Art Integration Teaching & Learning

*Note: The majority of this section was taken from Claudia E. Cornett book (1999). The arts as meaning makers: Integrating literature and the arts throughout the curriculum. Prentice-Hall, Simon & Schuster, New York: NY.


Authentic Learning

By infusing any particular topic of study with another – such as art with math or language arts with music – we give students a greater opportunity to make genuine connections to their authentically lived experiences. As Cambourne (1995) notes, engagement occurs when learners are convinced that:

  • They are potential doers or performers of these demonstrations they are observing
  • Engaging with these demonstrations will further the purposes of their lives
  • They can engage and try to emulate without fear of physical or psychological hurt if their attempts are not fully correct
  • Helping learners make these decisions constitutes the artistic dimensions of teaching (Dillon, 2000, p. 187).

As Claudia Cornett (1999) noted in her book, The arts as meaning makers: Integrating literature and the arts throughout the curriculum, “Teaching with, about, in, and through the arts implies an alternative approach to the traditional role of classroom teachers who teach science, social studies, math, and language arts/reading and use the arts only as enjoyable add-ons” (p. vi). Considered an alternative learning strategy teaching K-12 subjects by not only integrating courses with each other but also by filtering instruction threw the arts is not new to education as the benefits of this pedagogical methodology has been advocated by arts groups and many educational institutions for years (p. v). For example, just as combining math with project-based learning or literature with history education makes learning more authentic to real life experiences; using the arts to interest students triggers the emotional response necessary for initial learning engagement.

Called “arts based,” “arts integrated,” “arts infusion,” “Arts PROPEL,” “interdisciplinary instruction,” “arts plus,” “A+ schools,” and a dozen other names, these programs share a common belief: the integration of literature, visual art, drama, dance, and music has the power to energize and humanize the curriculum. (p. 2) A basic principle of arts integration is to experience the art first and then isolate its components for study by using  whole art forms to craft lessons that meaningfully mingle music and math, science and drama, literature and dance, and social studies and art. Math Professor Philip Uri Treisman said, “If math were music, mastering the basic concepts would be like learning scales and leading students through discussions of open problems would be like playing songs.” (

Elliot Eisner’s (1994) notion of multiple literacies is useful as we think about new definitions of literacy and ways to assess learners’ knowledge. The concept of multiple literacies includes the idea that people can encode and decode meaning using many different ways or forms of representation in our culture to convey or express meaning. Eisner’s definition reminds us that we should not privilege print and numeracy literacies, but honor and embrace the use of art, drama, music, and other forms of representing knowledge (Elliot Eisner, 1994). Because of the mounting evidence linking the arts to basic learning, some researchers refer to the art: as the ‘fourth R” (Murfee, 1995, p. 4).

Glaser’s distinction between learning and teaching reflects the philosophy of Innovationism when he refers to the “Zeitgeist are bridging the “science of learning” and the “art of teaching.” As he states, “while a teaching a teaching system may be quite linear, the very dynamics of learning must be quite flexible in order to support the needs of the learner.” This feature allows for the ability to customize teaching and learning programs to accommodate various student learning abilities. Teaching as both an art form and using art as a learning medium is very much in the lexicon of Innovationism. “We should guide the children as artistically as possible, using all possible means, toward an understanding” (Steiner, 1923).

Benefits of School Art Programs

As Cornett (1999) informs us, “The “transforming power of the arts” has always been there, but mounting research connecting the arts with particular school goals has finally reached attention-getting proportions. Schools with strong arts programs regularly incur the benefits of increased student motivation to learn, better attendance among students and teachers, increased graduation rates, improved multicultural understanding, revitalized faculty, greater student engagement, growth in use of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, and increased creative capacities (Larson, 1997, p. 97). The potential for the arts to invigorate learning is demonstrated in the academic superiority of students in schools that devote 25 percent or more of the curriculum to arts courses (Perrin, 1994).

The arts contribute to an overall culture of excellence in a school. They are an effective means of connecting children to each other and helping them gain an understanding of the creators who preceded them. They provide schools with a ready way to formulate relationships across and among traditional disciplines and to connect ideas and notice patterns. Works of art provide effective means for linking information in history and social studies, mathematics, science and geography . . . opening lines of inquiry, revealing that art, like life, is lived in a complex world not easily defined in discrete subjects. (The Power of the Art: to Transform Education, I. Paul Getty Trust, 1993, In Cornett p.2)

Throughout history, literature, art, drama, dance, and music have been ways that humans made meaning. They are “fundamental to what it means to be an educated person. To lack an education in the arts is to be profoundly disconnected from our history from beauty; from other cultures; and from other forms of expression” (Larson, p. 99). Just how can we, as one commission demands, cause students to “forge shared values, to understand and respect others’ perspectives, to learn and work at high levels of competence, to take risks and persevere against the odds, to work comfortably with people from diverse background, and to continue to learn throughout life” without giving the teachers powerful tools to achieve these lofty goals? (Cornett, p. 3)

The Arts as Meaning Makers

The school arena is not the only context in which the arts are being examined for their problem-solving relevancy. Communities across the country are tapping into the magnetic power of the arts to pull diverse groups together and offer hope. For example, in Houston walls of graffiti have been transformed into art murals. For thousands of years the arts have brought people together in celebration, worship, festivals, and Weddings. Story, art, drama, dance, and music uniquely engage our senses and sensibilities, making us active participants in ways of knowing impossible through other domains (p. 3).

