Arts Integration Is About Balance

Arts Integration is about Balance Photo Credit: Danerzz via Flickr, CCL 2013

Back when I was teaching at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, it was quite common for other educators to visit our school and observe our arts-based curriculum. We hosted visitors from other US states as well as various countries around the world. Our principal always encouraged us to “proceed as normal” when observers walked into our classrooms. Most of the time the circumstances worked well for them to see some arts integration, but every now and then I’d be doing something “normal” like reading a book or giving a math test. On those occasions, my visitors looked a little disappointed. I think sometimes people walk into an arts-integrated school and expect the children to be wearing face paint and dancing through the halls.

Not so much. The daily reality of an arts-based school is not usually so theatrical.

I have talked before about the dual focus nature of Arts Integrated learning experiences. Today I want to explain the concept of “shifting weight” and “balance” that happens over the course of a week or two in an arts integrated classroom.

I’ll start with the take-away idea and then explain: In the “regular” arts-integrated classroom, some days will be more “content heavy” and other days will be more “arts heavy,” ultimately resulting in learning experiences that demonstrate a perfect balance between the two.

Here’s what I mean:

For a lesson to be a legit “arts integrated” lesson, there need to be worthwhile goals set for both the academic content and the art form.   Students should learn important information about both areas.  Here’s what a week in a 2nd grade classroom might look like:

MondayMain Emphasis on Language Arts. The teacher reads a story aloud and models how to select the “important” parts for a retelling. Students have guided practice time to work on identifying the main events of a story with teacher support.

TuesdayMain Emphasis on Drama. The teacher models how to use facial expressions and body language to communicate ideas without words. She also builds in procedures for creating dramatic scenes cooperatively in small groups. She leads students through several drama games that build these skills.

WednesdayEmphasis on Language Arts with minor emphasis on Drama. The teacher puts students in small groups and gives each group a familiar (previously read) text. The students reread the text together and choose one important event from the story. They create a dramatic tableau that shows the event and perform it for the class. The other students guess which part of the story is being shared and the teacher maps the events that were shown. The lesson concludes as the teacher and students “fill in the blanks” from the story by identifying any important events that weren’t shared. The teacher also provides feedback regarding dramatic skills.

Thursday – Balanced emphasis- The teacher puts students into new small groups and assigns each group its own text. (The text has been previously read in class and is typed without pictures so that students don’t have pictorial clues.) The students 1) Read the text 2) Identify the main events 3) Create dramatic tableaux that “tell” the story by recreating the main events. The teacher reminds students that she is watching for strong facial expression and body language.

FridayEmphasis on Drama with assessment of Language Arts understanding. Students rehearse their tableaux one final time and then perform for the rest of the class. The teacher notes which groups were able to identify the main events as well as which drama skills have been mastered and which ones need further practice.

During this week of drama integrated with language arts, a pop-in visitor might observe something seemingly mundane (students reading books together) or something seemingly unrelated to academics (students playing drama games.) It’s when the pieces are put together that the complete picture shines through. That’s when true “integration” is achieved- in the moment of balance. However, you can’t get there without putting the pieces into place.

It’s an important point because sometimes teachers (in their eagerness to integrate the arts) try to jump right to the last part- the “balanced” lesson- without first laying the foundation of academic and artistic knowledge. You can’t get to “Friday” without first doing the work of “Monday through Thursday.”

Does that make sense? Have you ever experienced the “shifting weight” and “balanced” nature of arts integration?


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