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2.1: Selected Reading

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    The three Rs of arts integration entails the reasons, rationale, and research on arts integration. There are two big reasons educators are interested in arts integration: 1) Arts integration practices are aligned with how students learn; 2) Arts integration energizes teachers by providing increased professional satisfaction. In the past, and even somewhat today, the arts have been seen as something extra, and something fun to do if students needed a break from “real learning.” We now know that arts integration aligns with current best practices for teaching and learning, and that it offers a powerful way to help teachers return to the joy of teaching.

    Reason One

    Arts integration practices are aligned with how students learn. Ongoing research about how humans learn supports constructivist theories of learning (Grennon & Brooks, 1999). These theories reflect the characteristics of effective learning which include learning that is active and experiential, reflective, social, evolving, and focused on problem-solving. Arts integration provides learning experiences that reflect all these characteristics.

    When students learn through arts integration, they are engaged in experiences in which they actively build and demonstrate their understanding of both the art form and the other curriculum area. For example, students may create dances about the solar system, theatrical scenes about various perspectives of the Great Migration, or songs about math concepts. To do this, students must take what they know and understand about each subject area (e.g., dance and the science of the solar system) and communicate it to others through the art form. Students become active learners as they build on, extend, or challenge their prior understandings.

    Reflection, an inherent part of the creative process, is integral to arts integration practice. Within the creative process, students create, reflect, assess, and revise their dance, drama, song, poem, or film based on established criteria. Reflection is woven throughout the creative process as students reconsider the impact of their choices on an ongoing basis. When students have completed their work, they engage in additional reflection about the clarity, accuracy, and meaningfulness of their products. This reflection transforms these experiences into learning (SEDL, 2000). These verbal or written reflections offer insights for teachers and students. Teachers gain insight into students’ growing understandings, which they use to guide their decisions about the next instructional steps. Students gain insight about their own learning process, creative process, and products.

    By its very nature, arts integration engages students in social and collaborative learning. Dance, music, theater, and media arts are collaborative art forms; the visual and literary arts have aspects of collaboration, too. When arts integration is the approach to teaching in a classroom, purposeful conversation, not silence, is the norm. Teams of students work together to consider how they can demonstrate what they know and understand. For example, after students gain information about the solar system and the elements of dance, they work in small groups to plan ways to demonstrate their understanding. Together, students make decisions about the science content and the dance process and how to best present it. Through conversations they listen, clarify their ideas, and negotiate for the best solutions. Their understanding of both content areas is expanded and deepened as they hear each other’s ideas and explain their own.

    Arts integration engages students in the creative process where learning is dynamic and evolving. The creative process involves students in revisiting ideas and revising their work. For example, at the beginning of a unit about the solar system, students might create a dance demonstrating their initial understandings. Students could return to the dance midway through the unit as their learning progresses, or they could revisit it at the end of the unit. The dance provides an authentic medium in which students demonstrate their growing understandings. Ideally, throughout a student’s school career, dance (or any other art form) would be one of the tools they would use for constructing and demonstrating their developing understandings. Each year, students would gain further knowledge and skills in dance that they would apply to the next dance they create.

    Arts integration places students into the role of problem solvers. The arts demonstrate that many questions have more than one right answer. The creative process requires that students create their own solutions to problems, make choices, and evaluate the results of those choices. Students explore, test their ideas, and refine their thinking. They also develop appreciation for other students’ solutions to the same problems. When learning is active and experiential, reflective, social, evolving, and focused on problem-solving, it becomes engaging and motivating. Because arts integration aligns with how students learn best, students find it personally meaningful and are drawn to it. They seek more opportunities to learn in and through the arts. For example, at-risk high school students report that their involvement with the arts is often the reason they come to school and stay in school (Deasy, 2003).

