We’ve got to find a way to reach all kids, every kid, no matter what. And the arts do that. They give us ways to engage kids, to get them involved, to have them be part of what we want them to be a part of, which is learning the curriculum.

Diane: I got here during the summer and I had 18 letters of resignation on my desk from teachers out of 45. That was really scary. And then the discipline on the first day was shocking. I'd never seen kids that disengaged before.

Diane: After really fighting hard to stabilize Bates Middle School for the first three years it became obvious that we needed a whole school reform effort.

Pat: Because we are an arts integration school every teacher is expected to use arts integration in their classrooms in some shape or form in every content area.

Pat: The idea behind arts integration is that you learn the content area through the art so it sort of opens a new door to understanding.

John: One of the things that the arts do is they provide different strategies and different skills that go across all curriculum: collaboration, problem-solving skills. You have to figure out what will work? And you have to work through it. And sometimes you fail and you gain from failure. I mean that's the best thing about the arts. You don't have to be perfect all the time. We need to teach kids that you learn through failure. Take that risk. You take a risk, you're successful, that's a life-long skill for kids.

Stacey: We're going to start off with some artful thinking. I'm going to show you another image from the Ars Ad Astra project, the art gallery that went to the Mir Space Station.

Pat: Artful thinking is an approach to teaching visual arts through a series of routines and each routine has a set of questions that the teacher asks about a piece of art and they're designed around critical thinking skills. What they're doing is showing a piece of art and asking kids to look at it carefully and to make some assumptions about it.

Stacey: This will be a routine for imagining and observing. Please take a moment to look at the painting. Choose beginning, middle, or end. If this artwork is in the beginning of the story what might happen next? And if this artwork is at the end of the story, what was the story about?

Student: I chose the beginning. I said "An international space corporation wanted to send a new kind of space probe to each planet of our solar system to study life. And the space probes hold a new kind of animal scientifically made.”

Stacey: Typically they spend ten seconds looking at a piece. This encourages them to really observe every portion of that painting or artwork, and then it allows their thinking to be visible.

Pat: We ask ourselves where are the kids struggling? Uhm.. and we want to then target that standard because we want to approach it through art integration to find another way to reach them.

Stacey: Maddie, read the learning goal for us nice and loud.

Maddie: I will understand and demonstrate rotation and revolution by choreographing a dance.

Stacey: Thank you very much. Today you kids are dancing.

Stacey: Today you kids are dancing.

Stacey: I wanted my kids to understand rotation and revolution. Uh.. they frequently mix them up.

Stacey: You will choose a movement from your choreography today and you will tell me how your movement represents rotation or revolution.

Stacey: So I decided to make two dance groups.

Caleb: If I was doing the learning out of a textbook, it wouldn't stick with me like because I'm a visual learner. I'm an active learner, so by doing exciting things, creative things it sparks my interest so then my mind, it keeps on my mind oh remember when you did this? Remember when you did that? When we have our unit test then I can know the characteristics of the different planets.

Stacey: These are all the movements I want to see included in your choreography. I'm going to give you two okay?

Student: Okay.

Student: Alec is the sun and like you get in the middle and we all get in a circle at the very beginning.

Student: Everyone who is an expert of each planet, we each go around at however fast the planet goes.

Student: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Pat: We’ve seen a huge difference in the kinds of questions that- that kids are answering and the kinds of questions teachers are asking because when they use the art to ask these critical thinking questions, the kids are- are using skills that they didn't know they had.

Diane: Over the last five years we've made significant gains in all of our student groups. For instance, our English language learners have increased their student achievement in math and in reading by almost 30 percent. Our Special Ed scores are jumping higher than we could have even hoped, and we're developing a body of research data that show that arts integration can help struggling students learn those standards.

John: To see parents that never came into a school to all of a sudden be there, to come in and say "Thank you, my son is engaged where he never was before.”

John: I saw what it did for kids. And it's changed my career. I mean, they say arts are transformative. It transformed me.

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  • Director: Zachary Fink
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  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
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  • Digital Media Curator: Amy Erin Borovoy
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Getting Started With Arts Integration

Educators at Wiley H. Bates Middle School credit integrating art throughout the curriculum for successfully turning their school around.

A transformation took place when the school adopted arts integration as the turnaround tool for the school. The school made changes in schedules, funding, and even the approach to community and parent involvement.

Most important, the teachers had to change. Through intensive and continual professional development, teachers now are able to engage students in content they previously found uninteresting. The transformation was successful because every teacher integrated arts into their teaching. 

How It's Done

Weaving Arts Education With Standard Curricula

Arts integration (AI) is an approach to teaching that creates a richer context for learning and to 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 around the school.

Tips for Administrators

Below are some steps administrators can take to successfully integrate the arts:

  • Change the culture: The leadership must decide that the arts are essential for all children and be willing to make funding, scheduling, and hiring decisions accordingly.
  • Commit funding: Administrators have to put some funding into the arts. Grants can help to get arts integration started. The bulk of the grant money usually goes to professional development. Because the arts help build community awareness about the school through public performances and school- and community-based projects, donor campaigns for musical instruments and art supplies are generally successful.
  • Adjust the schedule: Time must be built into the schedule to accommodate both PD and collaborative planning (PDF). At Bates, one hour every day is earmarked for collaborative planning, and teachers have PD sessions every other Thursday, at least one of which each month is about the arts.
  • Hire willing teachers: Most teachers will not have experience teaching with AI, so administrators need to hire people who are willing to take on the challenge of integrating the arts in their lessons and who want to learn to maximize art’s potential to engage their students.
  • Leverage community resources: Bring in teaching artists and trainers from arts programs, or partner with community art organizations. Teachers also can enroll in PD programs such as Changing Education Through the Arts from The Kennedy Center.

Tips for Teachers

Here are ways that teachers can maximize AI’s potential:

  • Take advantage of professional development: PD serves many purposes. It can help teachers learn the fundamentals of various art forms and develop integrated lessons, and it provides them with the opportunity to experience art for themselves. The main reason teachers resist AI is because they think they’re not artistic. But with PD, they realize the arts are for everyone, 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, or should be, taught with AI. Teachers should use 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 arts-integration specialist Pat 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 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.
  • Collaborate and brainstorm: Brainstorming is one of the best ways to develop arts-integrated lessons. Bouncing ideas off other educators within and across subjects and disciplines helps develop deeper lessons, and this is the goal of the daily hour of collaborative-planning time at Bates. As lessons get classroom tested and refined, teachers can build a repertoire of vetted lessons on a shared network drive.


Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Kimball Coburn's picture
Kimball Coburn
Media Teacher

I often find myself discouraged by the lack of value for the arts where I teach. They don't recognize the deeper learning that happens in these kinds of environments. The educators shown here "get it"! That is exciting!

Paul Sinjani's picture
Paul Sinjani
School Principal, Grace Academy

What a great way of engaging students in learning! Keep it up. My school will find a way of emulating you.

Joanne Chen's picture
Joanne Chen
Chinese Langauge Teacher from Southern California, CA

It is a great encouragement for me to watch how the kids learn. Thank you for bring back the important of "getting from doing" process in the classroom,. Very inspiring.

Olga's picture

I would like having the same at our school . I love it very much. Try doing something of these at my english lessons.

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