Arts Integration

Arts Integration

Integration incorporates the plan, implementation, and assessment of a lesson or unit with multiple priorities. Integration in Latin means "to make whole". In education, integrated teaching reflects more than one teaching priority and reflects curriculum integration (incorporating multiple content areas), skills integration (incorporating multiple skills), or a combination of both.


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Arts Integration Basics

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  1. Content (Arts, Social Studies, Science, Math, Language Arts, Health/P.E.)
  2. 21st Century Thinking Skills (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaborating, Communicating)
  3. Developmental Skills and Standards (Physical, Social, Emotional, Language, Cognitive)

Depending on the priorities and desired learning outcomes of the lesson/unit a teacher may arrive at an integrated lesson from multiple routes. In some cases, teachers begin by unpacking their curricular areas looking for shared topics and big ideas and skills. Other times teachers intuitively create an integrated learning opportunity out of a desire to teach the big idea in context or through application.

  • BIG IDEAS: What we want our students to KNOW. Big ideas are over-arching, cross-curricular themes that can be lessons, units, or yearlong. Big ideas help teachers avoid teaching "like a parade of facts" (Alleman, Knighton, & Brophy, p. 25).
  • SKILLS: What we want our students to DO. Skills are the verbs.




Regardless of how educators approach integration, the following would be considered essential elements to effective integration.


1. Integrity of the Subject

In examples of effective integration, the integrity of each subject area or skill is maintained. Content and skills are not minimized, diminished, or "watered down" in order to create an artificial connection or fit. Rather, each big idea maintains its integrity and regardless of whether it is taught separately or in an integrated way, the content maintains its essential characteristics, elements, and descriptors. A good way to test the integrity of an integrated plan is to ask "could a content specialist observe this lesson and still identify it with its content (e.g. science) or would it be so altered to be unrecognizable?"


2. Connects to Established Standards

Regardless of whether teachers start with standards or return to them after creating an integrated learning opportunity, it is important that the multiple priorities connect back to established standards. In an integrated lesson/unit what we teach in terms of content and skills directly relates back to the established curriculum standards, objectives, and indicators for our grade level and teaching area.


3. Instructional Purpose Directs Focus and Priority

Many teachers approach integration believing that in order for a lesson/unit to be considered integrated the multiple big ideas or skills must receive equal priority. There are multiple approaches and labels associated with integration. The important thing to remember is that the content areas or skills DO NOT have to be given equal number of standards or equal time. Most lessons have a content area that takes the lead or is the focus of the lesson. The purpose of the lesson should determine the focus. The disposition and training of the teacher as well as the needs of the student can also determine the priority.


4. Meaningful, Authentic and Seamless

When effective teachers integrate multiple big ideas and skills, they do so in authentic and seamless ways. The integrated learning experience needs to connect the multiple priorities in a natural way as the lesson/unit unfolds. Developmental authenticity connects big ideas and skills with appropriate developmental expectations for the age group being taught. Experiential authenticity connects multiple ideas and skills in a meaningful context. Content authenticity suggests that authentic cultural, historical, or societal connections are being made.


Definition of Arts Integration

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In an effort to synthesize the various definitions within the context of the BYU ARTS Partnership, a committee of professors, specialists, and teachers gathered to synthesize their thinking about arts integration.


BYU ARTS Partnership Framework

The BYU ARTS Partnership believes that arts integration in schools is essential to the human experience. The degree to which teachers implement the arts will vary depending on teacher background, student needs, and curricular needs. There are multiple entry points along a continuum towards arts integration. We support and educate teachers as they provide arts experiences (infusion, enhancement, enrichment, etc.) in their instruction and apply arts integration towards exceptional learning outcomes. We encourage, advocate, and facilitate improved practice in arts integrated instruction leading to student growth.


BYU ARTS Partnership Definition

Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students are engaged in creative processes by exploring, reflecting, interpreting, connecting, applying and demonstrating knowledge of specific objectives in multiple content areas. Integration occurs when learned and applied skills in multiple content areas synergistically and authentically connect to each other. Authentic integration reflects students' life experience and prepares them to contribute positively to society.