From their earliest beginnings, humans have been compelled to express ideas and feelings through the arts. Thirty thousand years ago paintings were made on a cave wall in southern France (Chauvet et al., 1996). Folk tales from every culture are testaments to the importance of the arts in human history and to our commonalities, as well as our cultural differences; there are more than 300 versions of just the “Cinderella” story, and Mother Goose rhymes have been traced back to sacrifice rituals used hundreds of years ago. What has driven peoples in all times to use the arts to answer questions, to explain, to console, to create meaning? The answer has much to do with trying to do the impossible—define art. No one can offer a definition agreeable to all. We can, however, consider unique aspects of the arts and the kinds of special contributions the arts have to make—how literature, music, art, drama, and dance are remarkable meaning makers. (p. 3)

A teacher using the arts as meaning makers can take advantage of the unique power of literature, music, art, drama, and dance to deeply affect students intellectually and emotionally. In arts-infused classrooms, students can be more productively active, physically and mentally, because the arts offer additional learning modes, have special motivational properties, and celebrate interpretation of the world in multiple ways. For example, students could learn important science concepts in an arts-based plant unit; insights about processes, such as photosynthesis, and knowledge about what makes a plant a plant and not an animal, can be developed using music, dance, and poetry. Textbooks, worksheets, and traditional tests need not be central to learning. Instead, the arts can become the vehicles. Students can consider artistic properties of any topic and transform subject matter through paintings, songs, poems, and dances. Imagine a fourth grade showing what they know and feel about converting sunshine and water into energy, using pantomime and dance. Imagine a teacher who knows how to assess science goals and objectives from courses of study by using criteria to observe student presentations. Imagine students eager to come to school and doing homework to prepare for presentations voluntarily and happily. Imagine this and you’ve grasped the core of the integrated arts concept (p. 4).

We create to:

  • Construct personal meaning and search for “truth”
  • Cope and solve problems
  • Make beauty or express an idea esthetically
  • Have fun and play! As humor guru Joel Goodman says, to maintain the “elf in self.”
  • Be with others who are being creative
  • Pursue an interest or add something new to a field


Reasons to Integrate the Arts

Cornett (1999) lists eleven reasons why we should educate through the arts. (p. 5-8)

 The arts are fundamental components of all cultures and time periods.

  1. The arts teach us that all we think or feel cannot be reduced to words.
  2. When students engage in the arts they have the opportunity to “be smart in different ways.”
  3. The arts develop the brain.
  4. The arts provide avenues of achievement for students who might otherwise not be successful.
  5. The arts develop a value for perseverance and hard work.
  6. The arts are a necessary part of life.
  7. There is a strong positive relationship between the arts and academic success.
  8. The arts offer alternative forms of assessment and evaluation.
  9. The arts can be a “feel good” alternative for students who turn to drugs and other destructive means to “get high.”
  10. Goals 2000, the National Assessment and the National Standards for the Arts call for arts-based education for all children.

The enactment of the bipartisan Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 included the arts as core disciplines in which all American children are expected to be competent. The Goals state that by the year 2000:

  • children will be ready to learn when they come to school, be graduating from high school at a 90% rate, be competent in core academic subjects (including arts domains), be first in the world in math and science and be educated in safe, disciplined and drug-free schools,
  • all adults will be ready to be employed in the country’s work force,
  • there will be appropriate professional development for educators and
  • Parents will be increasingly involved in their children’s education.

While the arts connection is obvious for the core subjects competency goal, there are important relationships between arts integration and all the goals. Preliminary research findings “demonstrate that arts experiences in early childhood help prepare children for their first years of school” (Welch, 1995, p. 157). How do arts experiences make children ready to learn? Children who have heard and sung nursery rhymes (literature and music) have a language foundation on which teachers can build reading and writing skills. This literary heritage invites children to move as parents and teachers sing “Ring around the Rosie” or “London Bridge is falling down.” Children dance, sing, laugh, and learn to love language and school. Children who have had opportunities to explore the art media of chalk, paint, collage materials, and clay learn to take risks, experiment, and problem solve. The delight in manipulating color, line, shape, and texture can last a lifetime, be the start of an avocation in the arts, or lead to one of the hundreds of arts-related careers, from designing automobiles, furniture, or clothes to making picture books for children.

