What is Arts Education, Arts Integration.... Arts Learning?

Posted by Robert Benson on 11/23/2016 1:00:00 PM

This is a good question that I hear often. The next one right after this is, "What does it look like in school?" Even when you read articles on the arts in schools, it can become confusing.  With that, Foothills staff have decided on a way to think about these areas and how we encompass the arts in many ways.  Here is a list of terms, definitions, and how they ring true at Foothills.


  • Arts Education-  By definition, arts education is the study of a particular art form. These art forms include performing arts (dance, theater, music) and visual arts ( drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.). In the K-12 Public education realm, these courses are taught by highly qualifies teachers whose certificates for teaching include these endorsements. At Foothills we offer arts education in our K-4th  program, and in our focused 5th -8th  arts academy programs.


  • Arts Integration- This term is often used widely in related conversations.  The big word here is "integration" versus an idea of "use". At Foothills, integrating the arts does not happen in arts education classrooms.  Integrating the arts happens in regular classrooms. Integration is a complex teaching moment and with that we at Foothills stick to a very strict and agreed upon definition. This definition was created by teaching artist at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts; a long time relationship Foothills staff has had. The definition is, " Arts Integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both."  An example often used is objectives in dance (the students will use body, energy, space and time to express themselves in movement) that go along with objectives in science (The students will understand the water cycle or Students will understand different kinds of weather). When these two objectives integrate together you include the "what the student is learning" , "how we will learn it",  and "how we will show the teacher we understand".  The objectives and standards work in unison rather than in competition with each other.   


  • Arts Learning- Arts Learning, again, has many different perspectives. At Foothills we believe this term spans ALL that we do with the arts (including arts integration and arts education) and related instructional techniques. if you ever hear me talk about the arts at Foothills, I often use this overarching word.  Here are some things we include in "arts learning" and in some cases they overlap.


               - Interdisciplinary Arts-  Interdisciplinary means that things are made of parts and wholes... and they interact. In the arts sense, we see this as a means to "use" arts as a connector of things or concepts learned in the classroom. For example, it would be a strong idea for students to listen to music of Bob Dylan, or Odetta as a means to perhaps understand the topic of civil rights, political and/or social changes in the early 1960's. Are we integrating? No, but we are making a strong connection using the arts. The arts have amazing connections for relevant learning in any subject area.


               - Studio Dispositions- This is a concepts that goes back to educational research.  Here researchers at Harvard University made real connections to the arts and "student achievement."  The researchers claims included things like we should stop saying the arts increases test scores.  Rather they claimed that what kids learn in quality arts programs may be a reason for such research based comparisons. These researchers studied visual arts classrooms (We believe it holds true in any arts classrooms), and the research connected the artistic mindset that students built within themselves in art classes was the same as a very successful professional artist.  These studio habits are Stretch and Explore, Express, Developing Craft, Envision, Understand Community, Observe, Engage and Persist, and Reflect. The  students of focus in the research who were doing well in school and testing, and were involved in the arts, were provided these opportunities to learn and be successful.  At Foothills we think these mindsets can be applied by all teachers. They fit beautifully with many state standards and in general excellent modes of learning.


                 -Artful Thinking- Artful Thinking, or sometimes known as the Artful Thinking Pallet, or the Thinking Pallet, is a way to teach children to think about what they are learning. A related word that many of our Foothills educators use is Metacognition, or "thinking about my thinking." In essence, this idea is about teaching kids how to use thinking strategies as a means to learn or to solve problems. Some "pallet" colors in artful thinking include, Reasoning (a very useful skill in todays testing world), Questioning and Investigating, Observing and Describing, Comparing and Connecting, Finding Complexity, and Exploring Viewpoints.  These thinking skills go hand in hand with the maturity and developmental level of a child. For example for young children observing, describing, and comparing things is a good skill. In older kids, we add things like reasoning, and exploring viewpoints.  It all depends on the learning moment.


There are many things that can go under Arts Learning. At Foothills if we think the concept rings well with our mission and vision of "Artful Teaching, Artful Learning", then we will make it a part of our practice.


I hope this helps. As my first blog, I may link to it again as a means to build a deeper and more useful understanding of what we are trying to do at bigger and bigger levels each day at Foothills.