About Arts Integration

Teaching through the Prism of Arts Integration from The Phillips Collection on Vimeo.

Arts Integration: A 21st Century Way of Learning
By Michael Anderson
Published in The International Educator, April 2013

The arts have traditionally been viewed as “specials” classes – a place where students can find reprieve from the rigorous demands of their core academic subjects, give their minds a rest, and relax into a painting or a piece of music.  Arts teachers quietly taught the skills and techniques of their trades in seclusion – far from the spotlight of standardized assessments or educational reforms. As education re-invents itself to meet the needs of the 21st century, a new view is emerging: one in which the arts are no longer seen as “enrichment” at the margins of the curriculum, rather as an invaluable core strategy for teaching skills like creative and critical thinking, communication, and collaboration across all of the disciplines.
Escuela Campo Alegre, the American International School in Caracas, has embraced this new vision and is leading the way forward with a new Arts Integration program to augment the school’s historically strong programs in the Fine Arts. While students continue to receive a standard curriculum of sequential arts courses at all levels, middle school students have begun to encounter the arts as a teaching and learning tool in many of their other classes as well. In Science, students come to understand the states of matter through the creation of wax candle sculptures, in Humanities they use movement to create a “human map” of the ancient Egyptian landscape, in Language Arts they collaborate on a graffiti wall giving visual form to the main themes and ideas that emerge from their study of “The Outsiders,” while in 8th grade Social Studies, they design models of memorials, museums, and monuments to understand how national values and ideals are communicated through architecture and the built environment.  
While the arts were once thought to be the product of the muses and divine inspiration, we are beginning to get a fuller map of the cognitive processes and brain functions involved in the various arts disciplines. Eliot Eisner’s Arts and the Creation of Mind gives a good overview of the topic.  There is a lot more going on than was originally thought in the mind of a child who is learning to play the oboe or sculpt a ceramic vase. A growing body of research evidence is pointing to the positive effects of arts on human development and academic achievement. Recent books, such as Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works, are elucidating a clearer understanding of the factors and behaviors that foster creative thinking and innovation.  The arts employ a wide array of intelligences and modes of thinking, they fine-tune the senses, they invite reflection and empathy for differing viewpoints, and they train students in discipline and craftsmanship.
Bringing these many benefits of the arts to bear on learning across the curriculum not only makes academic sense, it is a lot of fun. The arts engage the body, mind, and spirit at the same time, and thus, they are a natural source of motivation in many people. While a Gallup poll recently found that the engagement of US students dramatically begins to drop off in the middle years, 91% of middle school students at ECA reported in a recent survey that their experience of arts integration has made learning more fun and engaging.  Teachers also report greater sense of motivation in seeing their students more engaged and having a wider repertoire of tools to help students deepen their thinking and learn difficult concepts.
Use this blog to learn more about Arts Integration, and see sample lessons and student work from ECA’s Arts Integration program. You may click on the labels at right to find sample lessons or resources for a particular discipline or topic.
We have outlined the six Characteristics of Meaningful Arts Integration below as a guide for keeping our lessons consistent with our core beliefs about the arts and learning. We have also identified five Points of Connection - different roles the arts can play in integrated learning. You can learn more about each of them by visiting the pages above.

Happy Integrating!

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