Deirdre Moore | September 2014

Are You Trying to Over-Integrate?

I know how it is.

You have what feels like a brilliant idea for an art lesson and then you start imagining all the ways you can integrate.  You begin to see how many connections just this one art project could make with many, if not all, of the core curriculum areas.  And because the possibilities exist you want to do it – to demonstrate just how connected the arts naturally are to so many different topics students study in school.  I understand the temptation but you must resist.  You must stay strong and not fall victim to…over-integrate.

I was recently consulting with a fabulous visual art teacher who was bitten by the over-integrate bug.  She had an idea of having the students look at Matisse self-portraits and then create their own self-portraits in the style of Matisse.  She talked to me about how he treated the negative space in his self-portraits and how she wanted the students to imitate that.  All of that sounded great to me.  I was ready to try to narrow down with her the one art standard she hoped to address with this activity.

Suddenly she was off and running telling me how they would integrate it with math looking at the proportions of the facial composition and social studies looking at Matisse and that time period and language arts writing their own autobiographies.  She even mentioned science (although I cannot remember what that integration idea was).  All this, and only three class periods in which to do it.  Needless to say, she had spent a great deal of time and energy thinking about this project and couldn’t wait to show it’s integration promise and I can’t say I blame her.

That’s when I had to pull back on the reins.

This runaway horse needed to be stopped. In a sense, the horse needed some blinders to keep it focused on the goal or the intended finish line.  Once we did narrow down the visual art focus then we were able to decide which core curriculum area integrated most naturally with that visual art standard.  After we settled on a writing standard we were able to determine how to structure the project over-integrate the three class periods and how to assess both the visual art standard and the language arts standard.

In saying this, I don’t mean to discourage anyone.

Of course you can take an art project like Matisse inspired self-portraits and extend that into lots of different areas of the curriculum but you are going to need more than three class periods to do it!  You can break down various aspects of the artwork and structure separate lessons to address each aspect.  You could take such an art project and end up creating a unit that covers several weeks.  It just takes clarity of purpose, identifying specific standards and objectives, and a means of assessing whether those objectives have been met.  And if you are an art teacher, it will likely mean teaming up with the classroom teacher.

So, by all means, enjoy the process of dreaming up all the ways an art form or activity can be integrated with other content areas.  Just remember to keep it simple and address one art objective and one content area objective at time. Integrate don’t inundate!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.