Dr. Lawson, who teaches in the Education Department at Wittenberg, teaches a course that is unusual in teacher preparation programs: Education 275/276: Integrating Literature, Art, Drama, Dance, and Music Throughout the Curriculum. The course, better known as Arts Integration, is a requirement for Early Childhood and Middle Childhood candidates. WJE staffer Kayti McCarthy conducted the interview.
WJE: What encouraged and inspired your interest in the arts?
Lawson: My father was an artist by hobby. He drew, in his spare time, and he sang in the church choir. My parents played classical music in the house. They were supportive of my interest in the arts. They bought me a piano, a flute, and provided dance lessons. School also made opportunities available: art and music classes through 8th grade, arts organizations in high school, marching and concert bands, and Stagecrafters Drama Club. The underlying message in all of my childhood from multiple sources was that the arts are important.
WJE: How do you personally value the arts?
Lawson: The arts are what make us human. They communicate in ways deeper than words. Every day I notice, appreciate and am richer for artistic experiences.
WJE: What does “arts integration” mean to you?
Lawson: I like Claudia Cornett’s definition. She wrote Creating Meaning Through Literature and the Arts, the text used in the course. Cornett described arts integration as “Teaching with, about, in and through the arts.”
WJE: In your opinion, what is the value of arts courses and programs?
WJE: What is the best way to integrate the arts into the curriculum?
Lawson: By teaching lessons that have student objectives for an arts area and another content area. .
Classroom teachers can work with the art and music specialists, and support each other in the classroom. Not for every single day or class, but they can use the same topic, era, etc., and try to tie it all together for children, just as it all comes together in the real world.
Some good resources include the Clark Community Cultural Consortium, which facilitates standards-based cultural opportunities for students, and The Arts Alive partnership, which presents teacher workshops and other professional development throughout the year, on the topic of arts integration. Also, Artsedge.com, from the Kennedy Center, provides submitted lesson plans for arts integration. That’s the best on-line site I know.
WJE: How would you recommend teachers and others supporting the arts advocate for arts integration in school?
Lawson: It depends on what will convince the audience. But first, provide data. Spread the word about research supporting arts integration. For example, arts-based programs around the country are demonstrating they can engage disadvantaged youth in schools, as evidence by increased attendance and graduation rates, and the closing of achievement gaps. Talk about research that concludes school reform through the arts can result in better student motivation, increased problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, better multicultural understanding, and more.
Next, tell the story: share examples of effective arts integration programs. Ask people to remember the arts in their schooling and childhood. Have the current students tell their stories.
WJE: In teaching Educ 275/276, how optimistic are you that future teachers you are teaching will be allowed or have the chance or opportunity to use what you teach them? What kind of situations would arise to make it possible?
Lawson: Yes, I am optimistic. If I did not believe they could and would, the course would be useless, and I would not be interested in teaching it. Teachers who use arts integration can meet academic content standards very effectively, and will be the only teachers to meet them all.
Teachers can refer to p. 14 of the fifth Standard of the Ohio Fine Arts Academic Content Standards. It outlines making connections to other academic disciplines. NCLB defines the Arts as core content areas, also. Money can be spent for the arts, though it’s overlooked now because the arts aren’t tested. Schools are often too busy looking at the test instead of what we want kids to know when they go out the door.
As for what would make it possible for teachers to use what I am teaching them, it would be easier with the support of administrators and parents. Parents advocating for the arts would also be helpful.