Children who start school expecting success and who continue to enjoy learning have a greater chance of staying in school; “arts programs are related to dropout prevention and staying in school” (Welch, 1995, p. 157). Programs like the Duke Ellington School’s in Washington, D.C., are examples of how the arts motivate students to be successful: ninety percent of the participants in the Boys Choir of Harlem go on to college (Gregorian, 1997). But the signs of being at risk develop early, so we can’t wait until high school to make learning relevant and exciting. As

Gardner showed in his book Creating Minds (1993), (p. 9).

It is often those unconventional “creative spirits” like Einstein and Freud who make the breakthroughs in science and math; we cannot afford to lose creative thinkers who may dismiss science and math as dismal piles of dates, facts, and graphs. Instead, students can be shown how to learn math and science using musical intelligence, by kinesthetic means (dance / drama), or through the visual arts, giving them more means to enjoy learning and more reasons to return to the arts in the future. Teachers need not only teach to interests, but can develop interests by presenting subject matter in new ways.

Another arts connection to Goals 2000 relates to the goal of safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools. Research studies link arts education to a safe and orderly school environment (Welch, I995). Consider self-discipline and the arts. Anyone who ever learned to play an instrument knows the hours of practice necessary to “become good.” College students who remember the “forced lessons” by well-meaning parents are often thankful that they persisted.

What do Teachers need to know and do to Teach through the Arts?

 Teachers can begin at a modest level and teach with the arts by adding daily arts routines or centers. More integration happens when teachers plan lessons about arts content so that students are involved in the arts in more mindful ways. The fullest integration is teaching through the arts and involves creating an esthetic classroom environment in which substantial content units are planned using the arts as both learning tools and unit centers. To derive instructional implications for teaching through the arts planning needs to be grounded in teaching and learning theories. (p. 10)



 Because of digital technology our lives in some ways have become easier but also more complex – and this complexity is growing. Some solutions can’t be seen because they’ve never existed. It will be our children who will inherit our problems so they must be taught to create new solutions through creative problem solving.

The creative problem-solving process depends on the integration of education and this creativity depends on the use of arts to advance the needed creativity. Accordingly, one of our most pressing societal needs is to determine what aspects of creativity can be influenced and what might even be directly taught.

Presently, we’re not sure where creativity comes from, what it is, or how it develops. What’s obvious is that “time waits for no man,” so can’t just look to someone like behaviorist B. F. Skinner and “wait for it to happen and then reinforce it with stamps and stickers.” What we do know of creativity is that it seems to have been developed through personal struggle and honed by noticing patterns by looking closely at details and listening intensely to gather data that yield realizations. This can be taught and by teaching creative thinking we can, in some ways, control the universe. However, using creative process without considering the consequences can have dire consequences as foretold in the Jewish folk tale of The Golem that reminds us: man’s creativity, mindless of morality, is a destroyer (p.23)

Enhancing creativity through the arts rests on developing habits that include:

  • Celebrating differences of mind, spirit, and body;
  • Inviting students to choose within moral limits; and
  • Using the motivational power of personal interest that can change the world

A good example would be that of Philo Farnsworth reading old science magazines he found in the attic of his family’s Iowa farmhouse. Time to pursue a teen-age fascination with electrons led him to envision the rows of his plowed field as a metaphor for the creation of the cathode ray tube, which gave us television.

We have to continually create thinking strategies and have a commitment to depth of knowledge in domains where creative work is to be done. No one creates in a vacuum or without building on foundations others laid and it is vital that we value creativity and using it as a priority in the development of K-12 curricula which is currently to dense to allow creative meaning making.

Author and teacher Alane Starko believes that:

The most reasonable course of action is to support and encourage characteristics associated with creativity whenever possible. At the very least, our classrooms should be more flexible, responsive, attuned to the wonder around us. At best, we may make a difference in the creativity of a young person who may one day bring greater knowledge or beauty into the world. (1995, p. 93)

 Creative Problem Solving and Real Life

It is all too common to associate creative thinking with artists. The arts invite all of us to explore the unusual and create something different, even if it’s just another interpretation. But creative thinking is also an everyday survival skill, as well as a kind of thinking crucial for success in the 21st century.

Whether we are deciding how to stretch a budget and still have interesting meals or attempting to deal with global warming, we use innate abilities to creatively solve problems. The most complex problems can only be solved by creative thinking – divergent, original thinking that examines issues from all perspectives.

Remembering facts and rote skill application, too often the focus in elementary math, science, and social studies, are not sufficient to help children become successful adults without teaching them the skills needed in a future promising a multitude of new problems. Therefore, a major part of the school day needs to be spent developing student creativity and the arts provide the most fertile ground for growing creative thinking skills (p. 23).

