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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.

Runberg Class

Fine Arts and Language Arts Integration Technique

I enjoy bringing language arts skills into my teaching of fine arts classes. This description of a lesson covers the use of a haiku poetry lesson in the art classroom. After a brief exploration of the form of haiku, and the culture where it originated, we do brush painting to illustrate the form. In the process of the lesson we cover the subjects of haiku, which are generally, nature, weather and animals. The children are given a choice of which of these they wish to write about.

We write practice haikus to learn the form well (5 syllables, 7, then 5 again). This can be a great deal of fun since the haikus written by some will be very humorous. This could also be done with limericks (and comic drawings to go along with them).

We then look through photos of fish, birds, mammals, and landscapes picking out 3-4 to work from. The haiku can address what it looks like, how it moves, eats, lives, how it might feel, etc.


Seahorse moves slowly
Gathering plankton to eat:
Ocean smorgasbord.

Then examples of Japanese and Chinese brush painting are examined from books and practiced. I do numerous examples up on the board to demonstrate the process, talking about the technique as I go. Especial attention is given to a very light touch with the brush, which is minimalist, as is the form of poetry. Students then pick several haikus they've written, and illustrate with animals, landscape, weather, or all of these. They sometimes do this as an unrolling scroll as well.

We use watercolor paint instead of ink, but do use special Chinese brushes specifically for brush painting, after practicing with other brushes (have only 5-6 of the special brushes). This can be done in chalk, marker, crayon, as well as other mediums. This project would work very well, in addition with a unit on American Sign Language.

They could write the poems, and sign to emphasize, as the art posters were hung up behind them.

The reason this works is because the style of art (brush painting) and the genre of poetry (haiku) are well matched in their spare ness. They also reinforce each other; when one thinks of the poem, the art style is recalled, and vice versa. This is a good example of arts integration, because students can see why we would want to use language with art, or why we want to use art with language. They do not remain separate, the deeper you go into these types of projects.

Student Study

Several years ago there was a 3rd/4th classroom teacher struggling with a student we will call A for our purposes here. A was a delightful student, but had been very challenging to teach. In the classroom he was very distracted because of obsessive-compulsive tendencies and was mentally impaired. In art class I too struggled to reach this student. This was difficult, as he was seldom in his seat, and I wasn't sure yet just what he was capable of doing. It was also my second year teaching.

So I focused mainly on his ability to follow directions this first year. We worked on this all year. The next year, his drawing skills greatly improved, since following directions wasn't as much of an issue. As this student progressed through his elementary education, his skills in art and in the classroom improved by leaps and bounds. In the regular classroom, he would often build models for his assignments and took great delight in these constructions.

In his regular classroom, as a way of showing his understanding of Australian animals, he constructed a zoo out of wood scraps and other salvaged materials, dowel rods, plastic  and cardboard animals, and many different textures of materials to symbolize the plants and colors of this country. In the process of making this he had to do research on the animals and their habitats.

He used the computer increasingly more to do his research (he needed help with this more in the beginning). He became more skilled on the computer as a result. He also increased his knowledge of the use of tools, including power tools, exacto knives, hand saws, etc. This was an area he was especially adept at. His skill with tools reinforced his desire to work on the project, hence motivating him in the intellectual areas he also needed to explore, and increased his problem-solving abilities as well. This project led to other interests that developed as a result of just this one project.

In the art room, we continued to focus on following directions, and follow through on completing projects. A did increasingly detailed drawings of the models he intended to create ( a major requirement for any model he was intending to build). He was required to have all his previous projects completed before beginning a completely new one. I allowed him to have several going at a time; this helped with his short attention span. His focus and ability to work independently increased gradually over time. His abilities in the classroom were much improved since he was allowed plenty of time for what he really wanted to do. This included his impressive abilities and skills that were called upon when working on set and prop design for the several drama presentations each year he was involved in.

His art projects were wonderful as well; he gravitated toward a more abstract style. Many of his drawings and paintings showed an elegance and emotion many of students are not capable of. I'm very proud of the progress A has made and will continue to follow up him in the coming years, long after he has passed through my classroom.          


Michigan Department of Education