Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Arts Integration and Special Education Achievement

What is Arts Integration?
Arts Integration is using the arts (music, visual art, dance, drama, and creative writing) to teach non-arts standards (language arts, math, science, and social studies.) We know that students learn in different methods, especially students with disabilities and second language learners. Using the arts allows all students to participate in the curriculum in ways that traditional methods do not. 

“I’m not an artist! I can barely draw a straight line! I definitely can’t sing!” 

This was the number one concern when our staff found out we were selected to implement this program. That’s how we looked at it in the beginning, “Another program- give it a few months, maybe a year, and it would be gone, like all the others before it.” How wrong we were! After the first year, the staff was on fire and growing stronger in our teaching abilities. (We received several professional development classes and lots of hands-on experiences with the arts.) Standardized scores went up! This was a real feat since we are a Title I school with over 75% free and reduced lunch, a large percentage of special education students, and an even larger percentage of ELL students. Everyone expects schools with our demographics to make the state’s target list every year since schools with similar demographics without Arts Integration do not make the same gains. Since we have become an arts school, we have not made “the list” for our gains or achievement. 

How does Arts Integration work?

Arts Integration is a method, not a program. The core academic subjects that everyone is accustomed to teaching have to be looked at as equally important as the arts standards, which is why our school refers to the standards as arts and non-arts. Students need to be submersed in both standards to be well rounded people. 

While teaching a traditional skill such as verbs, teachers look for a natural connection to an arts discipline to work with. I found that Keith Haring created art with bold colors and few details that depicted some type of movement which was perfect for teaching verbs. I looked at his art work and found some key skills that are tied to state standards and combined those standards with my language arts standards. Key vocabulary is taught from both subject areas. In this case, students learned action verbs, primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors, positive space, and negative space. The lesson concluded with the students creating a piece of art in the style of Keith Haring. They had to choose one color for the positive space (a paper man with brads so the joints will move was traced in a position of the student’s choice) and a complimentary color for the negative space (background). They had to give their painting a title; an action verb that reflected the main idea and movement of their person. 

Yes, it is a lot of work to teach in this manner, but I only taught two lessons on action verbs and my students mastered it. That’s saying quite a bit, when you find out I teach a self-contained special education class where all of the students are working two or more years below grade level.
Is it worth the extra work? 
Yes! The students learn skills I didn’t previously believe to be possible. I spend less time re-teaching the same skills. I am able to move to more advanced skills that require students to think and generalize. In the last 3 years, I have been able to fully integrate three of my students back into the general classroom with resource support and I’m in the process of moving my fourth student back into the general classroom. Before AI (seven years), I didn’t have a single child that was able to be moved back with their general education peers. Arts Integration is a method of teaching that opens doors to students that nothing else has been able to do!


  1. this sounds amazing! I've heard a little about arts integration before and would love to learn more. Do you have any resources you would recommend? Thanks, and thanks for linking up!

    Ladybug's Teacher Files

  2. Thanks so much for celebrating the successes we see in the classroom!

    I love AI! It has completely changed the way I teach. Here are some links to my store at TpT. I have several AI lessons available.(List of a few titles at the bottom.) If you want more info about it, I would be happy to share anything that I have learned about it the last few years.

    Teaching Quotes Using Dr. Seuss
    Action Verbs and Keith Haring
    Adjectives in Art
    Compare and Contrast using O'Keeffe and Rousseau
    Earth Art
    Fact and Opinion using Kandinsky

  3. I love integrating art into the classroom. I will have to check out your TPT.

  4. Great article! For those interested in integrating art into the special education classroom there is a new art resource for teachers of students with disabilities. My book, Making Art Special - A Curriculum for Special Education Art, is filled with tips for designing lessons as well as 50 illustrated, step-by-step lessons. For more info go to or Amazon.

  5. Thanks for sharing your book Helen. It looks really amazing. It's the first book I've seen that looks like it actually teaches visual art standards to children in special ed! I think I know what some of my school funds will buy this year!
    Thanks again for sharing!


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