I had the distinct honor of being featured by Edutopia last Wednesday in how Arts Integration makes critical and natural connections to the Common Core Standards.  Below, you’ll find the article featured.  And if you’d like to actually see it on the Edutopia site, feel free to click here.

Integration in any area, be it STEM or the Arts, seems to be the buzz word to curriculum designers everywhere these days.  There are so many resources floating around out there with the claim of integrating content areas.  Yet, true integration is often difficult to find.  Indeed, integration is a rare yet seemingly “magical” approach that has the capacity to turn learning into meaningful practice.  Which of course, as any teacher will tell you, is anything but magic.  Integration requires collaboration, research, intentional alignment and practical application on behalf of the teachers who take on this challenge.

From the students, integration demands creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration, and the ability to work through the rigorous demands of multiple ideas and concepts being woven together to create a final product. Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together.  It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically together with meaningful assessments from both content areas which take integration to a whole new level.  Put together, this sets the foundation for how we will be able to facilitate the Common Core State Standards.

Transforming Core Practices

So far with Common Core, the often-highlighted integration approach is through STEM.  However, Arts Integration is just as effective yet many times overlooked.  What is striking is that both STEM and Arts Integration are linked through definition as an approach to teaching through two or more content areas.  Still, the Arts have some unique parallels to the Common Core Standards that may make its implementation a beneficial addition for teachers and administrators.  These parallels attest to the rigors of the Arts and the need for their processes in the global workforce of today and the unforeseen future of tomorrow.

Process produces Product. 

Arts Integration lessons provide students with time to compare sources, conduct research, and focus on the process of their work.  The products created naturally become richer and more extensive than those from a “traditional” approach.  The importance of shifting our focus from products to processes can be found within the Common Core Math Practices – most of which are aligned with the Artists Habits of Mind.

Access Points.

An Arts Integration approach is naturally engaging to students and to teachers.  Almost everyone has one artform (visual art, music, dance or drama) with which they connect and use to make sense of the world.  And our society places a high emphasis on the arts.  We are bombarded with advertisements for iPods and iPads, music, movies, and shows that are often produced with high visual impact.  By weaving the arts in and through our contents in naturally aligned ways, we are providing relevance to student learning and giving them an opportunity to connect their world to our classrooms.

True Equity.

The emphasis on process-based learning and of using access points that are relevant to every child makes teaching and learning an equitable opportunity for everyone in the classroom.  By using Arts Integration, teachers and leaders can ensure students are learning in a way that meets their own unique cultural, social, emotional and intellectual needs.

Analytic Practice.

When studying any piece of art, composition, drama or dance, one must be able to analyze the components that create the whole.  Additionally, the ability to synthesize these parts into a whole work is critical to making meaning for each audience member.  Common Core Reading and Math Standards have each identified the need for this critical practice and many teachers are struggling with implementing it into the classroom.  Arts Integration may be a pathway to providing those opportunities.

Strategies for Implementation

Arts Integration seems to be hidden from view because teachers are nervous about their own artistic abilities and being able to effectively facilitate a lesson which includes authentic Arts standards.  Yet, Arts Integration strategies have a variety of levels and many can be implemented in classrooms quite quickly.  The key to using Arts Integration successfully is in working collaboratively with Arts and Classroom teachers to find naturally-aligned objectives, using an Arts area that the classroom teacher is comfortable in (for many, this starts with Visual Arts), creating a lesson that truly teaches to both standards and assessing both areas equitably.

Here are some quick sample Arts strategies to try if you’re just starting out (for full descriptions, just click each link):

Mirroring.  A drama and dance technique, this is a fantastic way to connect to Common Core Math Standards.  It provides students with a way to share understanding using movement, concentration, and problem-solving skills.  This technique involves partnering students and having them “mirror” each other’s actions.

Stepping into the Painting.  This Visual Arts strategy uses the careful inspection of a chosen painting to be used to interpret personal meaning for each student.  Students then combine their interpretations to create a global story from the painting.

Call and Response.  This music technique is practiced all the time in general music classes as a way to build improvising and composition skills, and to practice fluency.  It can be used effectively with reading or math concepts and because it is rhythmically-based, it can be done through simple clapping from the classroom teacher.

Are We Building Cooks or Chefs?

Arts Integration is about the tools that you use to provide the opportunities for teachers and students to create their own meaning.  By taking a traditional approach, we are shortchanging our teachers from the true art of their craft.  This leads to burnout and resentment, which we desperately need to address if our students are to succeed.  And our students deserve an opportunity to own their learning for themselves and to make deep, meaningful connections through the curriculum.  A

rts Integration allows us to build chefs who make choices – not cooks who follow the recipe.  By fostering a community within our schools where authentic Arts Integration is taking place, we can meet and exceed expectations set by Common Core and move into a culture of true inquiry and learning.

Sample Arts Integration Lesson Seeds

Looking for Arts Integration lesson seeds that connect with Common Core Standards?

Click the links below for some samples.

Reading the Art: Connecting reading standards (using Robinson Crusoe) and Visual Arts standards (using illustrations).

Mobile Battles: Connects STEM standards and Visual Arts standards in exploring the current cell phone platform wars.

West Side Shifts: Connects Reading, Math, Drama and Music standards in developing an understanding of complex texts and how that is conveyed through complex rhythms in music.

Artful Thinking Science: Connecting the earth’s relationship in the galaxy and an understanding of measurement to using observation skills for a piece of Van Gogh art.

The Magic Opera: This lesson seed correlates reading comprehension, plot development and fluency to studying a classical composer, musical genre, form and melodic patterns.