Arts Integration vs. Arts Infusion

I just got back from a Arts Integration Seminar/Conference thing.  The day was helpful, but perhaps not in the way the presenters expected or hoped for.  I left the conference today with a love-hate relationship of arts integration and a further understanding and passion for arts infusion (which my home teaching building is based on).

Today was all about arts integration - how to integrate core subjects into art.  While this sounds amazing and something that would benefit everyone, there are a few drawbacks that weren't discussed today - or perhaps others don't see them as drawbacks.

When it comes to arts integration, I have a love-hate relationship.  Which comes from the fact, or my interpretation, that it is all about connecting core subjects into the arts - but not the other way around.  Rarely are there grade level teachers looking to find art standards to fit into their subjects - if anything they look at their core subject and try and add art.  The presenters today stressed that true arts integration would hit standards in both the core subject and the art subject at the same time - making them equal partners in the project.  Don't see an issue with that?  I didn't at first either - I thought "Great- I love this! - Kids learn about pattern and texture in my class anyway, why not teach it through the african animals unit the 1st graders are learning about in class."  Then is slowly started to sink in - the hate of arts integration.

So wait, the core teachers teach what they teach and then I bend my ENTIRE curriculum around what they teach.  That doesn't seem right, but if it is better for the kids - then okay I can get past that.

Then I started to think more about how I would have taught patterns, with out integration  - perhaps the kids are missing out on a bigger world and a bigger picture if I teach it focused on African animals.  Perhaps I was going to teach pattern and texture through famous artworks and illustrations like Vincent Van Gogh and "Where the Wild Things Are".  So now the kids don't know about patterns and textures in other contexts - but they know A LOT about African Animals.

I suppose you could argue either way for which one is better.  Do they master one subject or have knowledge of many, but mastery of none?

But wait -- maybe we are missing the whole point!!  Was the point that the kids learned about African animals or was the point to learn about patterns and texture or both?

If the point was to learn about African animals - then the arts integration did it's job just fine.  If the idea was to enhance and learn about texture and patterns then arts integration failed the students, because it pigeon-holed their learning experience.

This is where my deeper understanding and growing passion for Arts Infusion comes in.  If the idea was to teach kids more about the concept of patterns and textures than about African animals - then using different world experiences to explore this concept is better.  For example when they come to art and they look at Vincent Van Gogh they can use that prior experience with the animal print to understand texture in a new way.  They will read the illustrations in 'Where the Wild Things Are' and have another understanding of pattern and visual texture. - it will help them understand quicker but also deeper.  Perhaps then when they go to music, in a month, and the word 'texture' and 'pattern' shows up there they will be able to expand their thinking even further - deepening this concept that keeps popping up.  THEN, what if when they are learning long division they recognize that there is a pattern - which helps them learn long division faster and deeper because they understand truly what patterns are.  Once you learn about African animals, you can compare them to other animals - but that doesn't translate to math very well.

This, to me, seems like a better use of my time and my student's brains.  Could I do projects that coordinate with grade level curriculum - sure could, but not a normal basis - (there are times for integration, more on that later.)  I will, however, provide opportunities for my students to connect concepts and ideas across subjects and ideas.  This, I feel, will deepen my students learning as well as enhance their own education - it provides the students with the control of their learning as opposed to me telling them what they should learn.

In other words - which might be more concise than my reflective ramblings above.

Arts Integration: Art Subject = Core Subject  Standards in both should be equally met and explored.  This is planned by the teachers, it is quantifiable.  The arts are USED to enhance core subjects.
"Arts Integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form" -- (Defining Arts Integration by Lynne B. Silverstein and Sean Layne)

Arts Infusion: Art Concept or Core Concept is taught in a way that provides an opportunity to connect to another subject for deeper understanding.  The opportunity is planned - but the connection is up to the student.  This is far more organic and non-quantifiable.  Arts are not used to enhance - but rather both subject areas are providing equal compliments and connections to each other and the real world. "Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area that meets evolving objectives in both." (Defining Arts Integration by Lynne B. Silverstein and Sean Layne)

While the quotes from above are from the same "Definition" of arts integration - I feel they mean different things, thus why they are split for me.  Often times people use "arts integration" and "arts infusion" interchangeably and I don't believe they are the same thing.  Arts infusion can be arts integration, but arts integration is not arts infusion.

I feel arts infusion allows the arts to be as they are - to be honored as their own curriculum, their own history, their own specialized field that has something to give to humanity.  Where in arts integration I feel the arts become second to the grade levels - less important, and used as a tool.

