Skip to main content Skip to main content

Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8

Preserving a Place for the Arts

When faced with budget cuts, the staff of a rural middle school finds innovative ways to keep the arts a viable part of the curriculum.



Clarkton School of Discovery


Clarkton, NC


6, 7, 8


Visual Art
Language Arts


Creative scheduling and integrated class work infuse arts throughout a school curriculum.

The Integrated Instruction

Deborah Guyton, Principal
When Clarkton School of Discovery received a federal magnet school grant for the arts a few years ago, we made quite a lot of physical changes, and money was also used for arts personnel. After the grant was spent, we started looking for ways that we could maintain our arts teachers in state-funded positions. A couple of them have gone back for more training and re-certification in other areas, so that they can stay at this school.

Theresa Wuebbels, Visual Art and Science Teacher
When we had the grant, I did arts integration activities half the day and taught visual art the other half.  Now I do science in the morning, and art electives in the afternoon. In one of my electives – “My Life, My Roots, My Dreams” – the students are integrating science, language arts, photography, visual art, and social studies. They’re creating an heirloom – a book that they’ll want to keep for the rest of their lives.

Rebecca Hennis, Dance and Language Arts Teacher
I am the only dance teacher in this county. Instead of competitions, I do more creative things, where the students are coming up with movement. For example, in the elective “Dance-A-Story” we take a children’s book and develop the characters through movement.  I’ve had the option to begin teaching language arts in sixth grade, and so I’m doing that in the mornings.

Watching the Video

Before You Watch
Respond to the following questions.

  • Has your school had to cope with reductions in funding for valued parts of the curriculum, such as the arts? What happened? Were there any upsides along with the downsides?
  • Many people in their teaching draw on artistic skills or subject-matter expertise that is beyond the scope of what they teach “officially.” If you have done this, how has it worked for you?
  • What do you think the advantages and disadvantages might be of teaching integrated units alone (e.g., one person teaching visual art and social studies) as compared to teaching such units in collaboration with another teacher?


Watch the Program

As you watch, pay attention to the different ways the teachers combine arts and non-arts elements in their lessons. Take notes, keeping track of the connections that seem substantial and “two-way” (benefiting both arts knowledge and non-arts knowledge) vs. those that are more “one-way” connections (benefiting one discipline or the other, but not both).

Several of the featured teachers were trained in two areas, arts and non-arts. In what ways, if any, do you think they were better teachers as a result?


Reflect on the Program

  • Which of the arts-infused lessons seemed most successful to you, and why?
  • What evidence, if any, of student engagement or learning did you see?

Connecting to Your Teaching

Reflect on Your Practice

  • Have you had to adapt to reductions in programs or curricula that you felt were important to students (e.g., the arts, physical education, science, languages)? If so, how?
  • In your school, is it relatively easy for you to collaborate with either arts or non-arts teachers? Why or why not?
  • Is it common for individual teachers to try and integrate the arts alone, in their own classrooms? Why or why not?
  • What artistic skills or special subject matter expertise do you have that you might draw on more in your teaching?


Adaptations / Extensions to Consider

Adapt to your school: Talk to colleagues about creating an arts-integrated elective that could be offered at your school (e.g., Dance-A-Story and My Life, My Roots, My Dreams).

Leverage technology: If your school has a computer lab or video production studio, get students involved in projects that take them outside the classroom, gathering and making stories that matter to them.

Additional Resources

Selected Unit Materials

My Life, My Roots, My Dreams: A course outline including a timeline and student goals (PDF)

Dance-A-Story: A course description including an overview of the course, student objectives and suggested “Dance-A-Story” texts (PDF)

Print Resources

Brewer, Chris, & Campbell, Don. Rhythms of Learning: Creative Tools for Developing Lifelong Skills. Tucson, Ariz.: Zephyr Press, 1991. ISBN: 0-913705-59-4

Carter, Rebecca, & Genovese, Sandi. The Ultimate Scrapbooking Book.Carlsbad, Cal.: Main Line Book Company, 2001. ISBN: 0806958316

Cheney, Gay. Basic Concepts in Modern Dance: A Creative Approach, (3rd edition). Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 1989. ISBN: 0916622762

Kassing, Gayle, & May, Danielle. Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0736002405

