Deirdre Moore | February 2016

Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Building a Strong Arts Foundation for Integration

Slow and steady wins the race.

That’s the phrase that came to my mind after attending a two day workshop about VTS or Visual Thinking Strategies.  I think as educators we get so excited about the possibilities of a new program/strategy,  we forget how important it is to build a solid and strong arts foundation first.  For arts integration to be at its most effective, the students need to have a strong arts foundation first.  Before using an arts strategy with children related to core content, the students should first have the opportunity to experience the strategy in its purest form with just the art.

On the second day of the training,

I overheard some teachers excitedly talking about all the ways in which they would apply this classroom strategy and I was immediately impressed, yet concerned. My fear was that these excited educators were putting the cart before the horse, and possibly robbing the strategy of its full potential.  Over time with careful implementation, this strategy has been found to help students gain confidence in expressing their thoughts, gain greater capacity to entertain conflicting thoughts, and to continually go back to the source to support their thinking.  However, if the teachers take this VTS idea of making meaning from visual art, and place it immediately into the context of another content area, then the objective is no longer to appreciate visual art and to practice making meaning from visual art by looking carefully at the image.  Now the objective involves another understanding, and that can muddy the waters.

What Can We Do Differently For A Strong Arts Foundation?

When we teach reading, we start with books that will excite and engage the students.  We let them read for the joy of reading and the pleasure of a good story.  Of course, we read books with and to them to introduce other content, but we never stop letting them read for pleasure, and we continue to increase the complexity of that pleasure reading over time.  As we do that, the students become more capable of reading for meaning and learning about things related to other content in school.

The same is true for any art form: start where the students are.  Let them enjoy the art form for the art.  Allow them to explore and build skills in the art form as you guide and support them. When they have the basics, you can begin to gently introduce another content area with a different objective than just the art. However, it is important to never stop letting them explore and enjoy the art for art’s sake. This way, they continue to grow in the art form, becoming ever more sophisticated in that form, and therefore increasing their capacity to apply that art form in meaningful ways in other contexts to other content areas.

If your goal is to make the most of the amazing tool that is arts integration, remember to allow the students to build their love and skill in the arts first, build strong arts foundation and then continue to nurture that love to deepen those skills.  Don’t be too quick to integrate.  Slow and steady wins the race.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.