    Reason Two

    Arts integration energizes teachers by providing increased professional satisfaction. Not only is arts integration engaging and motivating for students, teachers find that it also energizes them and their teaching. Teachers that have been relying primarily on textbooks and worksheets as instructional strategies report that they feel increasingly discouraged by the drudgery of teaching and the lack of student engagement (CETA, n.d.). Many become bored or disenfranchised, and even leave the profession.

    Teachers participating in arts integration programs say that arts integration puts them back in touch with what originally excited them about teaching. They want classrooms full of engaged, curious, and responsive students. They want to do what is best for student learning. They want to be excited about going into the classroom every day.

    Arts integration can change the entire classroom culture. When every student is participating, engaged in purposeful conversation with their peers, and focused on making sense of the content in both the art form and the other subject area, the room fills with focused energy. Arts integration’s alignment with the education of the whole child results in a similar alignment with the concept of the “whole teacher”-the energized professional that makes learning engaging and challenging for students, and who enjoys tapping into his/her own creativity for teaching. Teachers regain a sense of efficacy when they see the positive impact of arts integration on their students’ learning.

    In the context of school cultures that frequently dismiss teachers as part of the problem, this approach [arts integration] affirms that teachers are part of the solution. When teachers are given the authority and responsibility to reflect on their work and make it better, their morale and their practice improves. Arts integration becomes an invitation to personal growth and learning that changes their identity as teachers… (Rabkin & Redmond, 2004, p. 114)

    In Third Space: When Learning Matters, the authors comment on the impact of arts integration on teacher satisfaction and renewal:

    Indeed, teachers in the case study schools said they derive delight and professional renewal and satisfaction from incorporating the arts into their teaching. They enjoy teaching more, primarily because of the responsiveness of their students, and the new level of collaboration with other teachers in the school. (Stevenson & Deasy, 2005, p. 74)

    Additionally, the impact of arts integration on school culture has been documented in two evaluation reports about the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program.

    Teachers and leaders…remarked that arts integration had come to define the way things are done at their school, made the entire atmosphere of their school more positive and cohesive, and helped make their school more child-centered. (Lentczner, Whitesitt, Franklin, & Wolcott, 2007, p. 19)

    Repeatedly teachers and leaders reported that their school’s arts integration program had strengthened staff collegiality and collaboration. (Lentczner, Whitesitt, Franklin, & Wolcott, 2007, p. 19)

    Teachers claim they are approaching curriculum differently, taking more risks, open to serendipity in the lessons, excited by the changes and the possibilities, and motivated by the professionalization of their work made by continuing education. (Kruger, 2002, p. 3)

    Rationale: Explaining Why Arts Integration

    If arts integration is a part of your approach to teaching or a significant school-wide effort, you will be faced with the need to answer two questions for administrators, families, and other teachers:

    • What is arts integration?
    • Why do you believe arts integration benefits students?

    The first question, the “what” question, is answered by providing a definition and examples. The second question, the “why” question, is critical if you want to gather support for your efforts. Answering the ‘why’ question requires that you develop a rationale. A rationale describes the reasons for doing something. In this case, you identify the reasons or using arts integration as an instructional strategy. The purpose of a rationale statement is to convince others of the importance of this proposed approach. It is written in clear, concise language appropriate to those with whom you are communicating. Some confuse a rationale and a mission statement. They are different. A mission statement identifies the school’s vision and values. A rationale explains why you are using this particular approach to teaching. Why take time to craft a rationale for arts integration? There are two reasons:

    • First, crafting a rationale provides an opportunity for you and your colleagues to develop a shared understanding of the outcomes you expect from your engagement with arts integration. These outcomes become the foundation for your arts integration program;
    • Second, having a rationale at your fingertips will help you communicate with and gain support for your efforts from colleagues, administrators, and families.

    To craft a rationale, you will need to read some of the literature and research about the benefits of the arts and arts integration. Here are a few resources to get you started:

    Linda Crawford’s (2004) study offers six reasons for arts integration:

    • The arts make content more accessible;
    • The arts encourage joyful, active learning;
    • The arts help students make and express personal connections to content;
    • The arts help students understand and express abstract concepts;
    • The arts stimulate higher level thinking;
    • The arts build community and help children develop collaborative work skills.

