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December 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 4

Arts Integration: A Creative Pathway for Teaching

Schoolwide arts integration programs can reenergize teachers' practice and boost student achievement.

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Imagine walking into an elementary school and seeing a diverse group of students hard at work in language arts, science, math, and social studies. But as you observe them, you hear the students singing, or see them dancing, acting, and creating works of visual art—all in ways that reflect their growing understanding of the core content area. This highly engaging approach to teaching, in which students learn core subjects through the arts (theater, music, visual arts, dance, and media arts), is known as arts integration.
Through a program developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, six elementary schools in the Washington, D.C., area have adopted arts integration as a way to boost learning for their diverse populations. Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) provides teachers with professional learning experiences in arts integration and support to implement that instruction in their classrooms. The program started with voluntary teams of teachers from one or two grade levels in each school. Today, all teachers participate.
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The Kennedy Center's arts integration program puts a strong emphasis on teacher development.
Photo courtesy of Susie Shaffer
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Photo courtesy of Glenn Bailey
Research highlights the positive outcomes that schoolwide arts integration has on students, teachers, and schools. Three multi-year evaluation studies (Isenberg, et al., 2009; Kruger, 2005; RealVisions, 2007) have documented the successes of the CETA program. Findings for students include increased engagement (both socially and academically), growth in cognitive and social skills, and gains in standardized test scores. Findings for teachers indicate that the program's professional learning model changes instructional practices and positively impacts beliefs about the value of arts integration. Additionally, teachers report being reenergized in their practice. Findings for schools show that arts integration helps create a culture of teacher collaboration that transforms the school environment (Duma & Silverstein, 2014).
To engage all students in this instructional approach, it is important to start with teachers. CETA's leadership has looked deeply at its ongoing professional learning offerings for the 400 teachers the program supports. For many years, the program has focused on this compelling question: What professional learning experiences help teachers effectively implement a schoolwide arts integration program? The inquiry has led to the identification of three foundational principles:
  1. Teachers benefit from a shared understanding of arts integration.
  2. Teachers need to examine their beliefs and understandings about the creative process in the arts.
  3. Strong professional learning experiences are necessary but not sufficient; they must be linked to implementation supports.
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CETA schools embody the belief that "creative capacities develop when they are exercised regularly."
Photo courtesy of Susie Shaffer

Principle 1: Teachers benefit from a shared understanding of arts integration.

Early in CETA's program history, our discussions with teachers about their goals and strategies for arts integration made it clear that their understandings were all over the map. To adopt new instructional practices across a school or even a grade level, teachers need a shared understanding of arts integration.

The Role of the Arts in Schools

One helpful step toward creating this shared understanding has been to develop an awareness of the distinctions between the ways the arts are typically taught in schools. Teachers examine three such ways, all of which are valuable, especially when coupled with experiences in which students attend performances and exhibits by professional artists:
  • First, the arts can be taught as curriculum. Students develop knowledge and skills in an art form. If a school has a music, art, drama, or dance teacher, their primary focus is most likely on teaching about the art form. We often hear these programs referred to as "arts learning" or "arts for arts' sake."
  • Second, the arts can be used to enhance the curriculum. The primary focus is on the other curriculum area (science, social studies, language arts, math), with the arts used to complement that instruction. In arts-enhanced curriculum, teachers have instructional objectives in the subject area but none in the art form. For example, when students sing the ABCs, the instructional objective is to recall the alphabet's sequence. Music is a means to that end, with no objectives of its own.
  • Third, the arts can be integrated with curriculum. Students learn through creative experiences that connect an art form and another subject area to gain greater understanding in both. For instance, in arts integration, students explore the traditions and techniques of portraiture to create images that demonstrate their understanding of the achievements of a selected historical figure. Students meet objectives in both the visual arts and in social studies.
The Kennedy Center's CETA program focuses on this last approach, integrating the arts with curriculum.

