Arts Integration: What Exactly Is It?

I'm so happy to introduce you to an incredible art teacher & my good friend, Kristin Vanderlip Taylor!! Among her MANY talents (she makes amazing jams, pickles, and cocktail mixers!), she is an expert in Arts Integration. But what exactly does that mean?
Kristin: “Arts Integration” is an educational phrase heard often these days, much like the acronym STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Done superficially, it can lead to a fun activity for students, but if planned and taught well, arts integration can foster meaningful pathways of learning through multiple subjects concurrently.

According to the Kennedy Center’s Arts Edge online resource center, the definition of arts integration is much more complex and detailed than simply adding an art activity to an existing lesson in another subject. According to their website:
This means that Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) must be determined in two (or more) different subjects, one of which are the arts, with a learning activity designed to promote creative exploration of connections between the two content areas. This deeper-level connected research helps students apply new information through various creative processes, thereby increasing their understanding of both content areas.

Now, if you aren’t an artist yourself, and you don’t have an arts teacher on staff at your school, and if you’re afraid your students will make fun of your artistic attempts, this definition might seem intimidating! But fear not – thanks to the plethora of resources at your fingertips (California Visual and Performing Art Standards, National Core Arts Standards, LAUSD Arts Education Branch, Edutopia on Pinterest, and many other online websites), you can easily find what arts integration specialists call “the elegant fit” between content areas. The objectives should support each other naturally, so there isn’t a feeling that they are being stretched too much to work together. If you are an elementary teacher and cover all subjects, take a look at the standards for your grade level in one subject (like social studies) and the standards in an art form (theatre, for instance) and see if you can find a place where they dovetail almost instinctively. If you teach middle or high school, you might want to team up with someone at your school who teaches a different subject – maybe even one of your arts teachers – to plan collaboratively. Ideally, it would be most beneficial if both teachers covered some of both content areas in the integrated lesson, or even taught it together, reinforcing the bridges and connections made between the subjects.

Education Closet is a terrific website for Arts Integration and STEAM activities. Click on the picture below:
As a K-8 visual art educator, I often connect learning across subjects, even though I am only technically responsible for teaching visual art as a discrete subject. I find that it’s just too difficult not to teach across disciplines sometimes – teaching drawing of the human figure fits naturally with ratio and proportion in math, while talking with a partner, in teams, and in whole groups about works of art strengthens listening and speaking skills for English Language Learners as well as for proficient English speakers. This does not detract from the relevance of discrete arts instruction – all students need to experience both ways of learning about the arts. However, when the arts are connected to other aspects of their lives, children recognize that the arts are not just for those who are naturally artistically inclined (often considered gifted and/or talented), nor are they simply considered “enrichment”. I find, too, that younger students are pretty excited to discover that they are learning something in art that is connected to something they are learning in their own classroom – almost as if it’s a fantastic coincidence!

I recently wrote several integrated art lessons for the Natural History Museum’s Grandes Maestros exhibit. They integrate writing narratives about real or imagined experiences and visual art (fantasy creature sculptures and figurative sculptures for Día de los Muertos). There are step by step directions, along with the standards and pictures. Feel free to download these lessons, along with the vivid, gorgeous art photos included in the lessons.
One of the lessons I wrote for California Art Education Association's Curriculum Committee (CAEA) integrates ELA Speaking and Listening conventions with making collaborative artwork (requiring students to speak to each other about the work and their process). Another CAEA lesson integrates engineering science skills with collaborative construction to create kinetic sculptures in teams, using the design process to plan, build, test, share, and revise. {Once the CAEA lessons are made public, I will add the links here.}

I recognize that, as teachers, we are always pressed for time (there’s never enough!), but planning integrated learning experiences that generate meaningful, in depth creative projects for our students is so worth it. To see the connections they make while engaged in the process validates the importance of life-long and life-wide learning. Life is not lived in a bubble, and the arts (as well as all other subjects) should not be taught as such. Our students need to be given the opportunity to discover their own “elegant fits” across disciplines, and I believe this is possible through arts integration.

For a specific Arts Integration lesson, stop by on Friday!!

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