    Laura Stevenson and Richard Deasy (2005) describe the impact of the arts on students. The arts

    • Connect students to authentic learning that matters to them;
    • Provide opportunities for all learners-even struggling learners-to be successful;
    • Develop feelings of self-efficacy;
    • Increase intrinsic motivation to learn;
    • Develop students’ abilities to apply learning to new situations and experiences.

    Daniel R. Scheinfeld (2004) explains why arts integration activities show promise for learners. Arts integration

    • Motivates students to engage more fully with the related subject area;
    • Extends how learners process and retain information because it combines several learning
      modalities (visual, aural, and kinesthetic) and thus reach a wider range of students;
    • (Focused on drama and reading comprehension) “Strengthens students’ visualization of the text and their emotional engagement with it, both of which contribute to greater retention and understanding” (Scheinfeld, 2004, p. 4).

    Luke Rinne and colleagues (2011) examine how arts integration may build long-term memory of content:

    • Arts integration naturally involves several ways of processing information that may have positive effects on long-term memory.

    The Arts Education Partnership (n.d.) outlines research findings about a range of outcomes of arts education:

    • Academic Outcomes: literacy and language development, math achievement, overall academic achievement, underserved students;
    • Cognitive Outcomes: creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning;
    • Personal Outcomes: engagement and persistence, positive behavior, self-awareness, self-concept, and self-expression, self-efficacy and self-confidence;
    • Social and Civic Development: arts participation, collaboration and communication, community-building, community and civic engagement, cross-cultural understanding, and social development.

    Research on Arts Integration

    Arts integration is a teaching strategy in which the arts are integrated with the non-arts curriculum to deepen students’ understanding of both (Isenberg & Jalongo, 2010; Werner & Freeman, 2001). A body of research explores the effects of arts education within differing frameworks and settings using quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies. While little evidence suggests a clear, direct, causal link between learning through the arts and academic achievement, researchers have begun to look at the unique contributions the arts bring to student learning (Asbury & Rich, 2008; Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999; Hetland, Winner, Veenema & Sheridan, 2007; Winner & Hetland, 2000). Shifting the focus from traits measured by traditional testing methods to exploring the dispositions and habits of mind developed through arts-based instruction has led to a reevaluation of the role and benefits of the arts in education.

    Impact of Arts Integration on Students

    Arts integration and arts education, in various formats, have positively and consistently been linked to increased student engagement, motivation, and persistence (Asbury & Rich, 2008; Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005). Arts learning is participatory and active and requires students to interact with content and materials using both their bodies and minds. This way of learning engages students by offering them many ways to gain understanding and express their knowledge. The arts can engage students who are not typically reached through traditional teaching methods, including those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, reluctant learners, and those with learning disabilities (Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999). In fact, children who frequently participate in the arts view themselves as more successful academically than those who infrequently participate in the arts (Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999).

    When the arts are used to create a frame of reference for learning, students can make meaningful connections to one another, to themselves, to their lived world, and to other content areas (Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999; Fiske, 1999; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005). Because they become “agents of their own learning,” students are often more willing to take responsibility for and give direction to their own learning experiences (Deasy & Stevenson, 2005). As students experiment with different art forms and processes, they learn to take risks through exploration and to develop flexible thinking skills, envisioning from different vantage points and responding to new possibilities in the creative process (Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999; Eisner, 2002; Fiske, 1999; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005).

    Benefits of Arts Integration for Teachers and Schools

    The benefits of arts integration extend beyond students, affecting teachers and schools as well. While a multitude of arts integration models are currently being applied in schools, almost all are built upon the collaborative efforts of classroom teachers and arts specialists (which may include artists in residence, visiting artists, school-based arts teachers, arts coaches, or some combination of these). Such collaborative relationships contribute to increased teacher satisfaction, interest, and success, and lead to the development of a sense of community of practice in the school (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005; Werner & Freeman, 2001). These teachers are more willing to take risks, both in their curriculum planning and in front of their students. They are innovative in their teaching, willing to experiment, persevere in integrating the arts despite barriers, and approach their classes in a more childcentered rather than adult-centered manner (Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999; Werner & Freeman, 2001).

