How often have you said or heard that a lesson was relevant because it included a piece from another content area? Such as, relating the history of the Civil Rights era to a study on Music from the 60’s. Lots of times, people say to me that they “integrate” the arts because they include an art project in a science lesson or they use Reader’s Theater with their students during Language Arts class. This is tremendously important and I congratulate them on this work.
But it’s not integration.
What I just described is extension, relevant connections or even a curriculum overlay. It’s providing an activity from another area to reinforce the concept that you’re trying to teach. And there’s nothing wrong with that! We need more lessons using this as an engagement tool because it actively involves our students in their learning. But it doesn’t contain the same powerful effects as integration. Integration is when there is an intentional use of naturally-aligned objectives from 2 or more contents. The lesson is taught in and through both content areas simultaneously and both areas are assessed equally.
That has a very different function than an extension project. So if you’re connecting dance to math, students should have a difficult time discerning whether they are in a dance class or a math class. Both areas are taught together for specific objectives. And at the end, students produce something showing they met the objectives in math and dance.
Integration With Caution
When I see curriculum being produced that says it’s integrated (like the new Pearson Forward curriculum) or districts saying they have written curriculum for their teachers that’s integrated, I go through it with caution. More often than not, commonalities exist between what we teach, but not truly integrate. By the way – having an essential question that spans across content areas isn’t integration either. That’s finding commonalities among all areas and answering it in siloed classrooms. Instead, you’re looking for a curriculum uisng that essential question in cohesion within 2 or more content areas. All within one singular lesson.
As Richard Kessler so progressively answered, Arts Integration is the way that Common Core will succeed for all students. In order for us to all meet the requirements and expectations placed on teachers for teaching Common Core Standards (CCSS) across all content areas, integration is the most logical and meaningful choice. Particularly Arts Integration because it is based on the same foundational processes as the CCSS. Yet, if all districts and publishers do involves paying lip-service to the idea and treat integration as extensions, our students don’t stand a chance. We must ensure that the Arts are not the icing on the cake during curriculum development, but rather the eggs that hold the batter together.
Want to check out your own curriculum to see if it’s truly integrated? Here are some things to look for:
1. There is an Arts and a Content area objective listed at the top of the lesson.
2. The lesson contains activities with the arts that emphasize the PROCESSES of the arts themselves. So, if you see a lesson where the students are making a shadow box, that’s not an AI lesson – that’s arts and crafts. If you see a lesson where there are times when students will learn about color theory (primary, secondary and terciary colors) and how that use ratios/fractions in math to create their own “new” color – that’s Arts Integration.
3. Check for an assessment at the end of the lesson that is assessing BOTH the content area and the arts area objectives. So if I used the color example from above, the teacher could use a rubric to score if students demonstrated using ratios of 2:1 and 3:1 to create a secondary color on the color wheel. Lots of times, people will miss that last part and just assess for an understanding of the ratios.
4. Make sure that the Arts experiences that the lessons are embedding are age-appropriate. It’s not okay to have third graders working on quarter notes in music during a math lesson. That’s a first grade skill. It might be helpful to print off the national fine arts standards for visual art, music, dance and drama for grades K-5. Then, cross-reference those while looking at the curriculum.
5. The word “embedded” is huge. When reading through the lessons, they should reflect the idea of the arts not existing as an extra activity, but woven into other content areas. That’s an “extension” or an “overlay”, but it’s not Arts Integration. We should teach both areas simultaneously throughout the whole lesson.
Let’s continue the dialogue and sifting through our ideas and strategies to create an integrated approach that truly reaches each and every child we teach. We certainly owe them (and our future) that much.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.