Why Arts Integration?

Picture this.

It’s the first day of school and you are a young, bright student ready to learn. You love science, your brand new Pokemon backpack, and music. You find your classroom, you meet your teacher, you put your backpack in your cubby. You say hi to old and new friends, and the butterflies in your tummy just can’t contain themselves. You look great. The classroom is cool. Your teacher seems nice. Everything is working out, and you are here to learn, baby! And then, your teacher asks you to take your seat, and open your textbook to page 42. She says, “After reading the chapter, take the assessment on page 58.” All of your excitement comes screeching to a halt when you realize that you are going to have to sit in this uncomfortable seat for the next hour,  reading a textbook about the life cycle of plants. Five minutes in, you get itchy. You don’t know three of the words on page 44. The second hand on the clock is too loud, and this chair is uncomfortable. You lean over to ask your neighbor if they understand what in the heck a “cotyledon” is, and that’s when you get in trouble for talking during classwork time. This is the worst day. Ever.

Now let me take you to another classroom.

In this arts-integration classroom, students have mapped out the life cycle of a plant in small groups. Each small group has choreographed movements that represent each stage, and a student with a musical instrument plays a brief tune as an expression of what is happening. The students wrote that tune during their work together.  As the movement students transition from one stage to another, a narrator reads a description of the stage, which the group wrote during their processing time. Each student has now critically thought about the life cycle of a plant. What would it look like? What would it sound like? Why would it sound that way? How can an audience understand what is going on in each stage? They’ve seen it, felt it, heard it, and spent time pouring over tiny details of each stage. They’ve synthesized this information to determine how they could best represent it. They’ve performed it. Now, each student has the life cycle of a plant in their bones.

How would you rather learn about the life cycle of a plant?

Arts integration (AI) is arguably the most effective approach to teaching other subject areas such as science, language arts, mathematics, and social studies.  It’s an approach to teaching where students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. The instructor joins subject areas to arts curriculum and meets evolving objectives in both. (“Defining Arts Integration” by Lynne B. Silverstein and Sean Layne © 2010, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.)

This process allows students to draw on prior knowledge and build deep, meaningful connections as opposed to simply memorizing facts to be regurgitated on paper/pencil tests later. AI allows students to learn collaboratively and provides them with hands-on opportunities on a daily basis. Research shows that students involved with AI are more engaged in their school work -- and engaged students learn more, have fewer behavioral struggles, and are more likely to enjoy going to school.

According to The John F. Kennedy Center’s Arts in Education Study, students involved in AI generate more original and creative ideas, are more engaged in their school work, and show upwards of a 15% gain in academic performance. Research has also shown that students experience greater emotional engagement and higher levels of interest in an AI classroom, where they are also more positively challenged. Perhaps most importantly, student effort and grit are higher in an AI classroom. With so much new research indicating that grit is a huge part of success, there has never been a better time to be using AI in our classes.

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