Schools and Creativity

With the advent of the Common Core State Standards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes were emphasized at the expense of the humanities, arts and physical education. Schools eventually learned that not only were standardized test scores were not making any meaningful gains children’s emotional growth was being stunted by the lack of natural human activities such as physical activities like play, games, music and visual art. As a consequent many schools are now re-including this activities in the basic curriculum renamed STEAM with the A representing the arts.

Khan (2012) holds that creativity isn’t only found in the arts – or maybe it does – if one looks at all human activity as being an art form. Success lies in the ability to solve problems in novel and creative ways (p. 56). A Student who is slow at learning arithmetic may be off the charts when it comes to the abstract creativity needed in higher mathematics (p. 20).

In the 1800, high-level creative and logical thinking may not have been as important as a disciplined tractability coupled with basic skills, but two hundred years later, they clearly are. (p. 78). Today’s world needs a workforce of creative, curious, and self-directed lifelong learners who are capable of conceiving and implementing novel ideas (p. 80). As a practical matter, our conventional classroom model does not generally allow for these customized reviews and retests, still less for moving beyond memorization to experience the concepts through open-ended, creative projects. This is one of the central ways in which the existing school experience proves archaic and no longer serves our needs (pp. 85-86).

Creativity in general tends to be egregiously underappreciated and often selected against in our schools as many educators fail to see math, science, and engineering as “creative” fields at all (98). Even as our world is being daily transformed by breathtaking innovations in science and technology, many people continue to imagine that math and science are mostly a matter of memorizing formulas to get “the right answer.” Even engineering, which is in fact the process of creating something from scratch or putting things together in novel and non-self-evident ways, is perplexingly viewed as a mechanical or rote subject.

The truth is that anything significant that happens in math, science, or engineering is the result of heightened intuition and creativity. This is art by another name, and it’s something that tests are not very good at identifying or measuring (pp. 98-99). Accordingly, it does not follow that the “best-performing” student – that is, the one with the greatest facility for catching on quickly at a certain level of understanding, and therefore the one with the highest test scores – will necessarily end up as the most accomplished scientist or engineer. That will depend on creativity, passion, and originality – things that begin where testing leaves off (pp. 99-100).

Most educators are beginning to recognize that curiosity and creativity are more important attributes than a mere facility for a particular subject; yet except for narrowly defined art schools, few institutions even consider an applicant’s creative output. This is doubly wrong. First, it implies that only “art” is creative – a view that is provincial and limiting. As stated, science, engineering, and entrepreneurship are equally creative. If we fail to take a serious look at what students have created on their own, above and beyond lessons and tests, we miss an opportunity to appreciate what is truly special about them. More than any data, grades, or assessment, someone’s actual creative product is the best testament of his or her ability to create from scratch, to make a solution out of an open-ended problem (p. 219).

To a large degree, creative students just haven’t allowed themselves to be molded to the ideal of contempory schools. Many, many more students can be like them if we allow them to be. By giving light and space and time to the creativity that already exists in each of us it can inspire the mysterious few who will go on to change the world and rise to the level of genius (p. 251).


What Is Creativity?

Perkin’s definition seems to work because it implies that everyday people have what it takes to be creative. He believes creativity is simply “using ordinary resources of the mind in extraordinary ways” (1988). To use one’s experiences, thinking skills, and knowledge of a field in unique and appropriate ways to produce something new, at least new to the individual, seems workable.

But, context is very important in arts experiences, and this is especially apparent with regard to what is considered creative.  Societies value novel original products needed by specific groups and cultures; paper clip are not now thought creative, but must have amazed first users.

Four Creativity Theories or Models

Researchers have tried to make sense out of the elusive concept of creativity through four angles of research:

  1. Examining characteristics of creative people,
  2. The stages or process of creativity,
  3. Influences on creativity, and
  4. Interacting elements (p.23)

The stages in the development of creativity and the process of creative problem solving interested Plato, who thought creativity to be a mystical process resulting from a kind of divine intervention and manifested in bursts of insight; while Aristotle believed creativity was explainable by natural laws, just like any other thinking process. B. F. Skinner observed creativity to be a function of behavioral influences: creativity naturally occurred and, if reinforced, was repeated.

An interactive theory presents creativity as an interaction among:

  1. Individuals using cognitive processes like divergent thinking,
  2. Functioning in particular domains or fields (e.g., math or science), and
  3. Their environment (culture and time period)

Characteristics of Creative Persons: The Creative Spirit Profile

 While it may be hard to come to a settlement on a definition of creativity, there is agreement about processes commonly used to arrive at creative products and there is a collection of attributes associated with creativity. Studies of highly creative children and adults yield a profile to use to observe students and plan a classroom environment to encourage creative thinking. No one person has the same “profile of attributes” and there is no “generic creative person,” but we all possess degrees of most of the characteristics.

