Arts Integration is not a new idea. It first appeared in publication in Leon Winslow’s The Integrated School Art Program in 1939. It rose to popularity in the 1970’s and 1980’s with hundreds of scholarly articles and books researching and outlining its essence. However despite its history, few college and university programs dedicate time or space to specific Arts Integration classes or trainings. Whatever the reason, when it comes to even the most foundational aspects of Arts Integration, misconceptions pervade the educational community.
In hopes of clarifying just a few of the misunderstandings that I hear most commonly, here are three clarifications surrounding the Arts Integration movement.
Teachers need extensive knowledge and training in the arts to teach Arts Integration
Truth: Most teachers don’t have time to lesson plan, let alone take on additional coursework learn about each of the arts. Fortunately, teachers don’t need extensive training in the arts to use Arts Integration in their classrooms.
When it comes to AI and STEAM, teachers act as facilitators of student exploration and learning. Students learn the arts skills and processes in arts classes. They learn content skills in their content classes. Any teacher can then provide the opportunity to extend that learning through creativity.
AI and STEAM are teaching tools. These tools allow students who may otherwise be unable to access the material being taught, to engage in content lessons. These tools also allow students who may be advanced in one academic area to explore and push themselves beyond the scope of the original lesson. Teachers can utilize online resources, teaching artist videos, online programs like ArtsEdge, or museum websites to help them.
To support their Arts Integration programs, schools can implement professional development sessions led by teaching artists. These individuals can provide teachers with a toolbox of “arts related knowledge”. Additional training is an added advantage to teaching Arts Integration, but not a necessity.
This myth of believing teachers need extensive training hails from the idea that creative artists are cut from a different cloth than everyone else. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”
Can you purposefully cultivate creativity in the classroom? Yes! Do you need a MFA to do so? No. There are numerous studies on schools where teachers with no formal background in the arts teach Arts Integration on a daily basis.
Misconception #2: Arts integration takes too much time
Truth: I cannot begin to count the number of times teachers have told me that “Arts Integration takes too much time.” Or that they “already feel stressed just trying to meet the deadlines of the existing curriculum.”
Luckily, I can share that Arts Integration does not have to take any additional time. Instead, it is a method of teaching the existing curriculum in a new and engaging way.
As an Arts Integration Specialist, I always look at curriculum goals and how we can find a natural fit with the arts. Rather than using the same old worksheets and bookwork, I look for different routes to learning concepts. Music, theater, visual arts, and dance can be these pathways to learning. Teachers can do this (at some level) on their own, too. Arts Integration should not be a “separate” lesson. It’s also not something that gets tagged on at the end of a unit. It is meant to be a teaching method that allows students to learn and practice the standards outlined in the curriculum.
When Arts Integration is used as a method of information transfer, it will not take any additional time away from content learning. As a side note: how sad is it that the goal for many of us as educators has shifted from “educating students” to “getting through curricula by a certain deadline”?
Misconception #3: Turning STEM into STEAM is counterproductive to protecting Arts Education
Truth: Oftentimes I hear the argument that STEAM learning is taking the place of arts education or “art for arts sake.” This assumption that STEAM learning leaves no room for arts classes is totally untrue.
In fact, STEAM learning is a complement to what students are learning in their arts classes. Yes – there are areas where arts classes have been eliminated due to funding suspensions or reductions. That is a something we need to keep fighting until every school has a dedicated arts program. In situations like these, STEAM learning did not lead to the demise of art class. Art class was slashed when the government cut budgets.
Keep in mind that STEAM doesn’t replace a school arts program. It’s meant as a way to extend and deepen the arts’ natural connections with other contents. High quality STEAM education cannot take place without dedicated arts instruction. Therefore, STEAM education acts as a way to increase arts education, not eliminate it.
Hopefully this clears away a few fallacies surrounding Arts Integration and STEAM learning and increases understanding of what these teaching methodologies advocate. For further clarification regarding Arts Integration and STEAM learning I recommend checking out a book from your local library and reading up on the true fundamentals of these teaching strategies so you can arm yourself against misinformation.
Laura Wixon graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012 with Bachelors in Art Studio and Art History and English Language. In 2013 she stayed at SMCM and completed the Masters in Teaching Program with endorsements in elementary education, special education, art education k-12, and secondary English education (6-12). She taught as a Language Arts teacher for two years at Bates Middle School before moving into their Arts Integration Specialist position, which she has held the past two years.