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!
*Update 8/27/22 It’s been 10 years since this article was first published. As you can imagine, since then the Kennedy Center has evolved. Their website is now: https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/