Find out what researchers have discovered in studies of people who have produced highly creative Work. Teachers may choose to encourage some of the characteristics in themselves and their students, while others may seem to be undesirable qualities. To become familiar with the characteristics, take time to rate the level you believe you have of each characteristic. There is no “right” or “better” profile, but perhaps the characteristics will help teachers and students realize the many dimensions of creativity and that all people have creative attributes.

Creative characteristics often emerge in childhood and there are high frequency patterns of:

  • first born
  • childhood trauma, such as loss of a parent
  • estranged relationships with family
  • a family that values learning and a pattern of clear expectations and few rules
  • early successes
  • likes school, books, collections
  • creative products emerge in ten-year groupings (Gardner)
  • benefits from role models, mentors
  • has a supportive person who understands person’s work
  • may have strong social peer group or be marginal, i.e., somewhat of an outsider
  • parents had own interests
  • problem finders*

*(Dacey, 1989; Tardif and Sternberg, 1988; Gardner, 1993; Getzels and Jackson, 1962; and Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) (p. 24)


Creative Problem-Solving Process

Preparation (Conscious) 

  1. Problem presented or found (first notion that a problem exists).
  1. Motivated attitude: “Can do, will do, want to do!” Emotion causes motion – (Rearrange the letters in “motivate” to spell “move at it”) motivation is movement directed at a goal – an “it”! To get energy to move, attitude is critical.
  1. Problem described: what is the problem, specifically and exactly? ‘A problem well defined is half solved. ”

Charles Kettering (General Motors electrical wizard).

  1. Data gathering: input of facts by reading, researching, interviewing. Use all senses and put in hard work.

“We can have facts without thinking, but we cannot have thinking without facts.” John Dewey


Creative Thinking 

  1. Divergent thinking (Alex Osborne’s “brainstorming”): Quantity first! “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” (Linus Pauling, scientist). Generate as many ideas as possible. Use webbing and clustering to record ideas.
  • Withhold judgment: do not evaluate or analyze ideas yet or risk shutting down right-brain thinking.
  • Be fluent: generate lots of ideas.
  • Be flexible: try different perspectives or categories; examples/non-examples.
  • Be original: never take the first idea – stretch until you feel there are no more ideas. Sometimes, the idea after you have seemed to run out of ideas is the best idea – think of what no one else will think of.
  • Elaborate: add details and examples to ideas.
  • Play with ideas and relationships: Experiment! Ask “What if. . . ?”
  • Use SCAMPER (Eberle, 1971; Osborne, 1963):

Substitute – change characters, setting, time, place, . . .

Combine – force relationships; e.g., “How are a computer and a tree related?” Connect.

Adapt – compare and think metaphorically. “What is this like?”

Modify – change color, size, shape, . . .

Magnify – add to or make larger.

Minify – make smaller.

Put to other uses

Eliminate – subtract something.

Reverse or rearrange – backward, upside down, inside out.

Incubation (Unconscious) and Illumination (Semiconscious)

  1. Rest: Let the subconscious go to work – plan idle time – get away from the whole project.
  2. Insight: A light goes on; “ah-ha” stage – it’s exciting because an idea has popped out.

Evaluation and Action (Conscious) 

  1. Use judgment: Preset criteria (time, money, morals, etc.) and visual imagery to decide which solutions are best. “The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered. The great danger today is of slogans, collective opinions, ready-made trends of thought. ” (Piaget in Ginsberg and Opper, 1969)
  2. Put the idea into action: Try it – elaborate – revise.
  3. Share, publish: Make public – c (p. 27)


