Arts Integration + Common Core = Students Prepared for the 21st Century

Posted by Maria Barbosa, Sep 11, 2012 3 comments

Maria Barbosa

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have arrived! At this very moment, educators in 48 states plus the District of Columbia are adjusting their activities to the new standards. But how do those new standards prepare students to cope with or to generate the innovations of the 21st century?

The CCSS attention to English Language Arts and Mathematics suggests that, to be career and college ready, today’s students must demonstrate a strong grasp of those subjects. The CCSS will be periodically reviewed and updated to fit future needs, and so it is important that we keep track of developments. Furthermore, alongside whatever CCSS iteration, we need to prepare students to be creative, flexible, and adaptable to the unforeseen contexts of a fast moving 21st Century.

Recently, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) published the P21 Common Core Toolkit in an effort to align the CCSS to the increasing necessity for helping our students develop complex thinking skills. P21 calls on educators to incorporate skills such as creativity, flexibility, adaptability, global, and cultural awareness in curricula and assessments. Since the CCSS do not prescribe ways to teach, the toolkit also proposes that educators engage students in inquiry and exploration of real world problems and interdisciplinary performance tasks.

Arts integration is a teaching approach that addresses the concerns raised in the P21 Common Core Toolkit. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Changing Education through the Arts (CETA) Program define arts integration as “…an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process that connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.”

In the arts integrated classroom, students make use of background knowledge, investigation, and experimentation to perform tasks that involve both standards in the arts form and in another core subject. Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, flexibility and adaptability, some of the skills described as central to success in the 21st century, are integral to the arts initegration pedagogy.

Edutopia has recently reported on how arts integration helps failing schools become thriving schools. Research (ArtsEdSearch) corroborates observations of how arts-integrated lessons improve students’ motivation, dedication, problem solving abilities, and retention.

Arts integration lessons, such as the use of art installations to explore common fractions or the use of dance to examine a complex text, improves student’s motivation and dedication to learning and challenge them to develop their problem solving abilities to meet new and unexpected situations.

Arts-integrated lessons are the result of intense collaboration among certified arts educators, classroom teachers, and teaching artists. Certified arts educators and classroom teachers bring to the lessons the knowledge of their respective subjects, standards, pedagogy, as well as familiarity with the students. The teaching artists bring deep expertise on their art form, professional experience as a career artist, the appreciation of audiences and arts institutions, and the proficiency on making interdisciplinary connections in the creation, exhibition, and marketing of their artwork.

Arts integration should not be understood as a substitute for arts education; it is not a sequential, long-term learning practice taught by a certified arts educator. Instead, arts integration generates well-rounded scholarship where students experience and explore connections among disciplines traditionally separated for the convenience of education delivery.

The MIT Media Lab, a model 21st century institution, explains: “Now, in its third decade, the Media Lab continues to check traditional disciplines at the door. Future-obsessed product designers, nanotechnologists, data-visualization experts, industry researchers, and pioneers of computer interfaces work side by side to tirelessly invent—and reinvent—how humans experience, and can be aided by, technology.”

Arts integration similarly juxtaposes diverse visions and methodologies towards inspiring students to make the most of their education. In the school environment, arts integrated lessons offer students the opportunity to see how diverse disciplines can be mutually beneficial. Moreover, students observe and experience how individuals can bring together their different expertise, skills and interests, and collaborate to “invent—and reinvent” ways to learn the concepts and skills described on educational standards.

As an artist, I am excited that arts education and arts integration prepares new audiences to critically enjoy the arts of the past, the present, and that yet to come. As a citizen, I am enthusiastic about the potential of arts integration to prepare students to be successful in the 21st century!

3 responses for Arts Integration + Common Core = Students Prepared for the 21st Century


September 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm

This article is so insightful. As a teaching artist it is imperative that we get on board with these new standards. It's an exciting time to be an artist and an educator. What a great gift to be able to aid students in making connections between disciplines and preparing young people for the challenges of the 21st century!

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September 12, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Susan, thank you for your comments. We, arts integration practitioners, see how effective our approach to teaching Is for the acquisition and development all of the 21st century and Bloom's skills

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Susan says
September 12, 2012 at 6:27 am

Maria - as always, your insight is spot on! Arts Integration makes that critical link between skills and practices that our student need in order to translate their thinking into innovation. Have you seen the new PARCC assessment prototypes? The performance assessment language in there almost exactly parallels your statements above for why we need Arts Integration: observation, deduction, critical thinking. Thank you for this fantastic post!

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