Benefits of Art Integration in the Classroom

How the Arts Unlock the Door to Learning

What are the similarities and differences between modern dance and the planet Mars? How does one make the connection between fractions and Andy Warhol? The answer can be found in the arts integration programme at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland. Every educator there is dedicated to integrating the arts and the standard curriculum into their lessons in order to provide their pupils with a learning environment that is more fulfilling and long-lasting.

The term “arts integration” refers to a teaching technique that goes beyond simply including art projects into the regular curriculum. Instead, it describes the process of integrating arts standards into core subject matter in order to create links and provide interesting context. Students in a science class, for instance, might demonstrate their comprehension of the difference between rotation and revolution of the planets by choreographing a dance that incorporates locomotor and nonlocomotor motions (PDF). Students might be studying fractions in a math lesson by analysing the composition of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup paintings as a way to learn about fractions.

In addition, what we noticed in these classes was that the children were having a good time while they were fully engaged in the educational process. It should come as no surprise that participation in the arts may keep children interested. However, the fact that this interaction may also be utilised to promote academic advancement and improve discipline feels like a secret that truly needs to be exposed to the public. You start to wonder why more schools aren’t incorporating the arts into each and every subject when you see how enthusiastically the students take to the lessons, when they describe how the arts assist them in better retaining the information that they learn, and when you learn about the improvements that teachers have observed in student comprehension and retention.

A Whole-School Reform

In 2007, as the principal step in an endeavour to improve the school as a whole, Bates made the decision to become an arts-integrated school in its entirety. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an operational framework for implementing practises and interventions to improve academic and behavioural outcomes, and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a college readiness system with research-based methods for elementary through postsecondary students, were both included as other initiatives in their school improvement plan (PDF). PBIS is an acronym for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. AVID is an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination. Diane Bragdon, who was serving as the school’s principal at the time, had brought the institution back from the verge of failure, and it was now prepared to steer its trajectory squarely toward greater success. Bragdon was successful in gaining the support of Kevin Maxwell, superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Maxwell, a longtime advocate of schools of choice, was familiar with the positive impact arts integration had had in other Maryland schools. The school district submitted an application to the United States Department of Education for a grant known as Supporting Arts Integrated Learning for Student Success (SAILSS), and it was selected as one of the 15 districts and schools to receive the funding.

Since Bates began implementing arts integration across the entire school in 2009, the school has witnessed an average reduction in the amount of referrals and suspensions received by each student of around 23 percent. The percentage of children who are proficient or advanced in reading has increased five times more than the state average over the same time period, and the percentage of kids who are proficient in mathematics has increased four times more than the state average. Although not all classes are delivered with an integrated arts component, Bates makes it a point to carefully and conscientiously track those that have been in a regular log (PDF), and they report significant increases in student comprehension and retention as a result.

Why Does Arts Integration Work?

Why does it work? Teaching methods that have been proved to boost students’ ability to comprehend and remember information over a longer period of time are utilised in arts integration lessons. For instance, researchers refer to the process of students creating tales, images, or other nonverbal manifestations of the content that they are learning as elaboration. When students engage in this process, they aid to better embed the knowledge that they are learning. Students in one eighth-grade math class prepared for an exam on linear equations by making photo stories that detailed the steps required in solving the equations. Because of this, it was necessary for Laura Casciato, the teacher, to devote practically the entirety of one class time to discussing fundamental design principles (PDF). She gave an explanation on the compromise: “Because we are aware that kids would remember that information more effectively if they spend time on the art, making the decision to devote time to it was simple. When they look at the test, they are likely to think to themselves, “Oh yeah, I recall that information from my photo.””

For this new endeavour to be successful, it is necessary to have a number of components in place, as is the case with any new endeavour. When integrating the arts, having high-quality professional growth is absolutely necessary. Teachers do not need to be “artistic” in order to be able to use arts integration; they simply need to learn some of the fundamentals in order to be better able to think of ways to merge art concepts with other subject matter. Arts integration can be used in a variety of settings, including the classroom, the workplace, and even the home. For instance, Casciato was able to teach her pupils how to build more useful photo compositions to demonstrate each step in the process of solving a linear equation because she was familiar with the fundamental components of design, such as emphasis, balance, contrast, and repetition (PDF).

(For more information on how to get started with arts integration, read these helpful hints for administrators and teachers.)

The majority of the grant money that Bates received was put into their ongoing professional development programme, which was initiated during the 2007-2008 academic year. Every other Thursday is set aside for professional development, and at least one Thursday a month is devoted to integrating the arts. The grant support for that organisation came to an end in the previous year (2011-2012). It has been reported that educators are now familiar with arts standards and understand how to develop classes that incorporate the arts. Many now serve in a training capacity for their colleagues as well as new teachers joining the school.

Adults and students at Bates identify various other benefits of arts integration in addition to engagement and retention, including the following: It fosters collaboration between students and teachers, bridges differences, encourages healthy risk taking, helps children recognise new skills in themselves and others, provides a way to differentiate instruction, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages healthy risk taking, encourages Plus it’s just plain fun.

Last but not least, there is equity. If we are in agreement that participating in the arts can bring a wide range of advantages for children, including intellectual, creative, and social-emotional benefits, then don’t we think that every child should have the chance to learn about and experience these fields? However, far too few schools have either the financial resources or the bureaucratic backing to make this a priority. This deficiency is frequently the result of a concern of jeopardising the level of academic accomplishment that the school maintains. What Bates and many other arts-integrated schools across the country are demonstrating is that by producing a deeper, more memorable learning experience through the arts, they not only unleash a rising tide of academic achievement, but they also lay the foundation for what it means to be a truly creative community. This is something that can be said of Bates as well as many other arts-integrated schools across the country.