Ways to Jump-Start Creative Thinking

  • Brainstorm: (1) Go for quantity first. (2) List all ideas. Keep driving and don’t brake! (3) Include way-out ideas. (4) Piggyback on each other’s ideas. (5) Set a time limit. After finishing, ideas can be grouped and then evaluation begins (Osborne, 1963). Some research supports doing individual before group brainstorming to produce more ideas. Giving evaluation criteria before the brainstorming session will reduce the number of ideas, but may increase quality. Variation: Reverse brainstorming. Brainstorm non-examples instead of examples.
  • Word association (similar to brainstorming): List everything connected to a given word. Use to introduce a lesson (e.g., I’ve used “courage” as the concept to introduce the book, Mirette on the High Wire. ideas can be written down by the teacher or by students).
  • Use question frames as prompts: “How might we . . ., What if. . ., What are all the ways . . ., ‘An idea nobody would think of is. . Focus on a problem under study (e.g., how might we move if it was winter and we were marching from Valley Forge?).
  • Stumped or stymied? Stop and do something else. Listen to music or do something physical (e.g., stretches and bends to music).
  • Turn mistakes into opportunities. See The Big Orange Splot by D. M. Pinkwater.
  • Sometimes there just isn’t enough of a knowledge or skill base. Stop and read, observe, i.e., data gather.
  • Don’t take the first idea. The best idea may be the one right after you think you’ve run out.
  • Mind meld. Open an encyclopedia, dictionary, or magazine and pick an idea (noun, verb). Combine this idea with the one you are trying to develop. Don‘t worry about weird or distorted ideas. Just stretch mentally: “An imagination once stretched will never again have the same dimensions.” Example: l spotted a pair of scissors by my computer. l can meld the scissors with this chapter: l want to cut out drab teaching and can make points for why to use arts-based teaching. Scissors and the arts can be used and abused. There are different kinds of scissors (pinking, pruning, etc.), just as there should be a variety of arts-based programs.
  • Thinking Hats: Get with four other people and each of you “wear a hat” or take a perspective on a problem: #1 describes what is known, #2 gives feelings about the problem, #3 tells what is not known, #4 thinks of any associations or images, #5 lists ideas not at all related, i.e., non-examples (adapted from deBono, 1991). This is similar to the “cubing” strategy (Neeld, 1986) in which a topic is explored in six ways: describe it and tell its parts, tell how it feels, what do you associate with it, what could you do with it, what is it like, argue for or against it? This can be timed (e.g., spend two minutes on each “side” of the cube, or with young children do one or two sides a day).


Arts and Curriculum Integration

A dramatic revolution in cognitive understanding began in the 1970’s. Research now substantiates what some teachers and parents already knew intuitively – that the arts are critical to learning (Murfee, 1995).

Conditions for Learning

Basic Beliefs: Every teacher must use her or his own experiences, creativity, and desire to help children, as forces behind a workable philosophy or set of beliefs – a work forever in progress. Basic beliefs about what students need to be successful are best set out before beginning to teach. It is often easier to work from a draft, so here is one to use to synthesize a model for creating a classroom for student meaning making with, about, in, and through the arts. Try using statements starting with “I believe in . . .”

Immersion: People need to be in a stimulating, accepting environment. This is shown in an esthetic physical environment full of books, posters, fine art, music, and opportunities to move and pretend. Students need to be around others who are in the process of creating meaning with, about, in, and through art forms.

Expectation: People need to expect to be creative and successful. This expectation is made strong when teachers support student risk taking through their comments and actions. Students also need to know what to expect, in terms of the schedule and basic routines, and predictable structures that use creative variations contribute to clarity.

Freedom to fail: All students experience failure, and they should be helped to see mistakes as opportunities. Classrooms should have an environment, created mostly by teacher attitude that encourages risk taking and allows students to feel comfortable learning from mistakes.

Meaningfulness: People want to be involved in important and purposeful work that will contribute to their own happiness and the happiness of others. This means goals need to be clear. Learning is most successful when it is focused on solving life problems with life-centered materials and strategies, such as focus on discovering patterns in all disciplines. To paraphrase John Dewey, school is not preparation for life – it is life. Each person must create personal meaning using all – meaning-making tools available, including reading, writing, speaking, listening, drama, music, art, literature, dance, taste, touch, and smell. (p. 30)

Demonstration: We all need examples, but children do not need teachers to do tasks for them. Demonstrating strategies and techniques is crucial to learning and gets learning started. (“I do- we do – you do” process I credit to Chuck Novak)

Active learning: People remember more, are more satisfied, and achieve mastery of ideas and skills sooner when they are active mentally and/ or physically. Active learning includes starting with the known and building on that knowledge and skill base. Passive listening to a lecture or watching a video is not effective. Hands-on learning is powerful: If you don’t act, you don’t learn.

Application and practice: Repeated practice of what has been introduced helps students to own the new skill or idea. One of the greatest problems in our schools is not giving students adequate amounts and numbers of meaningful practices. Until each of us practices, it is almost impossible to achieve competence; it is competence that allows us to be in control of our own lives.

Independence: Human beings want to be in charge of themselves and need to learn how to work independently. We are proud of ourselves when we can function using our own resources. Teachers can help students move toward independence by teaching independent problem-solving strategies and providing time to work independently. It is important for us to have role models of people who are hard-working and persist at overcoming obstacles to achieve independence. Independence is gained only through much hard work to obtain a knowledge and skill base in the areas we need to work in.

Responsibility: People become responsible when they are taught how to make good choices and are given second chances. There is a story about how Thomas Edison had just finished an early prototype of his light bulb. He called a boy to take it to the factory, and the boy dropped it on the way. Edison had to start all over. When he had another light bulb made – many days later – he called the same boy to come and take it to the factory.

Progress and success: We progress when we have goals that are clear and can gauge our progress by self-evaluation and feedback from respected others (hopefully teachers). We all need concrete progress indicators to feel like we are getting better.

