Voices in Education

Arts Integration Isn't as Daunting as You Might Think

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The Oscars are almost upon us. It is always exciting for me to see the different award categories – pretty comprehensive in covering various realms of the arts. There’s Best Makeup, Best Original Score, and Best Original Story. As an art teacher, I appreciate these categories. However, I always wonder about the concept of ranking and selecting “winners” in the arts. To do that, artistic products must be compared. Comparing artistic products is not easy because understanding the processes that result in artistic products is difficult to do.

I think this is one reason that many teachers tell me they do not understand the concept of Arts Integration. The Kennedy Center describes Arts Integration  as “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. If an educator doesn’t have any arts background, achieving this can seem daunting.”

However, I do not think this is as complicated as it seems by the definition. It really just involves having students think creatively through a process to produce a product. I’ve been involved in arts-integrated teaching for many years. I’ve seen lots of teachers have light bulb moments after seeing a lesson broken down into steps. I routinely write about these types of projects and break them down into steps on my personal blog, Party in the Art Room. I mention it here because it is a resource that I produce in my free time and make available to teachers so more students across the globe can have access to learning through the arts.

Here are two examples of arts-integrated lessons that I’ve used with students that I’d like to share.

Fraction Quilts

Step 1: Describe the project. Students can use almost anything to add color to quilt square sections. Then, they can find the fractions that correspond with each design. Essentially, they are creating a visual representation of the mathematical concept. Here is an example of a quilt square that was created using colored permanent markers.

Step 2: Introduce students to monochromatic colors before being asked to complete the artwork. Discuss the additional art vocabulary words and math equations involved to ensure understanding. 

Step 3: After the art is created, the student completes the following chart to represent the mathematical concepts that correspond to the artwork.

Step 4: Have students think about their work by writing down their reflections on a worksheet.

Note: As presented, this lesson asks students to find fractions based on an image they create. However, students can also take fractions assigned by the teacher and create an image based on those. For instance, the teacher could give the student four fractions (say 8/32, 4/32, 16/32, 4/32). Then, the student would create a pattern to correspond with those fractions. Both ways have value, and it might even be beneficial to have students do both versions. That way they are reading and writing fractions.

I think the reflection is a crucial piece to this lesson. In fact, reflection is very important to any work, especially arts-integrated work. This reflection shows that the student can use essential vocabulary from the lesson (monochromatic, reduce, divide). The teacher can easily see if the student is understanding and using the strategies that have been taught.


We hosted Terrence Roberts, a teaching artist at my school for two days. He goes by the name of Da Story Weaver. He is a griot, a storyteller, in the West African tradition of Jaliyaa. Da Story Weaver has been to our school many times and always brings very interesting instruments to use in his storytelling.

These two photographs are of Da Story Weaver sharing a fable in my classroom along with one of his instruments.

The lesson we completed around his visit can be done with any similar guest speaker or presentation in school.

Step 1: On the first day of the visit, Da Story Weaver told our third graders the Aesop’s fable about the Honest Woodcutter. This is a story about an honest man who loses his ax. A fairy presents him with both a gold and silver ax, but he admits they do not belong to him. For his honesty, the fairy gives him his original ax plus the gold and silver one. The honest man shares his experience with the villagers. Then, a dishonest man tries to trick the fairy by pretending to lose his own ax. When the fairy presents him with a silver ax, he tells her it is the ax he lost. The fairy knows he is lying and doesn’t give him any of the axes, including the one he pretended to lose. He was left with no ax at all because of his dishonesty.

Step 2: After hearing the story, the students worked in small groups to prepare a retelling of their own that included acting. 

Step 3: The students have the opportunity to present to the class. This encouraged the students to recall the details and theme of the story. 

Step 4: On the second day, the students reviewed the story to ensure they remembered the details and theme. Then, they had to work in different small groups to rewrite the story using different characters and details while keeping the same basic plot and theme. They shared their new stories with the class. This really helped the students understand and imprint the theme of honesty and helped them pay attention to important details.

Step 5: Finally, in my art classroom, we discussed about spacing and proportion. To prepare, we looked at illustrations in children’s books and talked about how only the most important details were depicted. We also talked about how the images often look like they are going off the page. The students followed up by illustrating their new stories themselves. The photos below show some incredible student artwork. 

Here are some photos of this work in progress. The stories have been typed, but a next step will be for us to edit the stories for grammar. The illustrations have been started, but not finished yet. I think these photos depict the process well even though we haven’t finished the products.

Final Thoughts

See, I told you it wasn’t as daunting as you probably thought, especially if you break up a creative project into steps. Teachers are already having their students look at images and determine the fractional representations. Having them design a quilt square while using monochromatic colors adds the arts-integration component. Teachers are already having students find the main idea, theme, and details in what they read. Having them listen to a story and retell it, hits all of those speaking and listening skills. Encouraging them to change details but keep the same plot and theme pushes more creative thinking. Having them illustrate it after teaching about spacing and illustrations hits arts skills and adds the art integration piece. 

Any teacher can do this! Plus, now you’ve got me to help. You can always contact me with questions, to bounce ideas around, and brainstorm. I will be happy to give you feedback!

Amanda Koonlaba is the visual art teacher and Arts Integration coordinator at Lawhon Elementary School in Tupelo, MS. She holds a master’s degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, as well as a specialist’s degree in Educational Leadership. She was the 2016 Mississippi Elementary Art Teacher of the Year. She is an NBCT, ASCD Emerging Leader and a DreamWaker Fellow. In addition, she is a writer, speaker, and mother to two sweet girls. 

Amanda Koonlaba

Amanda Koonlaba Visual Art Teacher and Arts Integration Coordinator http://www.partyinartroom.com/ Twitter: akoonlaba

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