    Transforming the Learning Environment

    Transforming a school’s learning environment to include successful and sustained arts-integrated instruction requires participation by the whole school community (Betts, 1995). Supportive administrators, ranging from superintendents to principals, are needed to ensure the continuity and depth of any partnership or program (Borden, 2006; Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999). Principals of arts-rich schools encourage teachers to take risks, to learn new skills, and to make changes in their instruction to support arts integration (Burton, Horowtiz, & Abeles, 1999). Arts integration teaching methods, as well as the purpose, theory, and benefits of this pedagogy, must be made explicit to teachers through professional development (Betts, 1995; Borden, 2006; Werner & Freeman, 2001). Without these supports, teachers often think of arts integration as something extra and time-consuming that they must do (Werner & Freeman, 2001). With appropriate professional development, support, and collaboration with school-based arts specialists and team members, teachers discover that arts-integrated teaching can and does meet existing curriculum standards. Sustained partnerships and professional development opportunities allow teachers to become comfortable making natural connections in the curriculum and turning routine activities into deep knowledge for learners (Werner & Freeman, 2001).


    Asbury, C., & Rich, B. (Eds.). (2008). Learning, arts, and the brain: The Dana consortium report on arts and cognition. New York, NY: Dana Press.

    Betts, J. (1995). Arts integration: Semiotic transmediation in the classroom. Paper presented at the annual meeting of American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Francisco, CA.

    Borden, L. (2006). Across the blue pacific: A World War II story. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

    Burton, J., Horowitz, R., & Abeles, H. (1999). Learning in and through the arts: Curriculum implications. In Champions of change: The impacts of the arts on learning (pp. 36-46). Washington, DC: The Arts Education Partnership, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    CETA. (n.d.) based on ongoing, informal discussions with teachers and teaching artists in the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program.

    Crawford, L. (2004) Lively learning: Using the arts to teach the K-8 curriculum. Greenfield, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

    Deasy, R. (Ed.) (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development., Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

    Deasy, R. J. (2003). Don’t axe the arts! National Association of Elementary School Principals, 82(3), 14.

    Eisner, E. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Fiske, E. (Ed.). (1999). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning. Washington, DC: The Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

    Grennon, J., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms (revised ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

    Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S. & Sheridan, K. (2007). Studio thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

    Isenberg, J., & Jalongo, M. (2010). Creative thinking and arts-based learning: Preschool through fourth grade. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

    Kruger, A. C. (2002, September). The Kennedy center and schools: Changing education through the artsevaluation report. The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC.

    Lentczner, B., Whitesitt, L., Franklin, E., Wolcott, N. (Eds.). (2007). Montgomery county (MD) arts integration model schools program evaluation report. Montgomery County Public Schools & Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance.

    Rabkin, N., & Redmond, R. (2004). Putting the arts in the picture: Reframing education in the 21st century. Chicago, IL: Columbia College Chicago.

    Scheinfeld, D. R. (2004). Arts integration in the classroom: Reflections on theory and application. Applied Research in Child Development, 5, 1-10. SEDL. (2000). Action + reflection = learning.

    SEDL Technology Assistance Program, 3(2), 1.

    Stevenson, L. M., & Deasy, R. J. (2005). Third space: When learning matters. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

    Students: Research overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Werner, L., & Freeman, C. J. (2001). Arts for academic achievement: Arts Integration-A vehicle for changing teacher practice. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, College of Education and Human Development.

    Winner, E., & Hetland, L. (Eds). (2000). The arts and academic achievement: What the evidence shows Executive summary. Retrieved from

    This page titled 2.1: Selected Reading is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Molly Zhou & David Brown (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.