The core focus of the Chicago Guide for Teaching and Learning in the Arts is to provide a scope and sequence of skills and knowledge students are expected to master in the arts. To meet these arts education objectives, the Office of Arts Education supports the high quality delivery of a variety of instructional approaches, methods, and strategies. Among them is arts integration, an approach to arts education practiced widely in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This portion of the Guide gives an overview of the many ways arts integration is practiced in CPS.

The section begins with a broad definition of arts integration and a description of different ways educators implement this approach in the classroom. It explains best practices in arts integration, which provide a foundation for instruction in the classroom. The case studies that follow illustrate how CPS has implemented a variety of successful arts integration models. Finally, a sample unit plan provides a framework for building standards-based arts integration lessons.

What Is Arts Integration?

Broadly speaking, arts integration is instruction that blends content and skills from one arts discipline—music, visual arts, dance, and theater—with another arts discipline or academic subject. The most successful arts integration is more than academics with arts activities added on. Successful arts integration stands on a foundation of carefully planned learning goals. Teachers follow a scope and sequence, reflecting state or national standards for arts and other curricular areas, and are often supported by partnerships with outside arts organizations. Quality arts instruction builds on students’ existing knowledge and skills. Each of the integrated arts disciplines is taught consistently and is reinforced throughout the unit.

Chicago Public Schools currently employ various models of arts integration instruction. One arts discipline, such as music or theater, may be used to enhance instruction in science, social studies, math, English language arts, or foreign languages. Teachers may also integrate more than one discipline, such as theater and visual arts, in a multidisciplinary arts unit. Some classroom teachers, both art teachers and teachers of other subjects, collaborate with art specialists to implement their arts integration project or unit. Whatever the model, teachers typically focus on a common theme, problem, or inquiry that engages students in making cross-disciplinary connections.

Why Choose this Approach?

When delivered successfully, arts integration can have a profoundly positive effect on student learning and engagement. Students have multiple opportunities to enhance critical thinking skills by making connections across arts and academic disciplines. Teachers of arts integration observe that students enrich and deepen their academic knowledge while developing their creative expression. At the same time, students demonstrate a greater understanding of the importance of the arts in the evolution of human thought and expression. Ultimately, the basis for high quality arts integration is high quality instruction.

How Does Arts Integration Work?

Effective arts integration units and lessons can be carried out in different ways, but planning is always critical. Arts integration aims to make meaningful arts connections that add depth to learning. How do teachers create arts integration units without simply adding more to the curriculum? How do they avoid reducing the arts to entertainment only? Developing standards-based learning goals in each discipline helps ensure that each subject is taught with equal integrity. Focusing on a particular topic or theme can result in meaningful connections between subject areas. Effective arts integration instruction often begins with a topic that lends itself to study from several points of view. Teachers guide students as they explore the topic and its related themes, helping students to establish relationships among different ideas.

Before developing an arts integration unit, teachers consider instructional goals. How will the instruction integrate with other content areas and concepts students are learning? Which teaching partners will work together as a team to meet instructional goals? Will additional costs need to be budgeted to implement the plan?

Collaboration is often a key element in arts integration. A classroom teacher may team with an arts specialist teacher or other faculty in their school. Credentialed teachers may look outside the school to engage a teaching artist or an arts organization residency. These partners work together to plan how they will meet goals for a lesson or unit that integrates more than one discipline.

One reward of collaboration is the unique opportunity to work professionally with others on a mutual goal that benefits students. A theater artist who is used to producing ensemble works may be inspired by the experience of collaborating with a social studies teacher. A visual artist whose main work takes place in a private studio may develop new insights co-teaching with a math teacher in a high school. For the partners, the ultimate reward is effective instruction of both disciplines through arts integration.

Best Practices for Arts Integration

The collaborative approach to planning and the endless opportunities for making connections among disciplines lead to a variety of instructional choices for arts integration implementation. How do educators determine whether their choices will lead to a successful arts integration experience? The following best practices can be used as a standard for planning and evaluating a successful arts integration program. These best practices guided the creation of programs described in the CPS arts integration case studies on pages 223–229.

The Critical Element: Planning and Collaboration

Arts integration is built on a foundation of collaboration and comprehensive planning. While different projects move ahead in a variety of ways, all successful arts integration programs incorporate these principles and strategies. Use them as a guide when developing an arts integration program.

  1. Build on preliminary planning.

    Before beginning arts integration planning, consult with everyone involved in developing the arts integration unit. An independent teaching artist may have discussed his or her background and availability with school staff. Teachers and the principal may have outlined fundraising plans, explored expectations for a culminating event for the arts integration program, and created a list of required school documentation. Someone may have researched the number and availability of classrooms needed. Gather the initial information and use it as a starting point for more focused planning.
  2. Articulate the vision.

    At the launch of the collaborative planning for the actual program, articulate the initial arts integration vision. As the planning progresses, take note of decisions that may alter the initial vision and plans, and communicate those changes to all stakeholders.
  3. Schedule meetings for collaborative planning.

    Plan a comprehensive meeting schedule well before the first day the teaching team meets with students. Before classes start, meetings can address broad goals and objectives, detailed instructional planning, and how supplies and materials will be gathered. While classes take place, meet to assess how well instructional goals are being met. After the unit of instruction, plan a meeting for reflection and evaluation. Consider who, in addition to the teaching partners for the arts and for other subject matter disciplines, should attend the planning meetings.
  4. Set a collaborative tone at the initial meeting.

    At the first meeting, take the opportunity to capture the enthusiasm that brought diverse partners to participate in an arts integration program. The way the team works together affects the learning outcomes just as lesson plans, goals, and other success predictors do. From the start, set aside time for learning about the backgrounds, teaching philosophies, and experiences of the teachers or teaching artists and continue that conversation throughout the program. This dialogue offers many rewards for members of a teaching team who may not have worked together before. When team members agree about what they want to accomplish and have clear expectations of how to work together, students reap the greatest reward through quality instruction.
  5. Develop engaging activities that meet instructional goals.

    When the teaching team has agreed on the broad issues of goals, themes, and standards, move forward to plan activities that will engage students and deliver high quality instruction. As you craft the details of the activities, think about the roles that each team member will play in the classroom. Will one partner lead the group or will the leaders alternate? Pre-thinking activities, roles, and outcomes together help the lessons to flow smoothly and allow teaching partners to focus on content and supporting students.
  6. Use an instructional planning tool for collaborative planning.

    The unit plan on pages 230-232 of this Guide reflects the best practices for teaching an arts integration lesson, with emphasis on goals, strategies, standards, and activities for the multiple integration areas. If necessary, adapt the sample plan to accommodate the unique needs of your program. After adapting the unit plan, check that the team has maintained the appropriate attention to the core success factors.