Working with Arts Standards for Arts Integration

In my last post, I described the 4 Steps to Creating an Arts Integrated Lesson.  The major thing to remember is that when you are teaching with arts integration, your students are learning as much about the art form as they are about the other content area.  Because of this, the 3rd step is very important.  In this step, you music check out the art’s standards.   The link provided leads you to a complete and easily searchable listing of the national standards in music, visual art, dance and theatre.  When I am creating an arts int lesson and have an art form in mind, it is helpful for me to peruse the standards in that artform and find something that will work.

Often the visual art standard 1 is a great one to begin with: “Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes.”  With this you can explore a variety of media and techniques that you have available to you or that your students are learning about in their art class.

For dance, the ones I usually work with are standard 1 “Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance ” which includes the use of time, space and energy in movement; and standard 3 “Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning .”  (Think demonstrating the growth of a plant or expressing the emotions of a story character.)

The theatre standard that always stands out is standard 2 “Acting by assuming roles and interacting in improvisations”.  For a brief description of how to implement this in an effective manner in the classroom, please refer to this post on The Actor’s Toolbox.

So many teachers sing in their classrooms.  If you are one, consider diving into music standard 1 “Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music” and working on students’ singing technique and repertoire.  Standard 2 “Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music ” is also good to use if you want to implement some music creation in your classroom.  I am particular to music standard 6 “Listening to, analyzing, and describing music” since it is the basis of my book Inspired by Listening, a book that integrates musical listening experiences with literacy.

Each set of art standards contain one standard that focuses on understanding the art form in relation to history and culture as well as one that focuses on understanding the relationships among the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.  These two standards often seem to relate well to social studies curricula and with general content within the classroom.

One last helpful hint on working with arts standards: Don’t be afraid to work solely with the k-4 standards, especially as you begin.  Remember, you may not be the arts specialist, but might be able to follow the more elementary standards in each of the art forms.  This is not to dumb down your lesson, but to help make it more attainable.  However, if you are knowledgeable (or you have access to someone who is) in a certain art form, then the sky’s the limit.

Two real life examples:

Erosion Blues – In this lesson that I have already created and used, my students learn the form of the blues and write original lyrics containing science vocabulary from our unit on land and water.  Want to hear a recording?  Go HERE!

Here are the standards that are the focus during this series of lessons:


Art Standard – Music #4

Science Standard – Earth Processes and Cycles #3

Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines” focusing in on the following  achievement standard:Students compose short pieces within specified guidelines (e.g., a particular style, form, instrumentation, compositional technique), demonstrating how the elements of music are used to achieve unity and variety, tension and release, and balance” Explain how physical and chemical weathering leads to erosion and the formation of soils and sediments, and creates various types of landscapes.


In the past, the music teacher and I have collaborated since the students are getting a lot of instruction in how to write a blues song.

Land and Water Art – Since my last post, I have researched a little more about the British artist named Andy Goldsworthy who, “is interested in the ‘movement, light, growth and decay’ of nature. He exploits its vital impermanence: changes in season, weather and terrain.”  (Source)  After watching how he approaches his art in reflection of nature, I’ve decided to share the artist with my students and have them create some art in the style of Goldsworthy.  Last night, after looking at the science standards I am teaching, I looked at some of the arts standards.  These are the ones this lesson would focus on.

Art Standard – Visual Art #3

Science Standard – Earth and Space Science #12

Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas.Students explore and understand prospective content for works of art.Students select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning. Give examples of how the surface of the earth changes due to slow processes such as erosion and weathering, and rapid processes such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

This lesson is going to be a lofty one, one that is steeped in experience and using art as a means to develop a relationship with the land and water we are studying.  Through the searching I did within the standards, it is making my purpose more clear as to what I want to do here.  It’s not just about going out to our nearby streams and moving leaves around to create a piece of art.  My intent is for students to gain an understanding of the energy and fragility of nature.  Their art will not last.  It will change with the wind, so to speak and I think that having that experience will be good for them as they try to understand the erosive power of wind and water.

The process of researching the standards as I develop these lesson ideas makes this more than just creating art to go along with a science unit.  It gives the art form as well as the science lesson purpose and direction.

Consider the standards when you are approaching an arts integrated lesson.  Your ideas will start to formulate easier and you will find that the outcome is richer for both you and your students.


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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. Susan Riley says:

    What a great explanatory post, Elizabeth! What’s funny is that I am working on an assessment rubric through work right now to help classroom teachers who use Arts Integration feel comfortable assessing those standards in their own classrooms. It’s such an essential piece. Thanks for all you do!

  2. Thank you, Susan. And I can’t wait to hear more about your assessment rubric. That is certainly an important piece that many teachers struggle with.

  3. Stacey Fijalkowski says:

    It is comforting to know that using the K-4 standards is not “dumbing down the lesson” but rather allowing me and the children to learn about arts and use them with my curriculum. It’s a bit overwhelming to the lover of arts, not necessarily the “knower” of all things art, to have that leeway with planning. I was always the student in class who hated when things like poems were overanalyzed- why couldn’t the poet have just written the words because they were beautiful? Why did certain items or words always HAVE to mean something extra? Thank you for that bit of advice. It is super helpful and inviting!

    • I’m glad that helps. And as you get more comfortable with an art form, you can explore the more sophisticated standards. Another option is to get comfortable with the el ed standards and then branch out by collaborating with an arts teacher at your level. I know time is always an issue with this, but even having a simple conversation can spark some great ideas for both of you and will only help your students. 🙂 I can’t wait to hear about the things you do this year!

  4. Emily Little says:

    One lesson I learned at the retreat and by reading the arts standards is that it is really helpful for me to have a set list of vocabulary and terms to use when describing and teaching an art form. Being able to break down a complex idea into smaller elements and focusing on those elements (even one at a time) is so important.

    This connects with the later post about how teachers should assess the arts portion of an arts-integrated project. The standards give us the language with which to do that.

  5. Becky says:

    I really liked seeing and hearing about a couple different arts integrated lessons in each of the areas of visual art, dance, and theatre. I liked how the set-up in the lesson shows how each standard carry equal weight in the lesson planning. In this way, both standards have a focus and objective in the lesson and compliment each other in a meaningful way.

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