Integrating Arts When You’re Not an Artist

Arts Integration is wonderful.  So . . . why isn’t every teacher doing it already? From what I can see it comes down to two major road blocks:

1. It can take a lot of time to plan.

AND

     2. Many people don’t feel confident enough in the arts to teach them.

While it is true that integrating arts, especially doing it well, takes time, when you start doing it regularly, it will start to come a lot more naturally. So, let’s focus on the second road block, the confidence issue.

First, let’s clarify something right away: You do NOT need to be an artist to teach arts skills and incorporate them into your lessons. Arts integrated lessons are not about creating the perfect product, but tapping into and encouraging the creativity inside your students. So, you don’t need to focus on teaching the technical details of how to create art, you just need to give them the tools to use that art to create something that is a reflection of the content you want them to understand. For instance, you do not need to spend the time going over breathing technique for projection in speaking or singing, you just need to open the doors for them to sing something or act out a scene. It is about the processes involved in creating. If your focus and evaluation is on the artistic proficiency you’re likely missing the point of the lesson.

The arts can be a vessel for other content or you can use the strategies of the arts to enhance current lessons. It may be easiest to start with whichever art you feel the most connected to or that you find the most accessible and go from there. For a lot of people, visual art is a good starting point because they have the most experience with it. For me, it will always be theatre and for my mom it is always music. Once you have tried incorporating an art that you have some degree of comfort with, try a different one. Take a risk! Isn’t that what we are asking our students to do?

So what does an arts integration lesson look like?

1) The lesson should address a core content standard and an arts standard equally. While opening a lesson by looking at a related piece of art is great, it isn’t integration. For true integration, the art must be just as much a part of the lesson as the content. If you don’t know much about the National Core Arts Standards, you can view them at nationalartsstandards.org.

2) It might take longer than you are used to. Creating and responding to art takes a little time. If you throw it into a lesson and rush through it, you likely won’t see a benefit, it just becomes one more thing to do. The idea is to make connections.

3) It is mutually beneficial to each subject. For instance, if you are doing a math and theatre lesson (if that sounds strange to you, this is my #1 combination), the math should be enhancing the students’ understanding of theatre and the theatre should be enhancing the students’ understanding of math.

So even if you are not an artist, you can absolutely find ways to integrate the arts into your lessons. Embrace the messiness of the process. Allow your students, and yourself, to fail sometimes and learn to try again.

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