The Arts Integration Continuum

12 Min Watch  •  Certification Series

How do you know if a lesson is arts integration or arts enhancement? What does true arts integration look like? This inaugural episode of the Teaching with Creativity Show will share a helpful arts integration continuum to help you figure out how to optimize your lessons.


Hello and welcome to our new show, Teaching with Creativity.  I’m your host, Susan Riley, founder of EducationCloset – your digital learning hub for arts integration and STEAM.  I’m so glad you’re here!

The purpose of this show is to provide an insiders’ guide to using Arts Integration and STEAM in the classroom.  Every other week, we’ll be releasing a new episode that you can either watch in video form, or download as a podcast.  This is meant to be extremely practical and highly relevant to your teaching practice.

I’ll be sharing insights into how to use arts integration and STEAM, tips, techniques and strategies, and interviewing incredible guests with their own unique perspectives to share.  We’re also doing this in a season format.  Each season will be around 10-11 episodes to focus on different themes and topics.

In this – our inaugural episode – we’re going to discuss the idea of the integration continuum.  By the way…I did just say “WE are going to discuss”.  This isn’t a one-way lecture.  This show is meant to serve as a prompt for discussion.  Please do add your comments (either on our channel or on the EducationCloset site) and insights.  We are always better together!

So…first things first.  Let’s chat for a moment about what “integration” really means when it comes to arts integration, stem and steam.  SO many buzzwords, never enough meaning.

Here’s the deal:  Each of these terms is an approach to learning.  It’s not a stand-alone curriculum, it’s not flavor of the week, it’s not the savior of education.  BUT.  Each of these approaches do intersect and CAN have an incredible impact within student learning and teaching practice.  So it’s important to know the differences.

ARTS INTEGRATION: Interweaves the arts and at least one other area of study with naturally aligning, equitably assessed standards.

STEM: Focuses on the process and inquiry of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEAM: STEAM is an educational approach that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking.

See how they interweave?  All 3 are grounded in authentic standards alignment.  All 3 focus on the process, rather than just the product. 

But we’ve all seen variations of these definitions.  How’s that Lego station going?  Or what about that time your kids sang a rap about their math facts?  Fun…yes.  Integration?  No.

This is where most teachers get hung up.  How do we know if we’re using integration or not?  Enter…the Integration Continuum.

We introduce this continuum at the beginning of our certification program and our participants all remark that it totally shifts their mindset when it comes to Arts Integration, STEM and STEAM. 

That’s because Integration (in all of its forms) is a process.  Which means it naturally unfolds over time and will look different in each classroom.  The continuum isn’t a judgment – it simply helps us understand where we are in the integration journey and what our next steps can be moving forward.


There are 5 levels to the Integration Continuum and they span from Basic to High.  Remember: no matter where you are on this scale, there’s always room to grow, learn and thrive!

Let’s start at the Basic End.  The very first level is called “Enhancement”.  This is when we use one area to support or service another in a lesson.  There’s nothing wrong with this and can serve a purpose.  But it’s not yet integration.  Enhancement is when you’re using a shadow box to show the solar system: a cute project, but the art is being used in service of the science concept. 

What does enhancement look like in the classroom?  Typically, there’s little to no discussion between the content and fine arts area teachers about the lesson and the purpose is to teach a content lesson in a “fun” way.

The next level is called “Theme-Based”.  This is when the lesson is based upon a theme common in two areas.  There is usually some discussion surrounding the theme alignment between content and fine arts area teachers, but it’s not in any formal way. 

Here’s what that looks like: remember when you learned about the 5 senses in Kindergarten?  There’s a whole unit around that.  You might explore it through some informational text, you might use your 5 senses to explore the world around you by looking at some pieces of art, listening to some music, or even selecting different costumes to wear in a play about the 5 senses.  This is thematic, but it’s not integration.  We’re still using the arts in service of the larger content.  There are definitely some cross-curricular connections!  But the intention isn’t in exploring those connections deeply in both the content and fine arts areas.

The mid-level of the continuum is called Inquiry-Driven instruction.  This is when a lesson is both areas centers around an essential question.  Now we’re starting to test those integration waters with a little more force!  There’s some discussion and planning surrounding essential questions between content and fine arts area teachers about the lesson.  There might even be some lesson collaboration.

In this stage, our intention is shifting.  We’re now be purposeful about finding an essential question that prompts discussion, discovery and exploration between 2 or more content areas.  A great example of this is a question like “How do we communicate with the world?”  This question can be explored in multiple ways, through multiple contents.  And we can easily frame lessons in both the arts and the other content areas that provide opportunities for students to explore this idea, and compare their findings that interlink.

Level 4 on the continuum is when we use “Co-Taught” lessons.  This is when a lesson is co-taught by teachers in 2 or more areas.  Typically, planning occurs between the teachers about the lesson.  Portions of the lesson may be taught in each content area separately.

What does that look like?  This can actually take a few different forms.  When we hear “co-taught”, we sometimes thing it has to be two teachers in the same room, but that’s not always the case.  The lesson can be collaboratively planned between the teachers and then each one teaches a specific content component in their own classroom.  Students can then work on pulling together both components in a single classroom as a final part of the process.

Or, it COULD be that the arts teacher and the classroom teacher teach the lesson together in either the arts or the content classroom.  That takes a bit of scheduling creativity, but it can be done.  Either way, the lesson has been designed thoughtfully and equitably between both teachers, and is taught simultaneously.

Finally, the highest level of the continuum is called “Integration”.  This is when a lesson is co-planned (or at least collaborated upon) by a content and arts teacher, and is grounded in equitably teaching and assessing standards in both areas.  Collaborative planning occurs between the teachers about the lesson and it may either be co-taught or individually taught within a single classroom.

What really sets this level apart is the piece about the lesson being grounded in the standards.  It’s when you look at standards from multiple areas, find the natural alignments, and then teach both equitably in a lesson.

An example of an integrated lesson might be teaching force and motion through the work of Jackson Pollock.  Addressing both the science standards and the visual art standards for exploring and investigating the effects of using different motions and materials.  Watching how gravity works in real life, and then creating a piece of artwork using that same principle of gravity. 

Hopefully, you can see how each step on the continuum scale leads to the next.  And that different steps can be used for different intentions in your teaching.

Be sure to download the continuum card printable so that you have it as an easy reference the next time you’re working on an integrated curriculum.