When I hear that teachers are integrating the arts into their teaching, I am excited for them and their students. What a wonderful opportunity they have to learn the required curriculum AND learn more about an art form. However, this is not always the case.
I must warn you now that I’m going to be brutally honest here, but stick with me, please.
Arts integration doesn’t mean you ask students to draw their favorite part of a story and hang it on the wall. Arts integration doesn’t mean students learn the names of the states and capitals by singing and memorizing a song. (I know, I know, many of you probably do this… please, stay with me!)
What TRUE integration is, is when you put an equal amount of weight into your preparation, work with and use of the art.
True Arts Integration is when you keep to the integrity of the art.
Earlier this week, Rachel Evans reminded us that the arts don’t provide us with a “free ride” and that we need to think about how to assess students in the arts. Assessment is something we think about after a project, yes, but we also should keep the end in mind.
So, I ask you, “Why do you want to integrate the arts into your teaching?” “What are you trying to accomplish?” If it’s just a nice thing to do or something to take up a little time, then you are not truly integrating.
Instead, teaching with the arts and through the arts should be something that has meaning for you and your students.
Here’s an example: When I integrate music into my classroom, I am teaching students as much about the music and its meaning to us as I am using music to help us write great poems and stories. Students first experience the music (one song for one week), then they are ready to use those experiences to develop their writing skills. (For more information, see Inspired by Listening.)
On a personal note, you must know that I do those things mentioned above too. I’m not saying those ideas are bad. I’m saying they are not a means of true arts integration. It takes effort to truly integrate the arts into your teaching and your students’ learning. And, in the classroom there are always the limitations and pressures of time, space and, let’s face it, testing. But it is possible to start small, make it more of a habit, and work your way into more and more integration so that it becomes part of the culture of your classroom.
Let’s take the drawing idea. This is something very basic that so many teachers do – and that’s ok! But to make it true integration you must put a purpose to the visual and use it in follow up:
- Before assigning the illustration to be made, explain your purpose. Example: “The main character in the story has conflicting feelings. You are going to draw an illustration of how the character feels at this point in the story. You may use any medium you desire as long as your illustration is flat and fits on this size paper…” You may want to explain due dates, other parameters and any other timelines or available resources.
- Students are given ample time to work on this illustration. They are not rushed or asked to do it only when they are done with other work. Rather, the illustration is expected to be worked on, thought-through and edited.
- When students have completed their work, it is given attention. Students might share their work with others in small groups. They may write an accompanying reflection about their work, their thought process and their experience.
- These pieces may then be displayed in the room or in the school. You may want to scan them or take pictures of them to include in a classroom or school newsletter or website.
- Other students may be invited to respond to the students’ artwork, creating a community of thoughtful, collaborative peers.
In this example, students are really focusing not only on their interpretations of the story and main character but are making clear decisions in the art process – a LEARNING process. It’s not about drawing a quick picture to accompany a story, but it is about a learner making connections with what he or she is learning!
This is an idea that nearly ANY teacher can utilize. There are so many ideas and ways to integrate other art forms into your teaching. The arts include poetry, music, movement, dance, drama, storytelling, visual and media. Keep in mind that collaborating with other teachers, other arts teachers or specialist teachers, and artists is a great way to develop meaningful and wonderful integration experiences for you and your students.
Are you ready to give the same amount of time to the artform you will give the other content area? Are you willing to let your students experience the art in order to deepen their understanding of both the art and the content area? If yes, then great! You’re on your way to true integration!