Making Connections Through the Arts

Enjoy this post by Michelle Baldwin, an amazing elementary music teacher who believes, “My job is to teach children to LEARN.”  Please be sure to check out her blog and follow her on Twitter (@MichelleK107) ~EMP

When I was asked to write a guest post about arts integration/education, my first reaction was to feel extremely honored to be asked! Almost immediately after, I knew that I would write about connections. In my experience, arts education helps students to make connections to the world around them. As global awareness and critical thinking skills become increasingly more important in a global society/economy, it is imperative that our students graduate with the ability to connect what they already know to what they are learning… and to what they have yet to learn!

Thinking back on my own education, even as early as primary grades in elementary school, I remember school days full of switching gears.

Start with reading… now go to spelling… time for math!

“School,” as most of us have known it, has long been about learning subjects in isolation. The first time I remember being forced to make the connection between content areas was from a teacher in an advanced placement history course. She would not accept essays from us in her history class unless they were well written and followed the appropriate structure of an essay. We were flabbergasted! One student even questioned her, “But wait! This is HISTORY, not English class!” Her first retort: “What’s your point?” She then replied, “Do you learn how to write essays in your English classes so that you can forget how to write when you leave English class? Or do you learn to write essays so that you learn to write?” Very few teachers, with the exception of this particular history teacher, ever mentioned another curricular area within their classroom. I do remember one teacher explicitly stating, “I am your literature teacher. I don’t have to do math.”

But of course, there were the music and art teachers. We sang the songs of other cultures. We learned about instruments we had never seen or heard before. We learned how to draw, paint, and create pottery in the style of people from distant lands. No one told us we were learning geography, social studies, science, and math. We thought we were simply having a great time in music and art.

Now,as an elementary music teacher, I have the luxury of helping students to make connections across the curriculum every day. In a recent blog post of my own, I wrote about the questions I often get from students in my classes: “Why are we learning about math/science/social studies in music?” At first, my answer was simply, “Because this is a learning class.” Lately, I have begun to add to that statement some additional questions about connections. For example, “If we are learning about a drumming style from Ghana, what else should we learn?” It’s amazing to watch their brains start to light up after those types of questions! My students are discovering that, when we discuss the art and folk music of other countries, we often learn more about the life and history from those countries than we do from any textbook or informational website.

Arts education allows us to naturally make connections across every other curricular area in our schools. There are purists who believe that integrating the arts into all education should be done simply for the sake of art, to provide nourishment for our souls and a mode of expression for the humanity in all of us. I don’t disagree that the arts feed our emotional selves, but I think we miss so much of what the arts provide for us if we only focus on “art for art’s sake.” Children need to understand the world around them… how its inhabitants are the same, and how they are different… and learning to make these connections through arts education is one great step in becoming more globally aware.

Please check back on Saturday, when Michelle will share some classroom examples of how to make connections through the arts.

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Article by Michelle Baldwin

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7 Comments

  1. Lyn Hilt says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Think of how powerful it is when we connect content learning experiences to the arts. For some children that are disengaged in math or science class, making connections to their interests in art and music will allow them to construct knowledge in more formal ways.

  2. Absolutely, Lyn! And I think about the opposite direction, as well. Especially for some of my older students, music is “not their thing.” When I can connect what we’re doing in music to their favorites (math, geography, science), they see music in an entirely new light.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Michelle,
    What you write about is so true. When we take connections away and try to compartmentalize our learning, we lose so much. Even when things need to be practiced in isolation (spelling/rhythms/mult facts), there needs to be that connection to make what you do come alive (writing/music making/buying lemonade for the masses 🙂 ).

  4. Marcia says:

    When I introduce a new unit of study to my students and I discuss all of the facts we will learn and mention all of the activities we will do, I feel a real sense of excitement coming from them. When those learnings include arts integrated activities I see the real excitement! When they participate in activities that stretch across curriculum areas they not only learn more but they are motivated to continue to research the topic. These are the connections that they will carry with them and use again as they learn about new ideas.

  5. patty says:

    “Allows us to naturally make connections”… That is what strikes me the most as I begin to intentionally make the connection between the content standardand and the art standard for my students. Being mindful of this process is key to the success of our arts integration lessons.

  6. Jen says:

    I like this article because the author nails the point that the arts comprise the human part of learning. There is a reason that clusters of subjects are called humanities. We humans need to be cultured and connected. Liberal arts is another term that applies. Don’t we all wish to be knowledgeable about everything from current events to music to literature? I particularly like these words in the article in regards to the reasons art integration has a staring role in the curriculum: “At first, my answer was simply, ‘Because this is a learning class.’ Lately, I have begun to add to that statement some additional questions about connections. For example, ‘If we are learning about a drumming style from Ghana, what else should we learn?'” What a perfect question to pose to students!

  7. Mary says:

    Michelle, Learning more and more about Arts Integration is giving me the shot in the arm that I believe I have been lacking. As an Elementary Music teacher myself, I have been proud of myself in the past when I have incorporated Math, History and Language Arts into my lessons. Now I am becoming aware that it is totally O.K. to do that…it is more than O.K.-it is Essential to helping kids make the connections that they need to make in order to become more rounded! What a great job we have!!!

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