Exploring Arts Integration

May 18, 2015


By Nicole Geary

“We are not just going to sit in our chairs,” Joni Starr told a group of fourth- and fifth-graders one Friday morning. “When we do arts, we use our whole bodies.”

Then she turned them loose. “Just be a horse, anywhere around the room.”

The horses turned into cowboys, then pirates and mermaids, then snakes and eagles. And in true dramatic fashion, their story ended in “death”—all of the students splayed on the classroom floor.

By then, they had also reviewed key elements of the Shel Silverstein story (theme, characters, conflict) and learned what it means for performers to improvise.

Student-flyingStarr, an assistant professor in the College of Education, and a group of her students were guest-teaching the lesson as part of a partnership between Michigan State University and Mt. Hope Elementary. They visited the Lansing school several times in early 2015 to collaborate on a new focus for the staff: arts integration.

Mt. Hope is one of two schools in the district that reintroduced themselves last year as STEAM magnet schools. The idea is to incorporate arts instruction into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum, a growing trend across the country.

Lansing School District recently eliminated elementary classes in arts, music and physical education due to budget cuts. The STEAM schools were set up thanks to an almost $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Magnet School Assistance program.

“The arts have always raised their hand to be integrated in schools, and I don’t think that’s changed,” said Starr. “But for this to be effective, the arts have to be the same capital letter as S, T, E and M. Things have to be in equal balance and that goes back to content.”

Starr believes integration should be another approach used in schools—not a replacement for trained arts specialists. But as resources in many districts dwindle, classroom teachers have been asked to do more. They are also working to incorporate subjects like dance and visual art into English and social studies lessons.

“The concern is that, if they are not familiar with the discipline of the art, they are not going to be able to teach it fully to their students,” Starr said.

3-approaches-to-arts-educationShared learning

Formerly in the MSU Department of Theatre, Starr was asked to join the teacher education faculty three years ago to improve how students incorporate arts in teaching. She created three courses now offered to elementary, special education and child development majors as a way to meet the arts portion of the state’s revamped teacher preparation requirements. Previously, students could only take courses offered by other departments on campus, such as music and theater.

When Mt. Hope Principal Elizabeth Jones asked Starr, whom she met at community event, if she could help her school, Starr was eager to help. She began recruiting graduate and undergraduate students to assist in designing lessons they could model in the classrooms. The group also led professional development sessions for all of Mt. Hope’s teachers.

Starr said she will likely continue the relationship with Lansing schools next year. The MSU teacher candidates who volunteered to work on the project have received additional frontline experience.

“I’m really interested in arts-integration lessons and kinesthetic learning, but it’s not something that we do very often,” said Gracie DeLadurantaye, an elementary education senior who participated in the project. She has noticed that getting kids up and moving improves their capacity to remember content and that shy kids often participate more when asked to be artistic.

DeLadurantaye first tried arts integration for one of the classes taught by Starr, TE 431: Learning through Drama. For example, she asked third-graders to express states of matter through dance moves and to act out scenes from Michigan history, which led to a creative copper mining scene using erasers and rulers as props.

“The students took it above and beyond what I expected,” she said, “and that inspired me. I wanted to see where else it could go.”

Arts education abroad

Education students will be traveling to Ghana next summer to explore “Arts Education Across Cultures,” a new study abroad experience led by faculty member Joni Starr and Karenanna Creps, a doctoral student in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE).