Adapting Arts Integration Units for Your Classroom

Are you interested in using one of the published units on our PAINT website, or in using arts-integrated curriculum you found in another collection? Maybe you like many things about the unit, but you know it will require some adapting to make it work in your classroom, and figuring out what to adapt is puzzling. As you begin to make it your own keep in mind the categories of learning called for, the kinds of artistic processes students are using, and the benchmarks for grade ranges just above and just below those you are teaching.

I’ll explain.

To start, an important finding  from Minneapolis’ Arts for Academic Achievement (AAA) was that non-arts, classroom teachers learned new activities for assessing student learning from teaching artists who partnered with them to plan and deliver instruction. AAA is a well-researched, large-scale, arts integration project we’ve learned from as we designed the Perpich Arts Integration Network of Teachers. In AAA an exchange went on between teaching artists and teachers that didn’t depend on them having a shared content area or classroom population. Teachers ended up being able to recognize and use the engaging assessment activities used by the teaching artists and they adapted them to their every day classroom needs.

So, how do you go about adapting an arts integration activity to fit your classroom needs?

A couple of useful rules of thumb can help.

Rule of thumb #1 - Compare the learning categories: Even though students from Kindergarten to 12th grade experience a broad array of subjects, the way benchmarks talk about student learning can be grouped into into 4 very distinct chunks: knowledge/recall, skill, reasoning and performance/product, and each kind of learning is best aligned with particular kinds of assessment activities. These categories were developed by Rick Stiggins and the Assessment Training Institute by closely analyzing standards benchmarks across all subjects in many locations. The four categories simplify the work of reading and comparing benchmarks, learning goals and assessment activities.

So the first clue for making a translation may be to identify the learning target described by the active verb in a benchmark, and determine how it compares to the learning target you are designing instruction and assessment for. If you’re after the same target, you may be surprised at how easy it is to adapt an assessment in one subject for learning in another subject.

Rule of thumb #2 - Compare the arts processes: Whether you are working with literary art, dance, media arts, music, theatre & dramatic arts, or visual arts, all arts can engage people in creating, performing and responding. The structure of the Minnesota academic standards in the arts is based on creating, performing and responding in the arts.

A second useful clue may be to identify the artistic process being applied in the unit you are working to modify for your classroom. For example, are students creating, or performing, or responding, or some combination of these? Then, you can compare the kind of artistic activity in a model lesson to what you and your collaborators are designing in your arts-integrated unit. You may find similar assessments of learning useful for students engaged in similar arts processes.

Rule of thumb #3 - Be aware of benchmarks above and below the grade you are teaching: Standards in each content area are designed to highlight possible developmental pathways and expectations for student learning. The Minnesota Academic Standards in the Arts follow a four-step sequence: grades K-3, 4-5, 6-8 and high school. Other content areas are written in year-by-year sequences. Districts may further refine developmental pathways in their curriculum maps that detail expectations by semester, quarter or unit-by-unit.

Adapting model units recognizes the possibility that students may have had more or less access to regular sequential arts instruction. For example, you may be teaching high school students who had regular arts instruction in grades K-5, but not since then. As you design arts-integrated instruction you might weigh the usefulness of using middle school benchmarks to help students bridge their arts learning gap in grades 6 - 8 as they work toward the high school arts benchmarks.

In whole, or in part, units can be translated across arts & non-arts subjects, grade levels and student populations. Interested? Need help? Contact one of the Perpich arts integration facilitators to meet with you and your colleagues to figure out next steps.

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