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Arts Integration in the Classroom

By Kristy Nerstheimer

Who doesn’t love the arts? We listen to music during our free time, go dancing, watch a live performance, among other things! This past week I went to an arts symposium where I learned a lot about integrating the arts into the classroom. I have several take-aways I wanted to share.


Arts Integration vs. Arts Enhanced: Before this symposium, I would have told you I always integrate the arts in my classroom. We sing, we dance, we create! However, an important difference I learned was an arts enhanced curriculum is where you use the arts as more of a supplement rather the focus. For example, singing the ABCs is an arts enhanced method because students are merely recalling information. However, integrating the arts such as forming each letter with your body and creating a word that begins with the letter through an art form would reach a higher level of understanding. Arts Integration requires a constructivist approach to teaching where students CREATE which is the highest level of thinking according to Anderson and Krathwohl’s revised Bloom’s taxonomy.


Acting Right: This concept teaches students to collaborate and corporate as a team. Sean Layne’s book of the same name gives teachers practical and easy to use language to teach students the appropriate behaviors through drama to become successful in the classroom. I can’t wait to try the “actor’s toolbox” where students engage in “signing” a contract by using their bodies to commit to having a calm body, focused mind, and balanced emotions. What a wonderful way to begin the day! Moving our bodies and committing to bring our best self to our classroom will build a lasting culture for the school year. Personally, I think it will help me focus on bringing my ‘A’ game each day.


Creating Tableaus: This comes from the French word meaning a picture or image. Students engage in a physical activity to show a “living picture” of an event or period of time. This can be used to demonstrate an understanding of a historical event such as the Civil War or a science concept such as the life cycle of a plant. The ideas are endless. Each student participates within the group showing collaboration, corporation, and total engagement. Of course, it is vitally important to teach these skills beforehand, because you need the proper classroom management to make this successful. Acting Right provides simple lessons and challenges to teach these necessary behaviors. As with any classroom management system, the work you put in at the beginning of the year will pay off tenfold for the remainder of the year.


Reading Art as Texts: This is a visual literacy experience where students learn to “read” a picture. They use hand motions to identify the six elements of portraiture: facial expression, focal point, gestures, clothing, setting, and objects. Partners/small groups analyze the pictures with those concepts in mind and begin to create a story. Students can then take this story through the writing process or create a theatrical performance. Students use critical thinking skills, problem solving, collaboration and cooperation to create a story. I am very excited to use this strategy with my English Language Learners. What a great way to involve all students no matter what their ability levels are!


Words in Motion: This concept uses dance to teach vocabulary and poetry. Students are able to choreograph dances to demonstrate their understanding of various words and poems. It is important to teach students about space and appropriate safety issues such as body control, respect, using movement to communicate not voice. Have partners/small groups read a poem or you could read it aloud together. Have different groups create a dance to show different vocabulary words from the poem and other groups can create another dance to explain the meaning of the poem. You could also do this with stories or short passages. It is a great way to get students thinking outside of the box by having to communicate with movement rather than a paper and pencil!


This symposium was led by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in New York where the arts are celebrated on a minute by minute basis! Their main objective for arts integration is believing that learning is actively built, experiential, reflective, evolving, collaborative, and problem-solving. It is also important to design your classroom with these concepts in mind. Rather than the standard row of desks and chairs, think about arranging your desks in a circle or with some kind of large open space so students can act, dance, create, and move! Of course, there is still a place for paper and pencil learning. But by keeping passive learning to a minimum and investing in a more hands-on active approach, your students will gain a deeper level of learning and isn’t that what it’s all about?

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