Motivation: People are motivated by the ABCs and Z: Achievement, Belonging to a group, Control / choice, and Z (intrinsic factors such as interest). External reinforcers like stamps, stickers, and praise can decrease interest in doing something for its own sake. People are motivated by challenge, but if it is not appropriate, it will lead to frustration or boredom.

Creativity: People are creative and can learn to intentionally use their creative capacities. I believe the arts provide some of the richest arenas for developing creative capacities. Evaluation, certain time restraints, and close surveillance can inhibit creativity. Humor and play are essential to developing creativity capacities.

Teachers: A teacher’s own knowledge, strategy repertoire, enthusiasm, humor, creativity, and passion are forces so powerful they can change a child’s universe, as well as the future we all share. A teacher’s artistry can give hope and vision to tackle personal and world problems. (p.31)


Why Arts Integration

Integration allows connections to be made, so instead of continuing to cram in more information, the focus is on bigger issues, questions, and problems. Time is simply used differently in integrated classrooms (see: Mastery Learning in this section). Isolated and outdated information is dropped from the curriculum through a process of prioritizing and allocating time to learning deemed most essential in an integrated world. (p. 39)

The arts are integral in the world outside school. For example, adults get much of their entertainment and information from the arts and use arts-based goods to demonstrate status. Integration of the arts can occur along a continuum from a small degree, at a surface level, to total arts infusion throughout the curriculum by the use of particular communication vehicles that are useful in understanding science, social studies, math, and the language arts (p. 41).

Presently, the school day is frequently organized around isolated skill teaching and fragmented into subjects – life isn’t. Structuring school more like life is motivational since success in life is important. People learn better in a context (see: Authentic Learning) – that’s the whole-to-part idea, and integration allows students to bring to bear the world’s information and meaning-making tools on interesting problems. Since many current problems are new, solutions must be creative and built on information from the past, but viewed from original perspectives and arrived at through creative distortions of any pat answer. Content and skill teaching are thus combined for a meaningful purpose. (p. 39)

Integrating the arts to affect academic gain has seen success. Arts integration involves intentionally developing everything from a larger vocabulary to analytic thinking, historical and cultural perspective, and self-discipline. (p. 39)

In addition, studies of successful people demonstrate how persistence pays off; the arts engage students in a manner that causes them to want to persist; often it isn’t that students can’t learn, it’s that they won’t. New York City’s successful Learning to Read through the Arts  program is just one example of how the arts motivate children to want to learn. Hope springs from other arts-based projects in the United States, such as The Galef Institute’s work in Kentucky schools to implement the Different Ways of Knowing program in which teachers have the opportunity to “use the arts as a vehicle for teaching academic subjects beginning with social studies, history, literature and leading ultimately to a fully integrated day, including science and math.” In another site, in New Rochelle, New York, teachers and artists collaborate to integrate the arts with the goal of seeing a transfer of learning, “from making or composing in the arts to critical thinking or problem-solving in one or more of the other academic domains” (Remer, 1996, p. 338). Often the thematic unit is the structure common for integration, with units focusing on important questions or concepts having relevance across disciplines (e.g., shapes and forms, patterns and cycles, change and constancy, causes and effects). (p. 40)

The concept of subject integration is not new. In, 1892 the Committee of Ten, who was charged with designing the K-12 curriculum recommended, “In addition, every attempt should be made to correlate the science observations with work in language, drawing, and literature.” Also known as, interdisciplinary instruction, unit teaching, project approach and whole language, integration combines diverse parts to make a whole or system. In many situations the part is not usable, nor even understandable, without the whole and in art terms it is the particular in a context. But learners need a balance of attention to wholes and parts as they develop, and even adults, who are novices at a task, proceed from the gross to the particular, dwelling first on the most obvious, such as larger shapes or intuited feelings.

The arts play an integral role in integrating wholes and parts, and it is how literature, visual art, drama, dance, and music interact with science, social studies, math, and the language arts and support learning about important life skills, concepts, and themes that is the goal. Traditional lines become muddied in integrating the arts. Teaching and learning using the arts begins with viewing the curriculum from the vantage point of an artist. What this means is that arts integration is a different vehicle for more students to achieve academic success and life satisfaction by using ways of knowing available only through the arts. (p. 40)


Frameworks for Integrated Lessons

A lesson or series of lessons using the arts as teaching tools begins with planning the arts content to be integrated with another curricular area. This planning respects that important concepts and skills will be taught about the arts, as well as from other curricular areas. The goal is to use the arts, not abuse them. So, while there may be several integration prongs, there needs to be at least one significant arts focus and one focus in another discipline if integration is to be meaningful. This pronged focus should come out of the school district courses of study and be checked against other standards or goals such as the National Standards the Arts. From the pronged focus, student objectives are written that explain what students should know and be able to do by the lesson conclusion. Because student progress will be assessed, it is important to write objectives in assessable ways (i.e., be clear and use observable verbs to describe the evidence for student learning) (p. 46).


