Introduction to Curriculum Integration
What is Integration?
The term integration literally means "to combine into a whole." Thus, when integrating curricula, the emphasis in on a comprehensive understanding of a "whole," rather than many unrelated "parts." With Constructivism, teachers and students are working together to build an education based upon what students' experiences are and what they know, so that learning becomes meaningful. Gestalt theory states that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." So, when we talk about integrating the curriculum, we are really talking about helping students to gain comprehensive understandings within and across various disciplines.
With the current emphasis on the ABC's of Public Education, local- and state-mandated assessments, and the need for accountability of arts education programs, it is extremely important to educate and inform administrators, teachers, parents, and the general public about the role of the arts in the education of every child. Additionally, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was signed into law by President Bush in January 2002, stipulates that all children must become proficient, as defined by the state, within twelve years. While the arts are included as a core subject area within NCLB, it is important to note that the key provisions of the act are directly related to testing and demonstrating proficiency in reading and mathematics (and eventually science).
The following is taken from the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study and Grade Level Competencies, K-12, 2000, which emphasizes the comprehensive nature of arts education programs:
"Arts Education should promote interdisciplinary study; and integration among and across the arts and other disciplines' because forging these kinds of connections is one of the things the arts do best, they can and should be taught in ways that connect them to each other and to other subjects. Significantly, building connections in this way gives students the chance to understand wholes, parts, and their relationships. "
Within the National Standards for Arts Education and the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study (SCS), each of the arts areas: dance, music, theatre arts and visual arts have multiple goals and objectives that address the need for content integration. Goals that specifically lend themselves to content integration are outlined below:
Goal 3: The learner will understand that dance can create and communicate meaning (National Standard 3).
Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate and understand dance in various cultures and historical periods (National Standard 5).
Goal 6: The learner will make connections between dance and healthful living (National Standard 6).
Goal 7: The learner will make connections between dance and other content areas (National Standard 7).
Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts (National Standard 8).
Goal 9: The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture (National Standard 9).
Goal 1: The learner will write based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history (National Standard 1).
Goal 5: The learner will research by finding information to support informal or formal productions (National Standard 5).
Goal 6: The learner will compare and integrate art forms by analyzing theatre, dance, music, visual arts, and new art forms (National Standard 6).
Goal 4: The learner will choose and evaluate a range of subject matter and ideas to communicate intended meaning in artworks (National Standard 3).
Goal 5: The learner will understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures (National Standard 4).
Goal 7: The learner will perceive connections between visual arts and other disciplines (National Standard 6).
Perhaps most importantly, conscious efforts to integrate the curriculum:
helps students gain comprehensive understandings within the arts areas being studied;
helps students gain insights and understandings in other areas of the curriculum;
and helps students make connections within and across disciplines or content areas.
Criteria for Integration
Each arts education area has a Standard Course of Study, which specifies what students should know and be able to do as a result of instruction in that particular area. Making connections does not mean sacrificing the integrity of the program, but rather finding common elements that naturally lend themselves to helping students gain understanding within and across content areas.
Before attempting to integrate instruction with an activity, lesson or unit, a teacher should ask him/herself the following questions:
Can I teach the goals and objectives of my curriculum with the topic being considered? (The teacher should then define the objectives and the criteria for achievement).
Will my efforts to integrate most likely increase student learning and understanding? (Is it relevant)?
How will what I do affect students' learning? (Identify the outcomes - your personal outcomes and the expected outcomes for the other area(s) being studied with the integrated lesson or unit).
If a lesson/activity/unit can not be justified through the above factors, it is probably not worthwhile or appropriate to integrate. For true integration to occur, it is essential for communication to take place between arts education teachers and classroom or other area teachers. Some ideas for making this connection with other teachers are included at the end of this article.
Integrating instruction when appropriate and possible helps to provide students with an understanding of the relationship of parts to a whole. It provides students with a means for making learning their own. Your efforts to help students make connections may provide links to students who may not be reached in other ways. Collaborating with other teachers improves relationships, increases knowledge, and cultivates appreciation for all areas of study. Integration can help to build parent, administrator, and public support for your arts education program. Finally, integration is an important means for educating the whole child.
The following is taken from Arts Education K-12: Integrating with Reading, Writing, Math, and Other Areas of the Curriculum, which may be accessed on-line in its entirety through NCDPI Publications: www.ncpublicschools.org:
"In the past, we have tended to look at production/performance as the chief end for arts curricula. Our new responsibilities have come about chiefly as a result of arts education being included in the basic curriculum, as opposed to being formerly extracurricular. As arts educators, we do not have to choose between quality performance and integrating arts instruction with the rest of the curriculum. Integration does not minimize or otherwise adversely affect quality performance. In fact, it enhances production/performance by giving students a better understanding of what they are doing and, more often than not, significantly improves the resulting performance or product because of this understanding.
Those who would call for the teaching of art for arts sake fail to understand the breadth of what is implied in the arts. The arts do not exist in a vacuum and need to be connected to life and learning as much as possible. Integration is not a way of "justifying" the arts by relating them to reading, writing and mathematics. It is a way of showing how the arts are fundamentally connected to all other branches of knowledge and how those branches are connected to the arts."
Suggestions to facilitate integration across content areas, assist with communication, and map and align the curriculum within and across grade levels and areas:
Display a dry erase board, chart, hallway display, or bulletin board calendar in a central location for one or more months at a time. Have all teachers write what curriculum units and objectives they are teaching during this time period. Include student examples, if desired.
Use written communication between teachers to facilitate the integration of subject matter. A letter could be sent out requesting units of study and time periods in which these units would be taught from all teachers. These timelines of study could be collected and housed in a location that all teachers would have access to (media center, workroom, office, etc).
Use common planning times (before or after school, workdays, etc) for teachers to meet and discuss interdisciplinary units of study. Meeting in person will allow teachers to brainstorm ways in which the curricula may overlap, describe in-depth instructional strategies and objectives for teaching the unit of study, create maps to outline the study, and plan how and when the unit will be taught.
Participate with grade levels or teams in school-wide curriculum mapping and alignment. Explore the curriculum at various grade levels/courses and educate other teachers about the goals and objectives of your area.
Collaborate with teachers and administrators to present "informances" at PTA or other school events, as a means to educate the school community about your program, how your curriculum helps to educate students in your and other areas, and the process for how students learn the SCS.
Use newsletters to educate students, staff, and parents of important aspects of your program and how your program fits into the total school program.
Be proactive! Regularly invite teachers, parents, and administrators into your classes so they can see how you are delivering your content as well as making connections within and across other content areas.