The Arts and Curriculum

My journey learning about the arts and their valuable uses in my classroom and in our schools is ongoing.  Just as with great learning in the classroom, this professional learning never ends.  Instead, my understanding of things is deepened the more I read, discuss, write, and teach both children and adults.

Just yesterday, one of our readers and fellow integrated arts specialists, Dr. Rosiland Flynn, let me know about the Kennedy Center’s newly launched arts integration site.  If you are new to arts integration or a veteran, this is a great site to have in your book marks.  It contains so much great information not only in arts integration but also in arts education.  It is the site I go to when researching arts standards to integrate with other content standards.  The Kennedy Center also created the arts integration definition I refer to in my arts int courses, classes and workshops.  You shouldn’t reinvent the wheel.  It is all right here!

One thing that the foundation set out to clarify as they began their work is what arts integration really is.  This is part of any good integration teacher’s or arts int school’s journey.  We all must, as I have stated before, “rip off the band-aid” and realize what true arts integration is.   In the past I have put it as, “The arts are not an afterthought or an add-on” or “Arts integration is not about singing to memorize the 50 States and Capitals.”

I always wait for teachers to give me the look when I mention an example that hits home to what they do in their classroom as I’m preaching what arts integration isn’t.  And I’m quick to let them know that I do “those things” in my classroom too.  “And it’s ok,”  I state, “but it’s just not true arts integration.”

This topic was always addressed in an excusatory way.  It was almost like we dismissed the idea that we may use the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Start to learn the alphabet.  The feeling was more like, “Ok, we do it, but don’t tell anyone.”  And then it was not really addressed again.  That’s not quite what we’re going for here.

As I perused the Kennedy Center’s site, and read the background of how their definition came to be, I was please to see them describe how the arts are used in schools in this variety of ways.  They did a wonderful job and I’d like to share it with you now.  (And from now on I will share it with my colleagues this way.)

Arts AS Curriculum – This would be arts being taught for arts’ sake: arts education – education about the arts.  This is not to be overlooked once teachers and/or schools dive into arts integration.  It is crucial for a well-rounded education.  For example, in music class, students learn about note values and use what they learn to create rhythms that are further used in compositions and in performance.

Arts INTEGRATED Curriculum – This occurs when teachers take the time to find an elegant fit between the content and an art form and then teach and assess standards in both.  For example taking those same standards of learning note values in music composition and applying the understanding of fractions (and money) in math.  Students can create rhythms, show fractional (and monetary) values and be assessed in both musical and mathematical understanding.

Arts ENHANCED Curriculum – An example of this would be when a teacher uses a rhythmic rap to help students learn their multiplication facts.  I have some of these types of CDs in my classroom and they assist some students in drilling and learning the facts.  The rhythms of the rap help them to memorize the patterns and I find some students reciting the rap under their breath when they need to recall information.

I’d like to emphasize here that this type of learning is NOT bad!  The arts have been used like this for ages and there is a place for it in certain situations.  The important thing to understand is that it’s not arts integration because little to nothing is being learned about the art form here.  It is simply a vehicle to gain understanding.

With each lesson you create, you must consider what your focus is between the arts and the curriculum.  If your goal is to truly integrate the arts, then, with a bit of work you will need to start finding those natural connections.  Like any educator who works to integrate the arts, you will find that this work is not only worth it, but vital to deepening students’ understanding of content.

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing on other things educators need to consider when integrating the arts into their curriculum.  Please join me by commenting and adding your own thoughts and ideas!


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Stacey Fijalkowski says:

    I am surprised by the different levels of arts within a classroom or any discipline! As I read through this post, I found myself seriuosly thinking about what kinds of art forms I really get into in my 6th grade language arts class. I realize now that most of my teaching when incorporating the arts is very surface level and fall in the Arts Enhanced Curriculum realm. I am really getting pumped to go deeper with the arts!

    • Holly Gray says:

      Stacey, this is an awesome epiphany! As arts specialists we are so eager and willing to collaborate. We have been doing several projects at our school where we work closely with the ELA coach and math coach, as well as classroom teachers to tap into each other’s expertise. I use rubrics to assess both the writing and the musical concepts and skills that I am teaching. There is nothing more exciting for me than to collaborate with my peers in giving our kids a broader range of teaching as well as to give them relevance across the disciplines. I believe that the learning sticks when we act as their adhesives!

