When looking at integration, whether it be Arts Integration or STEM, it is important to recognize where you as a teacher or a school are in the integration process.  If you are a teacher or school just starting out with integration, my recommendation is to always start with learning some basic strategies.  In Arts Integration, this is reflected in things like using Call and Response in music, Visual Thinking for art or Hot Seating in drama.

These things build your confidence as a teacher in the various artforms, allow students to connect deeply with a naturally-aligned content area (such as language arts and drama) and give a great context for learning.  However, to stop at simply integrating strategies would be to shortchange the whole integration experience.  The next step is to move from using strategies to aligning standards.

Now, some may disagree with my approach here. And, would advocate to first aligning the standards, then implementing the strategies.  And it’s not to say that my method of integration is the right or wrong choice.  However, I do believe that unless teachers have a basic working knowledge of some arts strategies, it will be very difficult for them to imagine how standards can align and which standard make a natural connection.

It also depends upon which side of the coin you are coming at this issue.  If you are an arts teacher, you may already see the connections because you’ve had years of practice with the expectation that you will connect to literacy or math in whatever art form you are teaching.  Classroom teachers and administrators have not had this same opportunity or expectation for linking the arts within their content areas.  Therefore, by giving them some time to learn some studio strategies, they can begin to work the creative sides of their brain.  And once those synapses start firing, the connections start coming to the surface very easily.

Method to the Madness

As you begin the process of integration, assess where you are as a teacher or a team.

1. Do you need more “hands-on” arts time to learn simple strategies that you can begin to embed into your teaching?

If so, take your time exploring the various arts strategies that are out there.  Get comfortable building and using a common arts/content vernacular. This way, students begin to see and hear the connections throughout their school day.

2. Are you currently using a variety of arts strategies in your teaching?

If so, that’s wonderful.  But if this is all you are considering to be Arts Integration or STEAM integration, it’s time for you to take the next step…

3. Are you looking for authentic Arts Integration/STEAM lessons?

Now it’s time to start the work of finding and aligning naturally-connected standards in both the arts and the other content areas.  This is done through the curriculum mapping process and it’s the gateway to a truly integrated school.  This is where you get down to business and start creating lessons deep and meaningful for students. And, that bring the content in both areas to life.  The more time you spend here, the richer your integration intention will become.

There is nothing wrong with using Arts Integration strategies as a way to enter the integration process.

But don’t stop there!  This brings you to arts enhancement, but true integration is when you are intentional in your lesson design and assessment of both sets of standards.  When you’re ready to move to this next step, your classes and your students will truly come into full, vibrant technicolor – and the development of integrated learning can start to take place.