In an effort to establish the essential characteristics of effective arts integration, it is helpful to examine how various professional entities define integration. In reviewing the various definitions, look for the elements of arts integration: integrity of the subject, connects to established standards, instructional purpose directs focus and priority, and is meaningful, authentic, and seamless.



Arts integration is instruction that integrates content and skills from the arts - dance, music, theatre and the visual arts - with other core subjects. Arts Integration occurs when there is a seamless blending of content and skills between an art form and a co-curricular subject. Read more here. 



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. Read more here.



Integration resists simply depicting subject matter outside art, addressing social issues through art, or placing art in its sociocultural context. It is a pedagogy that goes deeper and broader than these applications; it involves making conceptual connections that underlie art and other disciplines. Connecting art to other areas of inquiry in a substantive, integrative way not only reveals the foundations of each discipline, but also makes for sound pedagogy because it is congruent with the way the mind works- how we think and learn; highlights and promotes learning, especially learning for understanding and transfer; and catalyzes creativity.

Marshall, J. (2005). Connecting Art, Learning, and Creativity: A Case for Curriculum Integration. Art Education, 46(3), Academic Research Library.



In a non-integrated environment, children move from one subject to another, making no links or connections among them and learning the skills, knowledge, and understandings of each subject within the closed doors of that particular subject. A nonexample of integration includes programs that lose all integrity within the individual subjects. These programs end up being superficial activities loosely based on a theme, but with little depth or meaningful outcomes in any subject. Each of the subjects across the curriculum may lose their integrity and significant outcomes may be sacrificed to integrate for the sake of integration. nnected, and meaningful learning experiences. Children are achieving discrete indicators and outcomes in each of the subjects and/or art forms but are also engaging in authentic learning within a meaningful, holistic context and being given the opportunity to develop generic skills as well. This type of integration provides students with multi-faceted, in-depth learning experiences that challenge them both emotionally and intellectually. Russell-Bowie, D. (2009). Syntegration or disintegration? Models of integrating the arts across the primary curriculum.

International Journal of Education & the Arts, 10(28). Retrieved [date] from


Arts integration is instruction that blends content and skills from one arts discipline-music, visual arts, dance, and theater-with another arts discipline or academic subject. The most successful arts integration is more than academics with arts activities added on. Successful arts integration stands on a foundation of carefully planned learning goals. Read more here.



Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together. It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically alongside meaningful assessments which take both content areas to a whole new level. Read more here.



Arts integration is bringing together arts and non-arts objectives to create hands-on, experiential, connected, and meaningful learning experiences. Read more here



Integration involves combining diverse elements into harmonious wholes with a synergistic result. Synergisms are valued because, while individual elements maintain their integrity, the "sum is more than all the parts".

Cornett, C. (2014). Creating Meaning through Literature and the Arts: Arts Integration for Classroom Teachers (5th Edition). Pearson.



An instructional strategy that brings the arts into the core of the school day and connects the arts across the curriculum.

Rabkin, N. & Redmond, R. (2006). Helping Struggling Students. Educational Leadership, 63(5), pp. 60-64



[Arts integration is] learning that takes place when arts are integrated into other subject areas to enhance instruction. Students are afforded the opportunity to learn subject matter with arts as an entry point. Teachers may use music, visual arts, or drama to introduce or strengthen an academic subject.

Caterrall, J. (1998). Does Experience in the Arts Boost Academic Achievement? A Response to Eisner. Art Education, 51(4).

Models of Integration

More Than One Way to Do It

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"To the young mind everything is individual, stands by itself.  By and by, it finds how to join two things and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand . . . discovering roots running underground whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower from one stem (Emerson, 1906, n.p.)."  



The concept of curriculum integration can be confusing for administrators and teachers as there are multiple definitions and models that vary from source to source.  The words surrounding integration are sometimes used inconsistently and interchangeably depending on the source (Fogarty, 1991; Hall-Kenyon & Smith, 2013; Wall & Leckie, 2017).  So, what is an integrated curriculum?  The definition needs to remain broad because there are different types and models of integration.  Drake and Burns (2004) stated that "in its simplest conception, it is about making connections" (n.p.) across disciplines.  It helps learners discover the roots running between the disciplines.  The depth of these connections depends on the educator's goals as they design an integrated curriculum to best meet the needs of their learners.  Once a teacher identifies these goals, they can utilize the concepts behind the various models of integration to create engaging and authentic learning experiences.




