Arts learning occurs throughout the K-12 school curriculum. Students experience multiple art forms when they take a music class, paint flowers, act in a play and dance in celebration of earth day. But a unified strategy for arts education is much harder to organize, precisely because students encounter the arts in different environments and are taught by teachers who have a variety of curriculum and standard priorities.
The method and practice of teaching, more formally called pedagogy, used in art subject teaching such as in music, drama, dance, and in visual arts classrooms is completely different from teaching methods and practice used to integrate the arts into common core curriculums.
The pedagogy used in arts integration is relatively new and not well understood. Despite the lack of a nationwide agreement on what arts integration looks like in K-12 classrooms there is a great deal of interest in this pedagogy because the potential for arts integration to improve student achievement, enhance social emotional learning, and increase equity is moving from anecdotal story to more rigorous research.
Example of Arts Integration
Example (history and music): Learning about the structure, and content of the blues using songs from the 1930s. Learning about Great Depression. Brainstorming circumstances of the Great Depression. Using those ideas to create an original blues song from the point of view of someone living during the Great Depression.
—New Jersey Arts Educators User Guide, 2017
Example (L.A. and theatre): Learning about the elements of a fable, including characters, setting, and lesson using Aesop’s Fables. Brainstorming lessons students would like to teach with their plays. Creating original scripts with clear characters, settings, and lesson. Performing these scripts. Describing how their plays are similar to and different from Aesop’s Fables.”
Assessment is the key to so much of our education because what gets measured gets taught and arts integration is no different. Measuring the skill sets that students demonstrate as they are truly integrated among the arts and core curriculums can be daunting. Traditional forms of assessment may not accurately capture student learning in these more complicated settings and may even lead to mis-measurement of student learning.
Performance Assessment is Key
Choosing to use performance assessment is often the best avenue to capture the results of arts integration in the classroom. If done correctly it may also lead to more accurate measurement of student learning. Performance assessments can measure what students know and can do using standards in both common core curriculum and the arts. The two examples cited above use performance assessment to create a blues song and an original Aesop-fable-like story as assessment methodology for students to demonstrate their learning in these two arts integrated curriculums. The use of performance assessment in these two examples motivates students to understand the curriculum—and demonstrate their understanding—in an engaging assessment methodology. The key lesson to learn for district administrators and principals of schools is to promote arts integrated pedagogy that uses performance assessment and enhances the learning of every student in the class.