Arts Integration Is a Win-Win for Everyone

February 09, 2015
Sunshine Miller
Music Teacher Pre-K-5

CATEGORIES Technology Integration, Tools, In the Classroom

"Arts integration" is a popular catchphrase in education reform these days. Studies suggest arts integration greatly impacts deep learning, increases academic achievement, and levels the playing field for minority groups and students with learning differences. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as "An approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both."

Many feel arts integration may be the missing piece to the constantly changing educational paradigm puzzle. However, some myths surrounding arts integration must be debunked before we can truly move forward.

Integration Versus Isolation
First of all, let's dispel the myth that arts integration changes a music class or art class to a "class about music" or "a class about art." I believe we can't and shouldn't teach the arts in isolation. I work diligently to connect music classroom content to the general classroom content. I love to see students' faces light up when they make the connection between Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and the War of 1812. Connecting arts content to classroom content provides another entry point into history, science, math, English, and other content. Arts integration provides a focus for academic content and a lens by which students can realize the arts are a constant and profound thread in the fabric of our lives, social systems, and academic endeavors.

Some purists feel our content must stand alone and not be seen as a supplement to the classroom teacher’s lessons and units. Arts integration offers an opportunity to solidify the arts as an essential piece of a well-rounded education. Integration also moves us closer to a cross-curricular model of instruction that strengthens the value of the arts and humanities in schools and classrooms. Perhaps Carlos Salinas de Gotari says it best: "Isolation is a self-defeating dream."

The Future of Art and Music Teachers
Many people in the arts believe that the arts integration movement is aimed at removing qualified arts instructors from the daily and weekly curriculum to make room for more ELA and Math instructional time. It's true that the arts can fold into classroom content and bolster educational gains, and I can see why purists fear a day when classroom teachers are required to fulfill both their duties as educators and our duties as arts specialists.

We all know, however, that arts integration is most effective and fruitful when a trained, certified, and artistically literate individual is on board. This is not to say that a classroom teacher couldn’t be all of those things. But, frankly, I'm not certain where a classroom teacher would find the time to fulfill all of those requirements: construct arts-integrated lessons, make deep connections between classroom content and the social and emotional implications of literature, history, and the like, and deploy them without assistance. Isolation is a two-way street. It's important to realize that arts educators are a crucial piece of the puzzle, and authentic transformational integration can’t happen without us!

It's a Win-Win
It's obvious that many things in education are hanging in a delicate balance at the moment. The need for highly trained and effective arts professionals is at a critical tipping point. If we, as arts educators, can relay how the arts can augment student academic achievement in addition to the value that the arts have in and of themselves, then we all win. We, as teachers of the arts, the classroom teachers, the students, and our society get an equal share of the amazing benefits that an arts-integrated education can provide. Additionally, we help ensure that our students are college and career ready. Most important, arts integration moves us from the isolation model to an integrated model and ensures that students become productive, democratically minded, globally educated, and emotionally sound members of society.

Check out my interactive infographic to find resources and tech recommendations for arts integration. Print it and share with your colleagues!

Photo: "Violin Scroll" by Alex. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.