Defining Arts Integration

A critical touchstone toward a shared understanding of arts integration has been to define the term. The Kennedy Center crafted its own comprehensive definition (Silverstein & Layne, 2010), which serves as the foundation of the CETA program in schools:
Arts integration is 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.
There are several key concepts embedded in the definition. First, arts integration is not simply an activity; rather it is an approach to teaching that teachers can use every day. Teachers plan for arts integration connections across the year. For example, the creative process for composing song lyrics includes understanding of syllabication, rhyme, alliteration, main idea, and supporting details. Students can apply the lyric-writing process to demonstrate their understandings of a range of topics they are studying.
Second, the arts offer multiple learning modalities and alternative ways—dancing, acting, writing, speaking, drawing, singing—for making sense of and demonstrating understandings in both the art form and the other core subject area. For instance, using kinesthetic and visual modalities, small groups of students might learn to create dances about the water cycle. During the process, students must return repeatedly to the science content to make their movement choices clearer and more accurate and vice versa.
The third concept provides a critical checkpoint for teachers. The basic understanding, obvious yet somewhat elusive, is that arts integration engages learners in creating something—like a collage, an improvisation, or a song. Students do not merely memorize, repeat, or copy a teacher's solution. Rather, they develop their own solutions to carefully constructed creative challenges. One of the teacher's roles in arts integration is to facilitate that creative engagement.
Finally, the definition introduces evolving objectives, an idea that is generally not applied to the arts in classrooms. During planning meetings, teachers have commented, "We've done art/theater/dance/music," when in fact they had facilitated only a few baseline learning activities. Instructional objectives in the arts must evolve (just like in core subject areas), from simple to increasingly more complex over time as students' knowledge, skills, and understandings develop. Evolving objectives deepen learning, elevate the quality of students' work, and keep students challenged and engaged. In drama, for example, students might create tableaus ("still" pictures represented with their bodies) to depict an explorer landing on the shores of the New World. Initially, the drama objective is for the students to freeze in the pose of an explorer or a Native American, while demonstrating the five actors' tools (voice, body, imagination, concentration, and cooperation). The objective evolves as students morph into new tableaus, adding elements such as facial expressions and character dialogue between transitions.
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Photo courtesy of Glenn Bailey

Principle 2: Teachers need to examine their beliefs and understandings about the creative process in the arts.

Some teachers' prior beliefs and misconceptions about the creative process in the arts have undermined their attempts to facilitate arts integration productively. Teachers in the CETA program explore several basic concepts about art to help counter those assumptions:
  • Every human being has creative capacity—students and also teachers. "Creativity is not a single power that people simply have or do not have. … We all have creative capacities …" (Robinson, 2011, p. 165).
  • Creative capacities develop when they are exercised regularly and become a habit (Drapeau, 2014, p. 12).
  • The creative process is not a mysterious, amorphous, "anything goes" experience. Rather, it has been studied and is found to involve many related interacting phases, including imagining or perceiving; sharing; reflecting; creating; and exploring or experimenting. Teachers must facilitate students' engagement throughout the creative process (Silverstein & Layne, 2010).
  • The creative process, by its very nature, is differentiated and accessible to all students. It is flexible; students can enter the creative process at different places and move within it at different rates. It can be adapted for different levels of readiness, interests, and types of participation.
  • Like all learning, the creative process is most powerful when it takes advantage of collaboration in which students exchange and build on others' ideas.
  • Students thrive creatively when they are in classrooms that are warm, welcoming, and safe for risk taking.
At a recent arts integration workshop, a teacher shared an "aha" moment after reflecting on her students' participation in the creative process. She had been writing songs to help her students remember the content they were studying. In other words, she was the one engaged in the creative process, not her students. So the teacher set a new goal: To involve her students in writing the songs so they would engage creatively with the content, demonstrate their curricular and arts understandings, collaborate with their peers, and pursue higher-level thinking.
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Photo courtesy of Susie Shaffer
Many teachers express the desire to learn fresh ways to teach that excite the creativity in their students and revitalize the creativity of teaching for themselves. Through professional learning experiences, teachers find that arts integration does both.
To help teachers learn about arts integration, the CETA program offers intensive, sustained courses at the schools. In these courses, teachers actively participate in and reflect on exemplary arts integration strategies. The program encourages collective participation by teams of teachers from the same grade level, along with their school administrators. Administrators' participation strengthens their relationships with teachers, broadens their understanding of the program, and builds their awareness of the supports needed to ensure implementation. (The Kennedy Center offers additional arts integration resources.)
We know from research (Joyce and Showers, 2002) that attending a professional learning course is not enough to ensure implementation of strategies in the classroom. Teachers need multiple, ongoing implementation supports to apply new practices with students. To help teachers implement what they learn in these courses, the CETA program provides four supports: demonstration teaching, personalized coaching, study groups, and networking.
  • Demonstration Teaching: Every teacher observes his or her course leader teaching the arts integration strategies, either in their own classroom or in a host-teacher's classroom. Teachers use an observation form to guide their focus during the session and in post-session discussions. By observing the implementation of strategies with students and having the opportunity to ask questions, teachers gain an understanding of what effective facilitation looks like. Over time, teachers (or arts specialists within the school who become highly skilled in an arts integration strategy) can provide demonstration teaching for their colleagues.
  • Personalized Coaching: Teachers are not left on their own to apply their learning in the classroom. As with coaching in literacy and other subject areas, arts coaches (usually the course instructor, or sometimes a teacher or arts specialist) are experts in the strategies and work individually with teachers to support their implementation efforts. Arts coaching offers a mix of support and pressure for implementation. At the end of each course session, the arts coach gives teachers an assignment that requires them to implement a particular aspect of a strategy they learned. Within a few weeks, the arts coach observes each teacher leading the assigned instruction with their students and afterwards facilitates a reflective conversation, offering feedback and identifying next steps needed to strengthen the instruction.
  • Study Groups: Tapping into the power of social and collegial learning, teachers meet monthly in grade-level groups to plan and assess their arts-integrated instruction and advance their understandings through targeted readings and discussion.
  • Networking Opportunities: Teachers and administrators in the CETA program visit each other's schools to observe their arts integration programs and exemplary arts integration lessons.