I strongly feel that the arts have plenty to offer and can stand on their own --- they don't need to be watered down and attached to math problems.  Visual art, music, drama, and dance connect us as humans - all the arts have been with us since the beginning of man.  There is no reason why the arts can't be important on their own and still contribute to core education.  I believe it should be done through connecting concepts (pattern, categorizing, visualizing...) instead of connecting subjects (african animals, pilgrims).

The world is so much bigger than subjects and it seems to me that students would be stronger thinkers and problem solvers if they learned to see connections between events rather that a specific event.

Now, don't get me wrong learning A LOT about a specific event is valuable and needed, but, I believe, in moderation.  Arts integration does a fabulous job approaching a specific theme/event from different perspectives - which, in the right context I love (back to that love-hate of mine) and find valuable.

 For example - we do a HUGE 5th grade production.  Students help us from the beginning to the end.  They brainstorm settings, character, plot, endings - you name it.  The drama teacher writes the majority of the script, but takes student suggestions.  Then later the kids get jobs they audition/sign up for.  Students can be actors, set designers, dances, or musicians.  Then for 8 weeks students go to those jobs and learn about them in relationship to the 5th grade production.  The set designers do the sets, dancers choreograph, musicians compose, and actors learn their roles (voice inflection, blocking... etc).  This is arts integration at its finest - the kids learn all about one subject from different view points.  It's AMAZING (and a lot of work).  So I totally understand and appreciate the value of arts integration, but i also feel that arts infusion, as a general rule -- has
more to offer to students.  Arts infusions asks students to make connections and be present with their learning - where arts integration lets them be more passive.

Overall - both arts infusion and arts integration provide kids with deeper experiences surrounding their life.  Neither is bad nor good - neither is right or wrong.  Do I think one provides more opportunity for deeper thinking - yes.  Does one do a better job mastering knowledge of one event - yes.

I feel arts infusion helps "students make meaningful connections, become agents of their own learning, take risks through exploration, develop flexible thinking skills, envision different vantage points, and respond to new possibilities." (Studies cited in Changing Education Through the Arts: Final Evaluation Report 2005-08)


Leslie McReynolds said...

Awesome post! You nailed it perfectly!

Diana Green said...

I agree with everything you say using your understanding of arts integration. But I think you are missing the "equal and significant" part. And you are not connecting "standard to standard". My Kennedy Center friend Karen Erickson, who teaches arts integration beautifully, would say your example of connecting pattern to animals is an arts standard connected to a science activity or content. No wonder you would be unhappy as you would not be focusing at all the importance of pattern: how it communicates, why it exists, or doesn't, and when you would use pattern in your art and when you would not, and what is a pattern anyway, and how do you identify pattern?. These are the higher order explorations we should be encouraging in our students in the arts and in other subjects. In a really strong science visual arts integrated lesson focused on pattern, you might explore why patterns exist in nature, and as an example an animal might be used, but it is not the only thing. It also might be a flower, or fungus on a tree, or a sea shell and all of a sudden students are exploring all kinds of patterns and learning in art and in nature that there are many ways to see and use pattern. Drawing patterns in nature certainly benefits both subjects.

Not every concept is a good fit between subjects. But I will tell you that I can really enhance the learning for community and trust and partnership building that is required in academic curriculum, by teaching the skills necessary to perform weight sharing and partnering work in dance. And it zeroes in on the strongest learning possible for both dance and social studies. The kids get it and they never forget.

I work with arts educators regulary to help them collaborate with other teachers and I always say they MUST NEVER water down their standards. It is not good for the art or the other subject, as you say. You are definitely describing a watered down arts integration model, which I agree is not efficient or particularly effective. But when you get it right, you will see something miraculous happen. The caveat is that the arts content has to be strong and standards based to work. And sometimes you need time to just plain focus on the art and sometimes science needs to focus on science. Not every lesson should be integrated, and all teaching should be accomplished by experts in their field.
Sorry I am responding so late. I was just searching for how infusion and integration are interchanged without clarity to decide if we should use either term in our work and came across this blog. I am beginning to think there is too much history behind both terms and that we should start orchestrating artist/classroom teacher collaborations taught by experts in their fields who contribute equally to the curriculum design.

I definitely hear your frustration and as an arts educator myself I started working in arts integration because I was really mad about the watered down dance lesson plans I was seeing. I decided I needed to get involved to promote high quality art in arts integration.

Ms Novak said...

I agree with you and the idea that arts integration could be totally amazing - but most of the time, arts integration waters down the arts and pretends to be enriching.