An Arts-Integrated Approach for Elementary Level Students

By Brown, Susannah | Childhood Education, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

An Arts-Integrated Approach for Elementary Level Students


Brown, Susannah, Childhood Education


The arts incorporate social, philosophical psychological and historical aspects of life, including one's own inspiration, spirit, thought, intellect, and feelings. Care and concern are taken throughout the artistic process, which involves emotional, perceptual, and cognitive factors, to provide satisfaction and pleasure--an aesthetic response. The arts are not separated from life. Rather, they are an integral part of life, uniting the people of a culture. This philosophical approach links the arts to all areas of learning by placing social and cultural importance on the behavior of arts making (Dissanayake, 1992).

A focus on school reform within the field of elementary education has brought an arts-integrated approach to teaching and learning to the forefront. This is not a new approach, as integrating what many call "hands-on activities" in the classroom is quite common. The difference lies in the quality and depth of the approach to teaching and learning, as it has expanded beyond art-making activities to include art history knowledge, art criticism and analysis, and the process of aesthetics in the classroom (Marshall, 2005). Another difference in this new wave of school reform as it addresses the arts in education, is the focus on the integrity of the arts form. This valuing of the arts as an important part of a child's learning is a major difference from past integration efforts and lies at the heart of the rationale here (Horowitz, 2005).

Arts integration places importance on the artistic process in teaching and learning by being central to the curriculum (Fowler, 1994). When the arts become integrated throughout the curriculum, it is thought that they foster learning in and through other disciplines by expanding awareness and comprehension (Fowler, 2001; Getty Education Institute for the Arts, 1996). The arts support qualities that are desirable in students, including creativity, originality, and expression. These qualities are prevalent when learning in and through the arts (Horowitz, 2005).

What Is Arts Integration?

Arts integration at the early elementary level can be implemented by using a variety of approaches and strategies. Pedagogical approaches vary. In a subservient approach, the arts are used to support superficial learning activities that address neither the goals of arts learning nor those of another subject area (mathematics, science, etc.). Interdisciplinary learning connects art forms with other subject areas, with a criterion that the focus is on the arts. An approach that is least common in practice but often advocated in scholarly literature is a co-equal cognitive integration style to teaching and learning. This approach requires specific knowledge and training in all the subject areas. As most educators are not disciplinary experts in all subject areas, the co equal cognitive integration style rarely exists in a school setting.

For the purposes of this article, "arts integration" refers to a unit of study that focuses on the arts as a way of learning in other disciplines, involving creative, imaginative, experimental and purposive and collaborative interaction, and focusing on the integrity of the arts forms and life-centered issues (Krug & Cohen-Evron, 2000; Roucher & Lovano-Kerr, 1995). Arts integration is like a weaving wherein the design may repeat a pattern or be variable. Just as the warp and weft strings are integral parts of a woven whole, the arts are an integral part of the curriculum and are valuable in all aspects of teaching and learning.

Arts integration planning and implementation usually involve the classroom educator working in collaboration with a teaching artist or an arts education specialist at the school. Sometimes this collaboration begins with a set of standards or educational goals. Other times, themes or related concepts lead the way toward collaboration in curriculum planning. The key is that the classroom educator is directly leading the curriculum planning. …

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