Dyan Branstetter | November 2015

Why I’m Thankful for Arts Integration

Music and dance have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Throughout my early school life, I spent my afternoons in dance classes. In high school, I immersed myself in our school district’s music and dance program. I chose to balance out my dancing with chamber choir rehearsals, marching band, marimba lessons, indoor drum line, and drum corps. Music was my life.

“Music and dance was my life”

I knew from an early age I wanted to be a teacher.  I wanted to touch the lives of my students, and inspire them to change the world. It’s important for teachers to find ways to connect with students. I’ve found that sharing personal interests is certainly effective in this regard. I talked about my dancing, played classical music during writing class, and planned art projects to go along with the subjects I taught.

When I was in high school, I remember writing a research report on Roberta Guaspari, a remarkable woman who taught a successful violin program for public school students in East Harlem, NY. When budget cuts eliminated her position, she worked against the odds to continue the program. She did so because she knew that her work benefitted the students. I remember thinking how lucky I was to attend well-funded schools where the arts were valued. We would never have to worry about our programs being cut. Yet, a few years ago I got the letter. My district would be slashing art and music and dance instruction by 50%. Library instruction would be eliminated, and our artist in residence would be discontinued.

So, What Now?

By nature, I’m not a confrontational person. I felt sickened by what happened, but I love my job, and I didn’t feel comfortable making a fuss. Instead, when school started again, I quietly but purposefully added as many of the fine arts into my lessons as I could. I didn’t know our music and dance art curriculum well and our state standards are vague. But, I felt it was my duty to expose my students to as many composers, musical works, artists, and works of art as possible. Of course, I connected them to my content when I could, but there were times where there was no connection. If I loved a piece of art or music and dance, I figured out a way to use it during reading or writing class. I did my best to keep this to myself, because it wasn’t quite what iIwas “supposed” to be teaching.

However, teachers in my district had an hour long in-service with Education Closet’s Susan Riley. I learned there that what I was doing had an educational approach. Not only was I allowed to teach this way, but there was research to back up what I felt all along. Connecting the arts was best practice for students. There are resources, strategies, and even schools that devote themselves to this approach.

That was all I needed to dive wholeheartedly into arts integration. I wasn’t afraid to bring the arts into my classroom, because I knew how to use standards to develop authentic arts-integrated lessons. In our world of increasing rigor, I was not doing “frilly, artsy things”, but instead deep, meaningful projects that engaged my students while allowing them to grow intellectually, creatively and culturally. It was as though all of my worlds had collided. I can’t express how much more enjoyable (and effective!) my teaching is now. The arts changed my life. My goal, at the very least, is to give my students the opportunity for the arts to change theirs.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.