McGreevy-Nichols, Susan, & Scheff, Helene. Building Dances: A Guide to Putting Movements Together. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics Publishing, 1995. ISBN: 0873225732

Prince, Eileen. Art Matters: Strategies, Ideas, and Activities to Strengthen Learning Across the Curriculum. Tucson, Ariz.: Zephyr Press, 2002. ISBN: 1569761299

Web Sites

Arts Education Partnership
A partnership of organizations affirming the central role of imagination, creativity, and the arts in culture and society and the power of the arts to enliven and transform education and schools

The Kennedy Center – ArtsEdge
Empowering educators to teach in, through, and about the arts by providing the tools to develop interdisciplinary and integrated curricula

Americans for the Arts
Dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts

The largest collection of family history records on the Web

Over 5.1 million people with a passion for writing and learning more about their artistry have submitted poetry to this site

About the School

Clarkton School of Discovery, Clarkton, N.C.

Clarkton School of Discovery is a public magnet middle school located in rural Bladen County, N.C. The school serves 350 students in grades six to eight, a population divided nearly equally among white and African American students. One-third qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.

Clarkton is one of North Carolina’s 30 A+ Schools. A+ Schools believe that the arts stimulate in-depth learning and holistic knowledge in students, resulting not only in higher achievement, but also in lowering the incidence of behavioral problems and absences from school.

For several years, Clarkton used magnet grant funding to retain its arts teachers. But when the funding ended, the school had to figure out a way to preserve the presence of the arts. The visual art teacher received her certification in science, and the dance teacher became certified to teach language arts. Each of them now teaches non-arts classes in the morning and arts electives in the afternoon.

The practice of mixing the arts with academics is core to the way Clarkton operates. Students explore four core areas of learning – language arts, math, science, and social studies in the morning. In the afternoon, the students have a choice of more than 50 different electives.

School information:

Q and A With Teachers

Theresa Wuebbels at the blackboardTheresa Wuebbels, Visual Art and Science

Why has your community fought to keep the arts a central part of the school’s mission?

People know it works; the arts help us to have a high quality of education. Our teachers and parents recognize that the arts help students to make connections in learning. Not all students understand concepts being taught simply through lecture and reading. When these same students dance, dramatize, draw, or add music to a concept it becomes easier to grasp and a whole lot more enjoyable. Ninety-one percent of our students are at grade level (we have been named a North Carolina School of Excellence), and students do enjoy coming to our school (we are at capacity).

How has your art background affected the way you teach science?

Because my teaching of art is based on multiple disciplines (art studio, art history, critiquing of art, and aesthetics), it was easy to apply a similar approach to science. In science my students experiment, study history, learn to use process skills, and question what science is and the ethics involved.

In general, I like to integrate subject areas and make connections in my teaching, and I find myself doing this in both science and art. For example, in art we study the science of color and in science we dance the process of mitosis. The web developed by integrating subject matter will help our students solve problems in their future careers.

Science and art both involve the creative process. It is not enough to just know facts or to develop a skill – you need reflection and critical thinking. WHY is so important to both areas, and that requires non-linear thinking.

What suggestions would you make to classroom teachers who might want to adapt “My Life, My Roots, My Dreams” for their students?

If you like to make connections in teaching, this is a great course. I approached this course primarily through visual art and photography, and included components of science, language arts, social studies, and character development. You could come at it with a prime interest in any of these areas. What is important is to make the connections.

Rebecca Hennis and students at dance rehearsalRebecca Hennis, Dance and Language Arts

How do you think your dance background has affected your teaching of language arts?

Everything involves sequences in this world, especially dance. I have been able to transfer my sequencing in dance to language arts by knowing that there is a process to everything we learn. Students must have the basics and the foundation before they can build anything else. Also, I have found that there is so much literature waiting to be danced; so many movement possibilities are available in language arts.

What, if anything, might you do differently next time for the Dance-A-Story project?

Next time I will spend much more time on character development. I will have students write more about their character and analyze their character more in depth. Also, I will have students focus on creating many more movement solutions for one situation. This way, they will have several movements from which to pick the very best, thus enabling the audience to visualize and understand the language the students will be dancing.

What makes a book or story a good candidate for Dance-A-Story?

A story must have many characters or elements of nature so that everyone will have a role. Also, the story must be filled with an enormous amount of action and movement possibilities.