Connecting to Curriculum with Arts Integration

Integration helps diminish barriers some students experience in accessing curriculum

Arts integration has been an ini­tiative in Anne Arundel County Public Schools for nearly a de­cade. At Wiley H. Bates Mid­dle School, a performing and visual arts magnet school, we define arts integration as using art techniques to access Common Core standards and curriculum. By using arts integration les­sons, we are able to increase stu­dent engagement while decreasing student behavioral issues within the classroom. Using arts integration also creates a more global and holistic learn­ing environment for our stu­dents. Teachers make an effort to use arts integration to reach all student populations, includ­ing students with special needs, students learning English as a second language, and students with behavioral challenges.

Authors and Bates MS educators Lauren McClintock, Patricia Melesh, Laura Wixon, and Me­gan Zimmerman.

At Bates, there is a special­ized program called the Alter­nate Curriculum Class (ACC) for students with significant cognitive disabilities who re­ceive instruction from a modi­fied curriculum with intensive supports. The arts are frequent­ly integrated into these classes to successfully engage students in the learning process. Regard­less of a student’s ability, all students in this class have been able to access the curriculum through the use of our lessons.

For example, while students learned about the water cycle, they simultane­ously participated in a lesson fo­cusing on pup­petry. Students went on to cre­ate their own hand puppets, reflecting their knowledge of the wa­ter cycle stages. Students then created a script for each puppet that centered on the stage of the water cycle which their puppet represented.

This lesson not only rein­forced vocabulary and increased students’ understanding of both the water cycle and puppetry, but also allowed them to prac­tice fine motor skills, writing skills, and speaking and listen­ing skills.

Other examples of arts inte­gration within the ACC include lessons surrounding culinary arts using measurement and sequencing; poetry and visual art with the end product being a published book; a theatrical per­formance of a fractured fairy tale about pollution; a math, science, and mosaic design project that resulted in a community spiral herb garden; multiple creative dioramas combining environ­mental science and design; and many more!

In November of 2016, a part­nership was created between the ACC students and a group of seven general education students who had consistently struggled to collaborate pos­itively with peers. These stu­dents resist group work and have difficulties working with a team in a re­spectful and pro­ductive manner. They were given the opportunity to be student leaders in the classroom through collaboration on an architectural design project involving the use of or­ganic biodegradable materials.

During the project we ob­served the general education students being cooperative, kind, and engaged while assist­ing the ACC students. After several collaborations, general education teachers noticed an increase in a majority of stu­dents’ positive interactions within their classrooms. These students were more willing to work with others, and they even self-reflected on the experience, saying, “I am learn­ing more about myself and how I can be nice to people.” The use of arts integration contrib­uted not only to an increase in content knowledge but also im­provement in the students’ in­terpersonal skills.

In our experience at Bates, we have found that arts integration diminishes students’ barriers to accessing the curriculum. The collaboration promoted import­ant life skills and empa­thy among diverse student groups. We hope that these projects can serve as a model for other schools hoping to increase stu­dent engagement and cross-curricular connections.