  2. Jessica Moody says:

    I like that you stress that while art enhanced curriculum isn’t the same as art integrated curriculum, it still has value. Those types of activities can be worthwhile especially for different types of learners, who may not perform as well using only lecture and/or text books. Choosing between art enhanced and art integrated should depend on your goals and what will best reach them.

    • Holly Gray says:

      Hi Jessica,

      I agree wholeheartedly that any enhancement reinforces so much of learning and reaches kids through differentiating the instruction. The depth of the work, however is essential in helping them to create connections that are relevant to retaining the information. My goal is always to give them the vehicle to reach their connection so that the learning is lasting. It is amazing how many “connections” they are developing when the arts and Common Core are connected.

  3. Mary Linda Krikorian says:

    Thanks to Elizabeth M. Peterson and many other gifted teachers I have met along the way, I have become more well-rounded and inquisitive about Arts Integration. What I have realized is that I’ve been doing it (in reverse) all along. Yet, with the guidance of my colleagues, I have been strengthening that aspect of my teaching. YeeHaaa!!!

    In the midst of a discussion one day in class with some fourth graders, one of my kiddos raised his hand and said, “Ms K…I thought this was Music class! It feels more like an American History class!” It made me very proud of myself…as I went on to explain more about all of the wonderful connections that need to made about Music!

  4. Emily Little says:

    I think integrating the arts into mainstream classrooms is especially important today, given the current emphasis on core subjects and test scores. We’re doing a disservice to our students by cutting music, art, and theater programs. The only arts exposure some students get might very well be through an English class or a therapist.

    Also, thank you for the link to the Kennedy Center site! It seems like an excellent resource.

    • Emily Little says:

      As a reply to my own post, I just read the following in “ArtsEd vs. ArtsInt”:

      “The other is because in these times of so many budget cuts, where the arts tend to be their first to go, it is important to understand that arts integration SHOULD NOT and CANNOT replace arts education.”

      I just wanted to clarify that I absolutely agree with this; integrating the arts into other areas of a student’s education is not a SUBSTITUTION for arts education. But I do believe that it is still important to engage with the arts, as it seems our students are unfortunately having fewer and fewer creative experiences in school.

      • This can be such a fine line for those who may not understand the true value of arts education. Some may think it doesn’t matter as long as they get the “exposure” to art and creativity. While that may be true, we certainly don’t want to fall into a trap where kids lack a solid arts education.

  5. Stacie says:

    I am glad to see the Arts Edge site mentioned; I have found the standards listed there so valuable when writing arts integrated lesson plans.
    I also found the definition of Arts Integration that is on their site to be extremely well written.
    And I am happy to be reminded that discovering the many uses of art in teaching academic content is an ongoing journey and that the professional learning never ends.

  6. Becky Reese says:

    I like that there is a website dedicated to arts integration. As a generalist, I often find that I only have a cursory grasp of the arts. I know a little bit about music and sometimes dabble in puppetry. I also know what I enjoy such as drawing and painting. Having had some experience with arts integration in the past, I feel that whatever you attempt as a teacher with this area will be a plus because it derives from the artist withiin. Also, lessons and work in arts integration evolves as you progress with your own learning, so in other words, “it can only get better!” I am also lucky to teach in a school system in which colleagues with specialized arts knowledge are always willing to help out.

  7. MaryLinda Krikorian says:

    I think it would be so wonderful if you (Elizabeth) were able to present to our school district the importance and the excitement that is involved around integrating the Arts into the curriculum.

    It is my understanding that the Common Core has “taken over” the General Ed teacher’s time and energy. But it seems to me if there was more Arts integration influence, the drudgery might lift some.

    It sure would do me good!

    • It is so hard to do it all! The Common Core has really put pressure on teachers in many ways. However, if you approach arts int in a certain way, it can really add to your repertoire of teaching strategies. It’s a process!!! Oh, and I would love to talk more about working in your district. 😉

  8. Taylor Carroll says:

    “The important thing to understand is that it’s [the example of using a song to teach the 50 states] not arts integration because little to nothing is being learned about the art form here. It is simply a vehicle to gain understanding.”
    I couldn’t agree with this more! I think that sometimes us arts teachers are asked to “integrate” in a way that is demeaning to the art form. I wholeheartedly believe in arts integration, but when my son comes home singing “there are 7 days in a week,” I think, “well, yeah, he knows the days of the week, but he also knows a really stupid song.” I would much rather him be singing “Clementine.” I would hope that the former would be taught by his classroom teacher, and not his music teacher who should be teaching more authentic and quality music.

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