I recently had a discussion with a colleague about Arts Integration versus Arts Enhancement. They are different and I think it’s important that educators know the difference. That said, they both have their place and I would rather try the use of arts enhancement than no art at all in the classroom. The most important thing is that students are learning and that we as educators are giving them as many ways to access understanding as we can. While arts integration can be a truly magical and powerful way to teach both core content subjects and art, using art as a means of enhancing the teaching or assessing of curriculum other than art is a very valid and powerful way to teach. So there is really a big difference between arts integration versus arts enhancement.
In my dream world, every school would have inspiring teachers for every art form and every classroom. The students would receive quality arts education and develop skills and understanding in the various art forms that classroom teachers could then utilize and build upon. The art teachers and the classroom teachers would be given lots of time to collaborate and could create exciting integration of art content objectives and core content objectives.
These would be developed together, taught together and assessed together so the teachers and their students could see growth in understanding of both the art and the core content. That is arts integration. When I’ve done science lessons integrating dance and taught students not just about states of matter and how the atoms behave but also about energy and level in dance, I have dreamed about how much richer that integration could be if the students were actually receiving dance education so my introduction was not their only experience with those dance concepts.
The Difference Of Arts Integration Versus Arts Enhancement
In reality, many schools lack a rigorous art curriculum in any art form never mind all the major art forms (dance, theater, music and visual art). Some classroom teachers also happen to be practicing or trained artists themselves and feel very comfortable teaching their students about art concepts as well as other content area. But even if they are, there are so many demands on their time, it would be impossible for them to give equal time to the art as to the other subjects.
The elementary general education classroom teacher is trained and expected to teach the core content areas of language arts, math, science and social studies. That is, generally, their forte. But given some training and understanding in an art form (or several), the general classroom teacher can use art as an effective way to teach and/or assess other content.
Teachers can use popular songs and help students change the words to reflect learning about core content. Teachers can have their students pantomime or act out different vocabulary words to deepen or check for understanding. Teachers can have students use visual art to demonstrate understanding through drawing or constructing models. In those art activities the focus is on the subject and not the art form. The art is a tool to achieve engagement, to deepen learning, and to check for understanding. That is a wonderful way to give students access to learning and involve them more deeply in learning. That is arts enhancement.
So What About Arts Integration?
I am a realist and I understand that true arts integration can be difficult to achieve, especially without the support of trained arts specialists. However, most classroom teachers can use arts enhancement with little support or training. Over time they may grow to be able to create truly integrated lessons with both art and core content standards taught and assessed. Until then, they can use the arts to enhance – to deepen engagement and understanding and there is definitely nothing wrong with that.
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.