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Arts Integration

Michigan schools considering a fully integrated and aligned fine arts curriculum now have a new resource at their disposal. School leaders at Concord Academy Petoskey are assisting other Michigan charter schools in the alignment and mapping of fully integrated fine arts curricula, development of a high-quality, comprehensive Internet resource, and implementation of professional development programs for new and aspiring teachers.

Branson Class

High School English Integration Technique

The high school book project is similar to the traditional book report. In its simplest form, students give a report to the students on the book they read. The twist is that the report must be presented in an artistic form.

The book project asks students to discuss an aspect of the book through an artistic form that includes music, dance, drama and visual art. Over the years students have danced to The Prince, composed and performed music to The Iliad, created claymation for The Odyssey, performed dramas,  created video-taped and now digital recorded scenes in a variety of settings, painted, drawn and sculpted.

These artistic media have allowed students to unlock their feelings about a piece of literature making their responses much more reflective and evocative. In addition, they also allow students to interpret and analyze literature outside of the traditional essay.

For these assignments, I have at times allowed students to pick a medium for the project for a single book, or allowed the class to choose a book over a quarter or semester of class and I choose the medium. One time, the whole class created artifacts of found objects to represent Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

These projects are presented to the class, and then discussed. Students have enjoyed sharing the artwork as much as sharing the interpretation. Even less successful projects, like cooking recipes for Like Water for Chocolate, are beneficial. Grades are not based on the quality of the art work as much as the interpretation students bring to the piece.

These projects also lend themselves to groups to produce dramas or dances. Many visual art pieces have become the basis for a more sophisticated painting or sculpture making an inspiring combination of arts and academics.

Student Study

Like many students, M had trouble with writing a literary analysis. For some students, writing a difficult essay like an analysis will come with instruction and practice, but not for M. While she could explain the plot and characters, trying to discuss more difficult topics like theme, symbolism and imagery was frustrating and inevitable, unproductive in an essay format.

However, when M drew a picture about the book, things began to click. At first the pictures were summaries of the book and its plot. Later, M was able to focus on a particular image, and build the drawing around that image. Finally, M was able to include many visual ideas together around a central image or symbol from the book.

From these, M was able to then write about the book based upon her understanding derived from her artistry. The project gave her a concrete platform to launch her essay. An unintended development was that the drawings also gave a specific organization to her writing.

For some students, the art project based upon the book was another way to analyze the literature, for M it was the place to first unlock an analysis and then a pre-writing technique to begin the essay process much like graphic organizer.

Rick Branson
High School English


Michigan Department of Education