When incorporating arts into curriculum, an educator’s goal is to present the arts – fine art, music, dance, drama, and creative writing – in a way that helps students to construct, reinforce, or demonstrate their understanding of a subject. According to The Kennedy Center’s definition of arts curriculum integration, these students can then “engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meet evolving objectives in both.”

While an arts integration approach is fairly easy to define, it can seem daunting to implement because it has more moving parts than the traditional stand-alone subject model. Yet, current research about the true nature of learning – and the undeniable benefits of helping our students foster creativity, collaboration, and meaningful problem-solving skills – all point to the need to provide deep, interdisciplinary, sensory-rich learning experiences.

Arts Integration Defined

To better understand what arts integration is, it helps to determine what it is not. Passing out glue sticks and construction paper and telling students to “just get creative” is not arts integration. And neither is the opposite end of the spectrum, where students are given so many rules and parameters that they learn little more than following directions or coloring inside the lines. At Baden Academy Charter School, we have learned that the key to robust arts integration is providing interesting information as “dots” and then facilitating ways for students to connect and relate those dots in a meaningful, memorable context.

Three Approaches to Arts-Integrated Curriculum

1. Connect Arts to Key Concepts

One of the simplest ways to begin making connections between arts and core subjects is to recognize where vocabulary and key concepts overlap. “Value” in art, for example, refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color; baby blue has a lighter value than navy blue. This concept can become a “dot” that can be connected to math, where “value” also has to do with the notion of how much or how little.

Color value and place value can be studied together, therefore, with one reinforcing the other. Note value in music, which refers to how long a note is held, could also be addressed: four quarter notes have the same value as a whole note, so music could help introduce, reinforce, or assess a student’s understanding of fractions.

For more, read ‘Board The STEAM Train: Steps To Developing Rigorous, Arts-Focused STEAM Units‘!

2. Interdisciplinary Arts Projects

As stated earlier, arts integration is not about doing an unrelated hands-on project or singing a fun song. Instead, there needs to be a strategic presentation of an art form that makes a strong connection to the standards of learning. Interdisciplinary arts projects that use an art form as a base are ideal because they allow students to learn new material and then demonstrate what they’re learning in more than one modality.

In a science class, for example, students could research inventors and write dialogue and scenes, like what Charles and Wilbur Wright may have said to one another the day they tested their plane, or how Henry Ford explained the concept of the production line to his workers. By having students think and write about their research, act out a scene, and gather or create images or props, the history and experiences of the inventors become tangible and meaningful.

Find other interdisciplinary arts projects and connections in ‘Dance Between The Lines: Interdisciplinary Connections In Dance Curricula‘!

3. Fostering Healthy, Resilient Mindsets with Arts

While the first two elements of arts integration focus on the transfer of concepts and skills between the arts curriculum and academic standards, this third element is about the mindset of artists and the social, emotional, and developmental benefits of exploring the arts. It may be more difficult for teachers to carry out because it requires a deeper, more abstract understanding of artists and their role in art history, but it is an essential part of true arts integration and takes advantage of “teachable moments.”

At the age of 70, for example, French artist Henri Matisse had a major surgery and could no longer stand up at an easel. Rather than quitting, however, he created an entirely new way to paint using paper and scissors. Studying Matisse, seeing the progression of his work, and then discussing how students can apply the concepts of perseverance, resilience, creativity, and productivity to their own lives can foster healthy mindsets for students of any age.

Learn more about the invaluable skills students encounter in arts curriculum in ‘Teaching Humanity On Stage And Off: Theater Curriculum‘!

Arts Curriculum Gives Students an Advantage

When high scores on standardized tests are considered the only indicator of a “real” education, the arts can quickly become devalued. Yet creativity, problem-solving skills, and collaboration are prized and rewarded in the modern workforce. And thought leaders like Sir Ken Robinson (The Element), Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind), and Howard Gardner (the theory of multiple intelligence) all offer up consistent proof of the importance of creativity and whole-brain learning.

Baden Academy sees the arts as a real opportunity and has made arts integration the focus of our mission statement. In their own right, the arts hone important skills and foster deep, personal thinking, and when they are integrated into core subjects, they can engage more students and increase academic achievement. Simply stated, the arts are the ideal connectors to make learning joyful and lasting.

Speaking of arts integration, read our post, Board the STEAM Train, for ideas on developing rigorous, arts-centric STEAM curriculum.

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