It bothers me when folks refer to art classes as ‘specials’ or ‘electives’, because arts credits are not yet required for a high school diploma in all states. The arts are recognized under NCLB as core, academic subjects, and their value in developing students and citizens who possess 21st century skills should not be underestimated. There is more than ample evidence out there of the benefits to students who are exposed to a robust arts program. Students who participate in the arts, and arts learning experiences, tend to be successful in academic and other areas of life.
The arts are inclusive, responsive to multiple intelligences, encouraging of collaboration, creativity, communication, problem-solving, and developing social skills. Furthermore, the arts support academic skills in math and literacy. In fact, studying the arts, and an arts-integrated approach to teaching, encourages all of the 21st century skills that we are called upon to support the development of in our students’ toolbox. This doesn’t even begin to cover the effect of a large scale, whole school, arts-integration approach in terms of attitudes, school climate and motivation to learn. The arts reaches every single student. Based on my own experiences as a teacher and administrator, many of my most at-risk students stayed in school because of the arts.
Arts integration, done well, is elegant. It is responsive to, and aligned with, the way we think and learn. It allows for those Gardner’s multiple intelligences to find an entry point and a way to approach the content and master it, be it kinesthetic, auditory, visual, spacial. It is constructivist in nature, that is, a student’s understanding comes through engagement, experience and activity, reflection, and is highly personal. This process is ongoing and always evolving.
Why is it then, that so few teachers attempt to integrate the arts into their classroom lessons?
a. Fear. Fear that they are not competent enough in one of the arts disciplines or the arts essential standards to undertake integration with the subject that they teach. This is simply not the case. Start with the visual arts or music at a fairly basic level. You can do this. Your art colleagues are more than happy to work on an arts-integrated lesson.
b. Time. To create an integrated lesson takes time, planning and precision. A teacher’s lessons and assessments must reach both content standards and objectives. Time during PLCs, or even simply looking to find natural overlaps, or naturally aligned objectives, in your respective disciplines, is all it takes.
You can do this!