Drake (2014) created categories for understanding the different levels of integration to help teachers make informed decisions when designing a curriculum.  They include (a) multidisciplinary integration, (b) interdisciplinary integration, and (c) transdisciplinary integration. Each of these categories differs in its organizing center and is influenced by a different conception of how knowledge is best acquired.  These conceptions of knowledge acquisition also impact the degree of integration (e.g., mild, moderate, intense) and the role of the discipline in the design.




This mild category of integration connects with the idea that "knowledge [is] best learned through the structure of the [individual] disciplines" (Drake & Burns, n.p.) while making connections between them.  In multidisciplinary integration the content areas are organized around a unifying theme but remain distinct (see Figure 1). In science, the children are engaged in scientific practices; in math, they are learning mathematical concepts; in music, they are creating, performing, or responding to compositions. However, a unifying "theme guides the selection of learning activities and texts in the multiple content areas" (Hall & Smith, 2013).  

In elementary schools, this type of integration is sometimes seen when children visit different learning centers focusing on a common theme.  Each learning center provides learning activities drawn from the standards of the disciplines. For example, one kindergarten teacher organized her multidisciplinary curriculum around the theme All About Me.  At the math center, the students created graphs representing the number of people in their families; at the literacy center, they wrote opinion pieces about their favorite things; at the social studies center they made lists of their friends along with ways to be a good friend; and at the art center, they created self-portraits.  
Multidisciplinary integration is sometimes seen in secondary schools.  Students might study the universal law of gravitation in their science class, read an Isaac Newton biography in English class, and learn about the impact of the scientific revolution in history class.  

Multidisciplinary Graphic

Adapted from: Drake, S.M., & Burns, R.C. (2004)


A sub-category of multidisciplinary integration is intradisciplinary integration seen when a teacher integrates the subdisciplines of one content area around a unifying theme (see Figure 2).  For example, using Autumn as a theme, a teacher could create an intradisciplinary study focusing the subdisciplines of the fine arts.  In music, students could listen to Vivaldi's Autumn identifying elements of the piece that create images of the season; in dance, they could explore movement inspired by the music.  In visual arts, students could create art pieces for a fall-themed art exhibit and in drama, they could perform poems from Autumnblings (Florian, 2003) using voice to communicate meaning.


info graphic

Adapted from: Drake, S.M., & Burns, R.C. (2004)


One challenge of multidisciplinary integration is maintaining the integrity of the disciplines.  Themes should provide rich opportunities for authentic and rigorous learning experiences in various disciplines. Insignificant or "cute" themes should be avoided. Before creating the study, teachers should identify several core understandings surrounding the theme that will guide the development of the curriculum.  For example, a study based on the theme Our Community might have the following core understandings: (a) We have responsibilities as members of a community, (b) People in our community have similarities and differences, and (c) All members of our community contribute to its success.  Once identifying the core understandings, the teacher determines which disciplines best support them. If there is not an authentic connection with relevant learning standards, the content area should not be included in the study. In the above example, it may be difficult to find a relevant science connection. If that is the case, it should be omitted from the multidisciplinary model.  



This moderate category of integration supports the concept that "disciplines are connected by common concepts and skills" (Drake & Burns, n.p.).  One of these concepts or skills becomes the organizing center of an interdisciplinary study (see Figure 3).  For example, the skill of comparing and contrasting is utilized in multiple disciplines including literacy, science, social studies, mathematics, and the arts.  Because it is common across disciplines, this skill might become the center of an interdisciplinary study.  In literacy, students could learn the vocabulary used in compare/contrast texts (i.e., similar, different, alike, in comparison, in common, in contrast); in science, they could use the vocabulary to record their scientific observations; in drama, they could describe the similarities and differences between two versions of the same scene.  The skill is intentionally taught, reinforced, and assessed within the context of each discipline (Hall & Smith, 2013).  Again, teachers should only make authentic curriculum connections.  If a skill or concept is not an element of a discipline, that content-area should not be included in interdisciplinary integration model.  


