When I hear that teachers are integrating the arts into their teaching, I get exciting for them and their students. What a wonderful opportunity they have to learn the required curriculum AND learn more about an art form.

However, it often seems that that what is happening is not actually arts integration, so it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what true arts integration is.

Fair warning: this is going to get brutally honest here, but stick with me, please. 🙂

What True Arts Integration is NOT (and what it is)

True 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.

Now, many teachers may do this type of work, myself included… and that’s ok! It’s just time to look at how doing work mentioned above is different than truly integrating the arts. So, 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. You will look at what arts’ standards you want to teach your students alongside your content standards and then also assess both.


Establish Your Why for Arts Integration

In a guest post on The Inspired Classroom’s blog, 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. While assessment is something we think about after a project, we also should consider it as we plan our lesson: What do we want to assess in the art form?

So, I ask you:

Why do you want to integrate the arts into your teaching?

What are you trying to accomplish?

If using the arts is just a nice thing to do or something to take up a little time, then you are not truly integrating.

Again, this is ok. We all like to do nice, creative things in our classroom, it just might not be true arts integration.

Instead, teaching with the arts and through the arts should be something that has forethought and meaning in terms of content and keeping to the integrity of the arts.

Here’s an example: When integrating music into my classroom, I am teaching students as much about the music and its meaning to us while using the music to help us write great poems and stories. Students first experience the music, then they are ready to use those experiences to develop their writing skills. (For more information, see Inspired by Listening.)

Keep in mind: doing something like using music to help you memorize the states and capitals is okay. In fact it’s a great idea and I’ve actually done that with my students!  However, it’s just not an example of true arts integration.

Challenges of True Arts Integration

It takes effort to truly integrate the arts into your teaching and your students’ learning. There’s no doubt that there are always the limitations and pressures of time, space and, let’s face it, testing.

However, 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 mentioned above. This is something very basic that so many teachers do. Now, let’s look at how we can take that idea and make it true integration – where you put a purpose to the visual art and assess it as well.


Example: Visual Arts Integration

Let’s look at an example of visual arts integration that also touches upon SEAL, Social-Emotional Artistic Learning:

Basic assignment: Draw and illustration of a character from your story.


Before assigning, explain your purpose of integrating visual art with your reading content. 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…”

ELA Standards:

RL: Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details 3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Visual Arts – National Core Arts Standards:

Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

VA:Cr1.2.1 Use observation and investigation in preparation for making a work of art.

Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

VA:Cr2.1 Use a variety of art making tools

SEAL Connections

Social-Awareness: Students can see things from a different perspective and show empathy for the character.


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.

Your job during this part of the process is to offer guidance and ask questions that help them to reflect on their work and create something they are proud of!


When students have completed their work, it is given attention. Students might share their work with others in small groups. These pieces may then be displayed in the room or in the school. You could even scan them or take pictures of them to include in a classroom or school newsletter or website.

This is also where you assess their work according to both the art standards, literary standards and even SEAL objectives you introduced at the beginning of the experience.

They may write an accompanying reflection about their work, their thought process and their experience along with how they used illustration to show the character’s conflicting emotions.

Here’s an example of what your prompt could be:

Describe (in writing or in an oral presentation) how your character felt in this situation. What caused them to feel/react this way? How does your illustration show these feelings? (facial expression, body language, choices in media and placement of character in the scene)

As an extension, 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!

You can do this!

Arts Integration is something that nearly ANY teacher can utilize. (And you don’t have to be an artist to do so… but more on that in the next article.)

There are so many ideas and ways to integrate other art forms into your teaching and remember, the arts include poetry, music, movement, dance, drama, storytelling, visual and digital media.

Keep in mind that collaborating with other teachers, other arts teachers, 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 true arts integration a chance? 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! Let’s do this!

Share in the comments what you might do or how you’ve integrated the arts in your classroom!



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