A New Norm

When Charles Barrett Elementary School, a diverse school of 550 students located just outside of Washington, D.C., began working with the CETA program, the impact was immediate. According to principal Seth Kennard:
I quickly noticed the increase in student engagement, creativity, and opportunities for student discourse. The shift from teachers providing direct instruction to students learning from one another through teacher guidance became the school norm, giving students, previously hesitant to participate, a range of safe ways to do that. Staff participation in after-hours professional development on strategies such as dance, dramatic storytelling, and tableau improved professional relationships and staff morale. The school has seen a dramatic increase in the performance of ELL students, as well as teacher retention, over its seven years in the program.
The driving force behind the remarkable transformation at Charles Barrett Elementary has been the change in teachers' beliefs about student learning and how it can be strengthened through the arts. Ongoing professional learning for teachers is the pathway toward this change. Along the way, teachers develop a shared understanding of arts integration and an appreciation of the value of the creative process in the arts for learning.

Guiding Questions

› How are you currently integrating the arts in your school or classroom? Given what you read, is there room to go deeper?

› Do the basic concepts about the arts presented by Duma and Silverstein reaffirm or conflict with your prior beliefs about the creative process?

› Could professional learning courses or any of the four supports—demonstration teaching, personalized arts coaching, study groups, or networking opportunities—be adapted and used in your school or district?

References

Drapeau, P. (2014). Sparking student creativity: Practical ways to promote innovative thinking and problem solving. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Duma, A. L., & Silverstein, L. B. (2014). Cross-study findings: A view into a decade of arts integration. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1).

Isenberg, J., McCreadie, J, Durham, J., & Pearson, B. (2009). Changing education through the arts: Final evaluation report, 2005–2008. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.

Kruger, A. C. (2005). The Kennedy Center and schools: Changing education through the arts: Report on implementation and achievement, 1999–2004. Atlanta, GA: Georgia State University.

Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development, 3rd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

RealVisions. (2007). Arts integration model schools program: Final evaluation report, 2004–2007. Rockville, MD: Montgomery Public Schools, MD.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: learning to be creative. West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

Silverstein, L. B., & Layne, S. (2010). Defining arts integration. Arts Integration Schools: What, Why, and How. Washington, D.C.: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

 Amy L. Duma is the director of Teacher and School programs at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and serves as the program director of CETA.

Learn More

 Lynne B. Silverstein is an arts education consultant and a senior program consultant to the Education Division of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 

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