Five Myths about Arts Integration

1. The arts are a messy, chaotic distraction from learning.

The common image of the artist is that of a fuzzy-thinking, disheveled, undisciplined “creative type.” Teachers assume that there is no structure or form to the arts, and that artistic creation depends on talent and inspiration.

Yet artists, especially performing artists like dancers, have to be extremely self-disciplined in order to practice their craft. Each art has its own forms, structures that create order out of chaos, and learning to stay within the forms is part of learning any art.

Harvard’s Project Zero researchers have identified eight Studio Habits of Mind that the arts help students develop. Check them out here: http://pzweb.harvard.edu/research/StudioThink/StudioThinkEight.htm

Creating in an art form also stimulates the natural curiosity of learners. By attempting to fit science ideas into choreography, or write poetry about history, or paint a mathematical idea, children delve deeper into both subjects.

The new common core standards that are sweeping the nation expand the definition of literacy to mean “critical and creative thinking.” Children who participate in arts integration experiences are developing vital thinking skills we will need to solve 21st century problems. What could be more relevant?

2. Arts integration takes too much time.

It is true that planning an arts-integrated unit of study is time-consuming — but so is planning a “traditional” unit, unless the teacher is simply following the publisher’s guide verbatim.

Creating an environment with conditions that are ideal for learning is the teacher’s job. If the planning time spent results in vastly deeper and more-lasting learning for the students, is that “too much time?”

Consider also the synergistic effect of arts integration strategies. One plus one, as my friend and colleague Sean Layne has said, is more than two.

The nature of creative thinking is to be divergent and holistic. In pursuing the best way to demonstrate in movement the processes that create metamorphic rock, we also venture into history, mathematics, geography, visual art, and even poetry.

The cumulative effect of trying to distill our learning into artistic form dwarfs the results of teaching to the test when it comes to lifelong learning skills and enduring understanding.

3. Creativity is impossible to teach or assess.

Another result of systematically eliminating public art instruction has been to completely obfuscate the creative process for most people. Creativity, contrary to popular belief, is not something you either have or don’t have. Everyone is born creative — it’s our human birthright, both blessing and curse. It takes school to train creativity out of most of us.

Graphic courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

It turns out that there are common traits of “creative” people, and those traits are teachable. The old inspiration / perspiration saying is quite true: very little of the creative process involves being struck over the head by some Muse or another. Most of it is thoughtful, purposeful, intelligent, and persistent pursuit of the best way to realize that inspired idea in a form that speaks to others.

Becoming familiar with the ebb and flow of the different parts of the creative process will help teachers get comfortable with letting their students’ imaginations loose. When it comes to assessment, the job is easier than it looks at first.

Since there are clear expectations and rules for all the arts, we can use those expectations as the basis for assessing the products. Most often, a rubric is the tool of choice, since it allows room for judgement but is clear and quantifiable enough to result in a “grade.”

With a rubric, teachers and students together look at the expectations. Was the dance designed according to the rules and using the elements of the art form? Did the dance communicate a linked idea clearly and correctly? Did the performers show focus and concentration? Click here for a sample:  STIM Rubric.

Students then evaluate their dance constructions according to a multiple-point rubric, and teachers do likewise. Then, and this is crucial, students return to their creations and revise them, comparing the results with their first draft by using the same rubric. The goal is to move up the rubric, towards mastery.

These assessments become part of the student’s portfolio, along with a video recording of the dance. They provide clear evidence of learning and growth.

4. Teachers do not know enough about the arts to integrate them.

The truth in this myth is that very few teachers receive even rudimentary basic training in the arts, though that is changing in many schools of education now. That means that it is up to teachers themselves to seek out artistic experiences and professional development in the arts. Without a doubt, the more classroom teachers know about the arts, the easier and more effective their planning will become.

Trying it Out

However, every single teacher who is competent to lead a classroom is also able to lead authentic arts integration experiences. It starts with “baby steps,” such as skill-building to help students lay a foundation for further learning and creativity. In dance, that might be something like the kinesphere activity, which helps students visualize and experience their own personal space without interfering with others’.

Those beginning steps lead to confidence in both teacher and students, and they assume co-learner roles as they go deeper into how dance might help them in their other studies. Once teachers see that their students can help them design and facilitate these lessons, the whole process becomes one of discovery and invention, rather than something scary and chaotic.

5. The arts are not for every child.

There is a persistent belief that some children have artistic “talent,” and others do not. There is another, related belief, that arts experiences are for those who can afford them. The centuries of European influence on art were not kind to those not born to nobility or money. They left the impression that, to enjoy art, you must wear evening clothes and eat caviar. For the masses, there are ruder entertainments.

Yet there is not one child on the face of this earth who would not benefit in head, heart, and health from an artistic education. There is no one who cannot create something of beauty and value if they are given the opportunity.

For every child whose creative voice we silence, we deprive the world of what could have been, if not a world-class leader or thinker, at the very least a happy and well-adjusted citizen.

Everyone has the power to create and to imagine. It’s time to honor that in our schools.

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About rbdancer

Randy has been a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and Workshop Leader since 1995. During 35 years as a teaching artist, he has led over 300 in-depth workshops, courses, and seminars for teachers and teaching artists, traveling to 37 states in the process. As a choreographer and professional dancer, Randy has danced and produced dance concerts in some of the country's most storied theaters. Randy now lives with his wife in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in northeastern New Mexico.
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3 Responses to Five Myths about Arts Integration

  1. Diane A says:

    Thanks for spot-on conversational responses to arts education myths. What we’re calling arts integration is actually a pretty fundamental way of learning, tapping into how we’ve figured things out as human beings over several thousand years.

  2. Kathleen Kingsley says:

    We are at an impasse in this country precisely because our leaders can’t or won’t think outside of the box. We are at the verge of change in this world – willy nilly. The old forms don’t work. Who is going to create the new ones? The need for creative thinking and problem-solving is urgent. Where else to teach it than in our schools? Come on, America! Thought-provoking article, Randy.

  3. Larry Hammonds says:

    Randy, excellent article, Sandi & I both spent 30 years teaching problem solving and creative thinking in our art classrooms. – GOOD JOB

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