Arts Integration: Improving Classroom Activities

The Intersection of the Arts and Education

When putting together lesson plans, one of the most essential parts is the myriad of classroom activities used to demonstrate understanding and encourage practice of the concepts learned. It could be easy to do a quick Google search for classroom activities, but do you know what you’re getting when you click on a source? Sure, all classroom activities look great, especially when you’re pressed for time as the average educator tends to be, but how do you know if those activities will truly engage your students? After all, student engagement and concept mastery go hand-in-hand. Rather than selecting classroom activities from the internet or choosing the same activities students may already be used to, perhaps you could benefit from a different approach.

Integrating Arts and Classroom Activities

Introducing Arts Integration, an approach to teaching that encourages students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept through an art form. Ensured to promote the development of creativity, this approach connects art with the subject matter at hand and allows students to apply what they have learned. This artful approach has been used by the most prestigious organizations and experts, including our very own Dr. Timothy Rasinski, a professor of literacy education, director of an award-winning reading clinic, and named one of the top 2% of scientists in the world by a recent study by Stanford University. Embracing this approach, Rasinski, like many others, has helped students excel in many areas such as vocabulary, phonics, reading comprehension, and more.

This approach is both effective and efficient, but in order to understand why this approach works, one must first dive into its history. Known for its significant contributions to the world of art and the development of young artists, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recognized the need for professional development to assist educators in making the arts an integral part of every child’s education.

To continue the decades of work they had done, the Kennedy Center began to focus its efforts even more so on professional development by establishing the Changing Education Through the Arts program (CETA) in 1999. Upon establishment, their goals were to examine:

  • The impact of their professional development program that focuses on Arts Integration based on national, state, and local standards has on instruction and student engagement.
  • The effect collaborative learning models that are rooted in Arts Integration have on school culture.

Composed of over 400 teachers across the country, this program established a network of schools that are dedicated to Arts Integration as a way to increase student engagement and inspiration. CETA recognized in its initial years that there was quite a variation in the quality of Arts Integration present in classrooms, so it drafted up a clear document that addresses its comprehensive definition of Arts Integration in the classroom.

Arts Integration Promotes Interactive Learning

In most schools, there’s usually one of the three variations of the inclusion of art in the classroom: Arts as Curriculum, Arts-Enhanced Curriculum, and Arts-Integrated Curriculum. Here’s a breakdown of the different approaches to allow you to choose what best suits your classroom to model your activities after.

  • Arts as Curriculum: Typically, if a school possesses a music, art, drama, or dance-specific teacher, they are using this approach. Guided by national, state, or local standards for each particular art form, students acquire knowledge specific to this art form and do not necessarily integrate it simultaneously with another subject or concept. For example, students may be enrolled in a theater class in which they learn about the history of a particular play and take a deep dive into the persona of each character. In this scenario, students are solely responsible for learning about the play and the aspects of the realm of theater.
  • Arts-Enhanced Curriculum: Do you remember memorizing the capitals of each state by singing that infamous song? That is an example of Arts-Enhanced Curriculum. An art form, such as singing, is not being taught in this example, but rather, is used as a device to further learning of another topic such as social studies or learning the ABCs.
  • Arts-Integrated Curriculum: This approach is a marriage of the two above, as it involves simultaneously learning about both the art form that acts as a mechanism for furthering learning and the subject matter being taught such as social studies. Let’s take theater class, for example. In alignment with this approach, an educator may ask their students to perform a play that took place during an event that they are currently learning about in history. During their preparation, students will learn everything about characterization, stage directions and composition, acting skills, and more while learning the history of the events taking place during the play and demonstrating that understanding through said play.

Learning Activities on Double Duty

When utilizing the Arts in education, it is important to note that a combination of all three variations of art integration is important to incorporate simultaneously, but, the decision of which variation to use will depend on what suits your classroom.

We all have examples of the power of at least one variation of art inclusion in education such as learning our prepositions, ABCs, etc., which proves how powerful it can be to utilize classroom activities that incorporate art in some form or fashion. Any subject, be it writing, science, or vocabulary, is something that can be applied to an art form to increase comprehension, further understanding, and improve student engagement. Here are a few examples to keep in mind when writing your next lesson plans and choosing corresponding classroom activities:

  • Task your students to put together a short skit to demonstrate their understanding of what you are learning. For example, if your students are learning about using language comparisons, have them write a script that correctly uses those comparisons in context and act out the scene with their fellow classmates.
  • If your classroom is currently learning new vocabulary words, for example, have your students write a poem to demonstrate the meaning of the words they’ve learned while teaching them the different aspects of the poem to do so successfully.
  • When learning science concepts, perhaps you may want to encourage students to paint a picture of the new organisms they are learning about and explain in their own words what they have painted. This will demonstrate understanding of what they have learned about the organism while utilizing art as a vehicle that kids may explore.

Arts Integration can be the key to creating more effective, fun school activities that truly engage students while helping them learn along the way. In some form or fashion, we have all been exposed to a variation of this, and probably still remember the pieces of art we came up with when learning that new concept such as our ABCs. This personal encounter with Arts Integration tends to withstand the test of time and has the power to do for your students as well.

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  1. “What Is Arts Integration?” The Kennedy Center,
  2. “Changing Education through the Arts Schools: Kennedy Center.” The Kennedy Center,
  3. “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - Our Story.” The Kennedy Center,
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