Teaching with Art Integration

Teaching through the arts involves creating a classroom in which students actually live and learn through the arts (p. 42). In a total integrated arts design, teachers present information and skills from arts disciplines and use the arts as teaching tools and learning processes. This requires classroom teachers to have basic arts knowledge, but does not necessitate one becoming bona fide artists or specialists to teach with, about, in, and through the arts. Consider the possible combinations of each of the following designs for classroom teachers.

Jacobs’s disciplines-focused integration can be used to think about the teaching through the arts concept. She proposes using central concepts and particular disciplinary skills for a unit core and emphasizes student creative problem solving, active inquiry, and discovery about important issues (Jacobs, 1989). The process entails continuous questioning as integration progresses:

  • Does the integrative structure reveal basic “secrets of the universe?” (patterns, truths)
  • Does it fascinate, challenge, and interest students? (a sense of mystery or empowerment)
  • Is it inclusive enough to pull in many disciplines in meaningful and natural ways?
  • Is it worthy of time and attention?
  • Is it appropriate at this time for these students? (interests, skill levels, cognitive development)
  • Does the structure allow for students to use real methods to investigate? (primary source material, authentic strategies of researching and coming to know)
  • Does the structure allow students to view an issue from the viewpoints of the various disciplines? (How would an artist describe this picture? a scientist? a mathematician?)
  • Is the integrity of each discipline maintained in integration? (Are the arts trivialized?) (p.42)

Teachers should move in and out of the phases of teaching the arts during a school year. Each type of integration should also be selected to fit student needs, curricular structures, available materials, time constraints, and the teaching personnel. Ineffective integration happens when arts specialists come in for one-shot performances without pre- and post-performance lessons with students.

“Whether a teacher chooses to integrate several disciplines or just a couple, work alone or with a group of colleagues, use a project approach or thematic units, set up learning centers or simply start ongoing arts routines, work with a schoolwide theme or try an integrated day in the classroom, target student interests or focus on essential “big questions,” remain at school or emphasize field work, the goal is still the same – to make natural and meaningful arts connections that add depth to learning, not adding more things to the already jam-packed school curriculum, and to ensure that the arts are not reduced to only entertainment” (p. 42).



Teaching Students How Artists Work

Knowing that real artists take time to look and listen and study other artists’ use of techniques, before adapting one another’s ideas, helps students understand how to begin. From the research on creative individuals and the creative problem-solving process, it is clear we should encourage students to use strategies that have heretofore been considered problematic or even cheating. For example, we should suggest that students pursue the same subject time and time again, just as Monet painted and painted his water lilies (p. 46).

 Teaching “Why” Is Important

Students need real-life reasons for what we are teaching to activate the motivation to learn. This is especially important when introducing a new idea like using the arts as learning tools. Teachers need to explain how impossible it is to understand a culture without having access to its music, art, drama and theater, dance, and literature, since people express what is most important to them through the arts. What’s more, to understand the art of a culture, we need conceptual anchors that structure each art, be that the rhythmic (music element) differences between African music and Western music, or the concept of collage (media and technique). Teaching basic arts components is also letting students in on a “secret of the universe”: language liberates, and each of the arts has a language all its own. Learning the language of the arts increases literacy, not in the narrow sense of just reading words during language arts time, but understanding major concepts about all people and the world we share. When teachers are explicit about such connections, students are more likely to feel there is purpose to learning (p.46).

Age-stage Appropriateness and Teachable Moments

Suggested basic arts content teachers should know and teach in each of the art forms are presented in the WHAT sections in chapters of this book. In addition, teachers should talk with arts specialists at their schools to coordinate efforts. Implications from the learning and teaching theories presented in Chapter 1 should be applied during the teaching of arts elements and skills. For example, the work of Piaget, Maslow, Vygotsky, and others support Arnheim’s (1989) conclusion that

At no level of development can either children or accomplished artists state, to their own satisfaction, what they want to say unless they have acquired the means of saying it. In the beginning, these means are simple . . . no attempts should be made to foist upon the learner technical tricks that go beyond his or her stage of conception. Nor should the means of visual expression be taught as isolated devices. The need to (p. 46) master them should naturally emerge from the demands of the task, and whenever possible the learner himself ought to be made to discover them by himself rather than have them supplied by the teacher. (p. 42)

Social learning theorists also suggest we keep in mind that students are usually most successful applying or practicing new learning in a group situation, before going it alone. To simply say “write a song” or “make a play” or “do art” or “make up a dance” is overwhelming, even for adults (p. 46)