Arts Integration Crucial to Enhancing 21st-Century Classes

The arts can engage students

The arts have a unique ability to touch at the heart of society through engaging with people’s emotions. When an audience is engaged in a powerful way, communicating ideas flows smoothly. The arts are constantly integrated into the processes and products of business.

  • Picture the advertisements that attract public attention. They contain sights and sounds that engage the audience.
  • Few buildings under construction fail to consider elements of design.
  • Food companies consider the beauty of presentation.
  • The facts and figures of business presentations are wrapped with artistic flair both visually and dramatically.

Everywhere we look we see the importance of how dynamic visual and auditory content attracts customers to businesses. Yet with reduced budgets in many school districts, the arts are placed delicately between being valued or removed.

To prepare young people for a world that demands an artistic eye and ear, schools must pay attention. It is important to retain the arts as content, but art as curriculum can also give way to an arts-enhanced and arts-integrated curriculum.

Arts-enhanced curriculum

The arts can engage students, motivating them to go deeper into the content to enhance learning. Students in early grades can use drama or music to retell a story. Older students can design presentations for research, illustrate timelines, or create original dramas or poetry to express reactions to content.

When the arts are used as a strategy to reinforce content without examining art content or objectives, the curriculum is arts-enhanced. Arts-enhanced curriculum can be an effective learning strategy, but taking it a step further and actually integrating the arts objectives into the subject-specific content provides an even richer experience for students.

Integration of the arts in content courses

The Kennedy Center for the Arts defines art integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.”

Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland, began to use arts integration in 2009 as a reform model to improve student performance. The implementation of the arts served to improve student learning as well as retention.

Faculty members from Bates Middle School explain that arts integration provides opportunities for active learning where students are intimately involved with the curriculum. New roads to understanding, collaboration, problem-solving, learning through failure and risk taking give students skills for lifelong learning.

A middle school science teacher used dance movements to help students more deeply differentiate between rotation and revolution by having students choreograph a dance requiring movements that apply to dance standards as well as the science of rotation and revolution.

Arts integration can help all students learn standards through higher levels of engagement. Students with special needs as well as English language learners at Bates Middle School have increased achievement in both math and reading after the school began integrating arts into the curriculum.

Effective integration of the arts demands a deep understanding of the content. Thus, when students are required to include the arts within units of study, they must thoroughly understand the content in order to express it through the arts. This easily fits into the expected skills of 21st-century college and career-readiness standards.

Content-area teachers: enhancing and integrating the arts into content

Specialists in the arts have training to help students master arts content and express their learning in creative ways. Subject-specific teachers can partner with specialized faculty to present integrated units of study. But even if it is impossible to utilize the arts faculty in support of unit studies, teachers should encourage students to investigate integration by allowing students to explore ways to use the arts to enhance their studies.

For years U.S. schools have isolated content areas within the classroom, yet best practices indicate that the integration of content helps students make stronger brain connections and helps them remember content in a more effective way. Blending the arts with other content areas serves to deepen learning as well as prepare students for a work world that recognizes the importance and power of artistic expression.

With over 35 years in administration and teaching in K-12 and higher education both in the U.S. and internationally, Dr. Nancy Cardenuto strives to cultivate creative and innovative learning paths. She is an adjunct professor in the master’s program at Concordia University – Portland, where she teaches courses in support of the Common Core State Standards.

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