Integrated Learning is Powerful Learning

by | Oct 6, 2023

Speaker in a room full of people talking about the power of arts integration at Angel Oak Elementary School

How Educators are Bringing Learning to Life in the Classroom and Beyond


This morning, teachers and students at Powder Springs Elementary School (PSES) in Powder Springs, Georgia, are all abuzz. They are preparing for their "Arts Integration Demonstration Day," their opportunity to showcase projects and achievements from the school's arts-integrated lessons and classes. Having heard of PSES's success with integrated learning, parents, administrators, and educators from all over Georgia and the Southeast are attending today's demonstrations to see first-hand how the program and process works.

In the auditorium, a crowd is gathering for an upcoming student performance. The sign in the foyer, "Dance Poetry," piques the visitors' curiosity. To most, the two subjects, "dance" and "poetry," seem worlds apart from where they might fall on the education spectrum. While "dance" conjures up thoughts of choreography and movement, "poetry" suggests reading, writing, and the spoken word. Today, the visitors of Powder Springs Elementary will experience how the two weave together, making integrated learning a powerful education platform for literacy.


What is Arts Integration?

Experts note that arts integration is an approach or methodology rather than a specific curriculum. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as "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 meet evolving objectives in both."

In our example of the Powder Springs Elementary "Dance Poetry" performance, teachers guided the creative process of understanding dance as a form of communication. Students learned to comprehend literature and informational texts and translate them into real and imagined choreographed scenes and events. Also, by understanding dance etiquette as a performer and an observer, the students build their critical and creative thinking skills.

Arts integration is guided by active, experiential, and collaborative learning principles. In an arts-integrated curriculum, the arts become the approach to teaching and the vehicle for learning. Students can meet dual learning objectives through a creative process by connecting an art form to another subject to better understand both. Arts integration incorporates the five recognized arts disciplines: visual arts, dance, theater, music, and digital media. In addition, there are common core standards and practices that align with arts integration and underscore the process:

  • Drawing on students' prior knowledge of a subject
  • Providing a real-life example of a problem for the students to solve
  • Arranging opportunities for the students to share feedback and learn from each other's perspectives and experiences
  • Emphasizing peer assessment and evaluation
  • Empowering students to take risks and explore possibilities


Positive Impact on Teachers, Students, and School Communities

In multiple studies, arts integration has been linked to a positive impact on teachers and students. When supported with training and integrated lesson development, both teaching and learning are optimized.

Teachers who participate in arts-integrated professional development partner with consultants to expand their teaching practices and curriculum design abilities. They report greater confidence in their teaching and a greater capacity to reach different levels of learners with strategies that bring a positive, creative energy to the classroom.

Students participating in an arts-integrated curriculum show more significant engagement with their teachers and peers. Students have more substantial improvement in standardized test scores. Research shows that access to this type of learning greatly benefits all students and especially impacts students from economically disadvantaged communities and those who are often reluctant learners.

Administrators, teachers, and students and their families, like those at Powder Springs Elementary School, report that participation in arts-integrated programs have demonstrated the greatest impact in these areas:

  • Enhanced critical thinking skills and more responsible problem-solving
  • Greater collaboration and partnership
  • Increased self-awareness and self-management
  • Improved social engagement and peer relationships
  • Higher class attendance
  • Decreased classroom disruptions and disciplinary referrals


The Ongoing Need for Arts Integration

Today's challenges in and out of the classroom are barriers to student engagement and teacher effectiveness. In addition to student anxiety and social media, schools face challenges caused by a focus on standardized testing and a narrowing of the curriculum.

Arts-integrated programming is uniquely positioned to help educators and administrators positively impact student engagement and teacher effectiveness. The integrated curriculum reduces the personal and academic achievement gap among students by raising – and then surpassing – the threshold for learning and development.

Arts integration directly addresses the need for students to gain the critical skills to thrive in the 21st-century version of school, work, and life. Learning through the arts designs dynamic learning environments, inspiring teachers and their students to think creatively and engage in new ways.

As Powder Springs Elementary School powerfully illustrates, teachers and students are more likely to thrive in schools that create strong, positive energy produced by a curriculum fueled by arts integration.