Arts integration has come a long way. I remember back in graduate school (which was, gulp, 15 years ago) studying the Creative Arts in Learning when we would talk about teaching with, through and about the arts and our professors would have us graduate students brainstorm all the possible skills our classroom students would be using in any given arts lesson. We would list everything under the sun from observational skills to sequencing in what seemed to me to be a desperate attempt to validate involving the arts in classroom teaching and prove their worth.
We were constantly writing rationales for utilizing the arts in the classroom in paper after paper. Over the years I have seen (and have written) some really interesting lesson plans and units that utilize the arts in teaching other core content that list multiple standards for both the art and the core content making it seem like this lesson alone could do it all!
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s important to be aware of just how many skills that are used in creating art are transferrable to other content areas. I also realize that people who advocate for the arts still often talk about how involvement in the arts improves tests scores in math and language arts in order to convince the nay-sayers that the arts deserve to be studied in schools. It’s wonderful to be aware of just how many different arts and core content standards may be touched upon in any given lesson to see how the various standards can work together.
However, what I love about how arts integration has evolved is how we are starting to ensure that the art is no longer subservient to the content area by writing lessons that focus on one art standard and one content area standard, develop them equally throughout the lesson and assess both standards.
When I first started teaching, my lessons naturally involved the arts because that’s just who I am. I never even thought about what aspect of art I was teaching, I simply used art because it was fun and engaging for me and proved to be for my students as well. Many of my fondest classroom teaching memories involve the arts in some way, visual and performing. Even in graduate school my lessons intentionally used the arts but did not actually articulate a specific art standard and assess that standard; the focus was always on the core content standard. I have historically thought of myself as an educator first and an artist second so it never occurred to me to be bothered that the art was being made a slave to the core content.
Only in recent years since I extricated myself from classroom teaching and decided to focus exclusively on arts integration and developing the artist side of myself, have I come to understand just how necessary a solid background in all the arts is for children. Upon discovering this idea of placing an art standard as equal to a core content standard and assessing both standards, I realized what a disservice I had done to the arts over the years as well as to my students.
I am still very proud of many of those early lessons I developed and am glad that I went with my gut and used the arts as a teaching tool in my classroom to enhance core curriculum learning. I still believe there is value in that. However, I am also glad that the field of arts integration is now emphasizing equal treatment of the arts.
By placing those standards side by side in a lesson plan, developing them both and assessing both equally it is as though we educators are no longer busying ourselves with validating the arts. We are clearly stating that the worth of the arts is understood, it is a given, and it deserves equal treatment in our classrooms.