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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Morey-Barry

What did Arts Integration look like this school year?

What does Arts-Integration look like in the midst of COVID-19?

In a COVID-19 world, educators spent much of the second half of this academic year having to engage students in new ways. Classroom teachers with decades of experience found themselves having to prep alternative lesson plans each week in order to foster quality learning in a 100% online classroom. Arts Integration is something that many teachers cherish implementing into traditional classrooms as a way to connect with students through different languages of learning. But how did pandemic learning impact arts integration in the classroom? This May, I asked four classroom teachers about their experiences.

Some info about our classroom teachers:

Diane is a high school history teacher that teaches AP European History and 9th Grade History in a suburban public school.

Tina is a 9th and 10th grade Spanish teacher in an urban public school.

Timothy is a middle school Spanish teacher in a suburban public school.

Mandy is a 3rd grade teacher in a Catholic school.

Question 1: How much prep time are you doing now as opposed to during a traditional school year?

Diane: I have to convert all my activities [in order to make them] to digital-friendly and weed down to the essentials. Right now I probably have an additional 3 to 4 hours per prep (I have three preps). This does not include time allotted for grading and feedback for all online work—all my formative assessments have to be read because I don’t have the face to face time to assess in person.

Tina: I am spending more time writing personalized feedback directly to each student as opposed to grading to try to make up for the lack of in-person connection. I am also creating everything on Google Classroom and creating digital versions of lessons instead of making copies or using the textbook, so I'm spending way more time planning and preparing and obviously less time directly teaching, so it probably ends up being the same amount of hours.

Timothy: I would say I’m doing about a minimum of three hours of prep, which is significantly more than during the school year. That’s not including the grading time and the meetings.

Mandy: I am probably doing more prep right now than I’d do in a traditional classroom/school year. Instead of doing a weekly prep of curriculum, my curriculum has to be planned out ahead of time to go out within a set amount of weeks (3-6 depending on when the curriculum goes out). Each week I prep screencast lessons, lessons to give over Zoom, one-on-one tutoring sessions, etc. This means that I’m not only recording lessons, but also planning what can be recorded versus what I need to teach virtually on Zoom and face to face with my students, and then planning extra material for one on ones based on individual student needs.

Question 2: Are you using arts integration to connect with your students? If yes, how?

Diane: I integrate the visual arts into my curriculum anyway. I usually have them create a visual representation/poetry representation of what they read. My next unit is WWI—so I will integrate some of the music of the war as part of their lesson.

Tina: Yes I am using art! Art and music are huge parts of culture in Spanish class, and that is usually a fun way to get kids excited about a lesson. I have a song of the week [which includes a] music video of a song connected with the week's lesson. I have also assigned a virtual tour of the Frida Kahlo museum, an art challenge to recreate a Frida Kahlo painting by posing at home (like the viral activity on social media) and a recreation project to copy a famous painting of another Mexican artist looking out over his city by creating a similar image of looking out over their own city.

Timothy: I have used some arts-integration. I’ve mostly been doing storytelling and social justice stuff. However, I plan to use Lyrics Training, which is a program that lets students listen to music and try to fill in the lyrics that they hear. I also used one music video so far, and have been having the kids do LOTS of drawing to demonstrate their comprehension.

Mandy: I don’t use a lot of arts integration in my classroom besides drawing/coloring activities. I use drawing and coloring activities for our religion curriculum and reading. I find that students really enjoy listening to me read aloud a story while they draw a picture related to the story that I assign with general requirements. We’ve been reading “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. On days we do read aloud via Zoom, I plan ahead what is the chapter about and what can students draw out while listening to me read. This week we had a lesson on Maple Sugaring. We watched a short YouTube video on Maple Sugaring and then I had students draw a scene of Pa doing the Maple Sugaring in the Big Woods of Wisconsin while I read the chapter aloud. I find my students are able to listen better while drawing. It keeps them from getting distracted and wandering.

Question 3: Do you find that arts integration has been more challenging to implement during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Diane: I don't find it harder—but it needs adaptation. Most music can be found on Youtube.

In addition, I do a Dada Photocollage art activity with my AP Euros. They learn about and look at Samples of Photocollage Dada as an expression of hopelessness after WWI, identify the characteristics of it, based on the art (ok technically they call it non-art). Then I have copies of newspapers and magazines and they make their own art collage representing the 21st century. This year, I am adapting it. They will make a digital one on Google Draw out of screen grabs and use it to represent the chaos of 2020.

Tina: It is more challenging because I am restricted by the small amount of time my students are spending on my class and their access to things at home. We would be listening to songs daily instead of weekly in school as well as working together to analyze and discuss the art we look at and work with, but all of that time to work together and share ideas is much, much harder in our current online learning model.

Timothy: I feel like arts integration is easier now because the students can work at their own pace. If they’re drawing for comprehension, they can take their time. However, music is one of the harder things to use for comprehension in a second language because it’s not usually at the students’ proficiency level, so I find THAT easier when we are together.

Mandy: I definitely find that arts integration has been difficult to implement during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I often have classical music going in my classroom, I encourage drawing or coloring as much as I can. I have many students who are artistic learners and very much thrive on using art to learn. It’s been much harder to give assignments with art integration. Another way I implement art is through STEM activities where students can create, engineer, and use artistic abilities to build and construct. This past week our STEM challenge was “what can you create using a paper towel roll?” Students can use 1 paper towel roll and anything else they can find or have including glue, tape, paint, coloring supplies, etc. My students have really enjoyed art integration through STEM!

Question 4: Are there any arts-integration activities that you normally do in your classroom that you had to “shelf?”

Tina: My Spanish 2 students do a large presentation of a song including giving background information about the artist, describing what the song is about, and presenting the genre of the song to their classmates. That project won't happen this year. We also had to reduce our Frida Kahlo unit in Spanish 1, so they didn't get to learn about her life story or talk about Diego Rivera's art which would both normally be part of the unit in class. I'm also presenting fewer songs (only 1 a week instead of 1 a day) and my students missed out on movies we would have watched and discussed (2 per class).

Timothy: I have had to shelf music videos for the most part. I like to use them and pause and talk about them at the same time. It’s pretty hard to do that online. I’ve tried, but it’s just not the same.

Preparing for the 2020-21 School Year

It was inspiring to explore how these educators and many others have evolved in such remarkable ways. Many teachers spent more time than ever working to not only create exemplary online learning for their students, but learning that engaged students in multifaceted ways, including arts integrated learning.

As summer approaches, these teachers will get some well deserved R&R. But looming over their heads is the impending school year. Whether class continues to be delivered online or through modified conditions in person, it is clear that the first day of school will look very different. As a result of this and many months gone without “normalcy,” the long-term social, emotional, and mental implications of COVID will begin to take root more discernibly for teachers and learners alike. Arts integration will become even more vital as a method of creating meaningful and possibly even cathartic learning experiences for each learner and educator.

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