Arts Integration is Naturally Differentiated . . .

What a claim!

I can always feel confident about bringing new experience to my students because the arts and arts integrated lessons are naturally differentiated.

That word – differentiated was such a buzz word not too long ago and, let’s face it, it still is an important part of education.

We have so many students in our classrooms and they all need different things: different levels, different modifications, different learning styles, different challenges. Our entire day is spent trying to make our lessons work for so many different student needs!

The thing I love about the arts and arts integration is that is is truly and naturally differentiated as it does two things simultaneously:

  1. The arts meet us where we are.
  2. The arts challenge us.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. The arts meet us where we are.

No matter the project, what you bring to the table is just enough to get you started.

For example if I’m assigning a visual art piece, whether it be collage or illustration, the materials that I give to my students allow them to start the project and meet them where they’re at.  My current students have a wide range of artistic abilities, but if they are open to working within the medium that I’m providing, each one of them will find their entry point and go from there.  That could mean stick figures and box trees to some and then fleshed out figures and shading to others.

The same is true with other art forms.  With music, some students may start with an instrument they are familiar with or a simple rhythm while others are ready to experiment.

In dance, one student may limit their movements when another is ready to bound about the room.  A monotone voice may come from one student in a skit while another’s voice is expressed through their entire body.

Another thing about the arts being differentiated is that they really do reach a wide range of students.  English learners, students with social-emotional needs, special education students, gifted learners. . .  no matter the students’ academic needs, the arts provide an entry point to learning.

With each example, students are able to come to the art form and the assignment at their own level of exposure to the art and mastery of the art form.  It is our job as the educator to provide the opportunity, accept and acknowledge each student’s skills… and then push them forward.

And that brings us to the next point:

2. The arts challenge us.

Now, many of our students will go to a certain point and then stop, right?  However, it’s really our job to keep on pushing them forward and giving them new ideas and the chance to try something new.

The possibilities in the arts are endless. There is always room to grow, new techniques to try, experts to learn from, revisions to be made.

For example, I can suggest to add a new element, or dimension, or layer to what they have already created.  For dancing, instead of moving in one spot maybe the students can start to make their movements a little bit more locomotive or add some dimension to the movements through space.

This is part of the Creative Process – a learning process that helps students to develop their stamina, perseverance and work ethic while working within the arts integrated lesson content.  (HELLO SEAL!)

Within this process, students should be progressing.  This gives us a valuable position to use formative assessments to really look carefully at how a student is growing.  We want our students to show growth in all areas of the curriculum, including their skills as artists which includes how they create, understand, present and reflect on their work.

Challenging your students is about pushing them to the next level.

One More Thing

Another important aspect to differentiation is that you have some flexibility to give students choices.  How?  Invite them to tell you about their interests and talents, what challenges them, what they might want to try.

As long as you are teaching your standards and working within your objective, you can also be flexible to give your students a little bit of freedom as they create and present their work.

For example, if you’re objective is for students to show their understanding of simple machines, you can allow them to follow their interests and create their own artistic work that showcases their knowledge.

  • Some may create a skit that illustrates a story of a boy who needs to solve a problem and uses simple machines to find the solution.
  • Others may create a dance where their movements mimic that of each of the machines.
  • Another students may compose a song with lyrics that tell about each machine and add sound effects that accompany each of the 6 verses.
  • Finally, there may be students who choose to create a detailed illustration worthy of being published in a text book that explains each machine with detailed diagrams, labels and captions.

Students love choice!  (Don’t we all?)  And giving them that freedom is an important part of differentiating for your students.

>> How do you differentiate in your school or classroom? What new ideas might you try?

Let’s chat in the comments!


Want to find out more about your students’ interests, talents and challenges?  Download this freebie where students are able to reflect on these and use it to help in your differentiation in the classroom.  

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