Info Graphic


Adapted from: Drake, S.M., & Burns, R.C. (2004)



This intense category of integration is based on the concept that "all knowledge is interconnected and interdependent" (Drake & Burns, 2013, n.p.).  The organizing center is a real-life problem or context and/or student questions (see Figure 4) that emerge from students rather than the teacher. The disciplines utilized may identified, but the focus is on solving the problem and/or answering the questions.  In transdisciplinary integration, the teacher plays the role of co-learner and co-planner. These studies can be long- or short-term as the length is dedicated by interest of the students and almost always include on-site research work outside of the classroom.

One way a teacher could implement a transdisciplinary study is by using project- or problem-based learning where students seek to find solutions to a relevant issue.  Projects can be long-term or short-term depending on problem or questions.  Katz (2014) and Drake and Burns (2004) suggest using the following three phases for project-based learning:

  1. Phase 1 - "Teachers and students select a topic of study based on student interests, curriculum standards, and local resources" (Drake & Burn, 2004, n.p.).  
  2. Phase 2 - Teachers access students' prior knowledge and experience and assist them in generating questions that will lead to exploration and new understandings.  
  3. Phase 3 - "[S]tudents share their work with others in a culminating activity . . . [and] display the results of their exploration" (Drake & Burns, 2004, n.p.), review the learning experience, and assess their new understandings.  

After her students found a wasp's nest under the slide on the playground, one kindergarten teacher designed a project based on her students' questions about animals that build nests.  The students drew pictures of animals nests they previously experienced in their local environment and generated a list of questions to guide their explorations.  The teacher invited an entomologist to visit the classroom to explain how wasps build their nests, provided books and websites with information about animal nests, and arranged a field visit to a local museum with a large collection of nests.  While at the museum, the students made observational drawings of the animals and their nests, used string to measure the size of the nests, and interviewed museum docents.  For their culminating activity, the students each created an animal nest using natural and synthetic materials. They also drew a picture of their animal accompanied by a short informational text.  Using their nests, pictures, and texts as exhibits, they created a classroom museum inviting peers and families to visit.  The teacher documented their learning journey using photographs, artifacts, and narratives displayed on a classroom wall.  Though the focus of this project was answering their questions about nest-building animals, students did meet standards in multiple disciplines including science, literacy, mathematics, and visual arts.



Adapted from: Drake, S.M., & Burns, R.C. (2004)



Though there are significant differences between the different types of integration, they should share the following common characteristics (California Connect, n.d.):

  1. Academic rigor - Design studies to address identified learning standards.
  2. Authenticity - Use real-world contexts (i.e., home, school, community).
  3. Active Exploration - Include learning activities that promote active construction of knowledge.

As teachers attend to each of these characteristics as they design integrated studies, children's engagement and learning will increase as they discover "roots running underground whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower from one stem" (Emerson, 1904, n.p)




Connect California (n.d.).  What is multidisciplinary integrated curriculum? Retrieved from:

Drake, S. M. (2012). Creating standards-based integrated curriculum.  Thousands Oaks, CA:  Corwin.  

Drake, S.M., & Burns, R.C. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Retrieved from:

Emerson, R.W. (1906). The American scholar. In W. J. Bryan and F. W. Halsey’s (Eds.) The World’s Famous Orations (1781-1837).  Retrieved from:

Florian, D. (2003). Autumnblings.  New York, NY:  Greenwillow.  

Fogarty, R. (1991).  Ten ways to integrate curriculum.  Educational Leadership, 49(2), 61-65.

Hall-Kenyon, K., & Smith, L.K. 2013).  Negotiating a shared definition of curriculum integration:  A self-study of two teacher educators from different disciplines, Teacher Education Quarterly, (40)2, 89-108.

Wall, A., & Leckie, A. (2017). Curriculum integration:  An overview, Current Issues in Middle Level Education 22(1), 36-40.


Dr. Kathryn Lake MacKay, Assistant Professor, Department of Teacher Education, Brigham Young University