Integrating and the Thematic Classroom – A Teacher’s Experience




     Integrating the arts in education to me was how I can use the arts to extend the learning of thematic units in my classroom.   Quite contrary to my expectations, I learned instead how to teach through the arts with the integration of multiple intelligences.

In the process of learning about the multiple intelligences, I have come to realize that I am stronger in the body-kinesthetic and music intelligences then the spatial intelligences that I thought I was stronger in.  This class gave me a chance to do some introspection of my own learning and teaching style.

I immigrated to this country in the fifth grade. Not having the functional language for about eight months upon my arrival to this new land didn't help me feel very good about myself.  Not having any extra help in school compounded the feeling of alienation and feeling bad about my intelligence.  The only thing I remember enjoying in school was the May Day Celebration where every class did a square dance number on the playground and the Christmas program where every class sang a song or two.  The rest of the school year was a blur.  All the academic activities were based on books and worksheets.  This was the kind of education I had until I got to college.  Not that college was any different, but I do remember enjoying the one and only art class I took for teaching art in elementary education.  It was totally hands on.  My professor complemented me on having an artistic bend.  It was the first time someone in the academic field paid a complement to me.  It is amazing as I reflect on my personal experience in education.  I would have to say that this was one of those "Crystallizing experience" (Armstrong, 2000, P. 18) that David Feldman and Howard Gardner talked about.   I know for a fact that I began to do more with my hands in terms of arts and crafts after that and felt better about myself.

I'm one of those people who if I buy something that needs assembling, bring the box home, open it and begin to assemble it by looking at the diagrams or drawings without reading the instructions first.  I came to the conclusion that I was visually oriented.  If I have to understand something, I much rather read a piece of writing than to hear someone read it to me.  I tend to tune out.

In my classroom, I use hands-on math and science because it helps me understand the concepts much better.  Now that I've discovered that I'm more body-kinesthetic, that helps me understand why I like this style of teaching better.  In our class group presentation on integrating arts, my first idea was to teach everyone ribbon dancing.  I didn't realize at the time how my multiple intellegences came out, but in retrospect, it totally fits.  The music and the body kinesthetic intelligences were all at play.  Not only did I want to teach the dancing, but also I wanted to make everyone ribbon sticks!  Another great experience that I enjoyed in our class was how we created a picture, walked around to view everyone's picture and giving them a descriptive word.  Resulting in me using their given words to make a poem by handling the given post-its.  I was so surprised and pleased with the result that I tried it in my own classroom.  It was very successful and everyone discovered that they can do it and that the process really works if we give it some time.

As we were reminded in class over and over again, trust the process.  That was very risky for me to do with my classroom.  I tend to want total control.  However, I've tasted the fruit of trusting the process and because of that, I'm going to take more of that risk in the future with my classroom of multiple intelligent students.

My goal is to make sure every child feel that they are good at something before leaving my class.  I know, as an observing parent, that all children are gifted in one area or another.  I encouraged my own children in their strengths and I wanted to do the same for the students that I teach.

I want students to be able to express who they are in their academic work.  I began thinking about how I can integrate that into all that I teach.  I woke up early one day with this "brilliant idea."  I will plan my homework assignments around themes where the students would have a choice within the theme, a choice to the books they want to read on their chosen topic, and then give them the opportunity to research, develop and present their topic of study through written reports, poetry, visual art, music and oral presentations. Reading Thomas Armstrong's book on Multiple Intelligences and Booktech articles on learning through the integrated arts has given me the rationale that I needed to verbalize what I had felt intuitively.  More than that, through the reading, I realize that not only does each person has a stronger bend in one area than others, but also that we actually "use our intelligences to solve problems and fashion products." (Armstrong, 2000, P.10)

Through my reading in Armstrong's discussion about the MI theory for Special Education was quit an eye opener.  I agree with his statement, "When the regular curriculum includes the full spectrum of intelligences, referrals to special education classes will decline." (Armstrong, 2000, P.109) 

I have several students in my class that are special education students.  I have witnessed their struggles with reading and writing, but when I have integrated art and music into our lessons, I saw them shine.  It was wonderful to see Anne being the best in doing Origami when we read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and Matt smiling to his classmates' applause as he tap danced for us in his report on Duke Ellington.


I'm starting a unit on the study of sound.  I've applied what I've learned in my integrating art classes to my lesson planning.  I've given the students a choice as to the instrument that they want to study.  They will do research on the instrument, it's history, it's operation, etc. but they will also research a recording artist who uses that instrument.  They can bring in the actual instrument to show and to play for us, if they can.  They will also use clay to make a model of the instrument, write a song or a poem about that instrument or they can act out how that instrument works.  They can even make a video of someone actually playing that instrument.

Memory skills were an area that Armstrong talked about that sparked my interest too because of the recent state testing that my students had to endure.  He said that, "This new perspective on memory suggests that students with poor memories may have poor memories in only one or two of the intelligences…. the solution, then, lies in helping these students gain access to their good memories in other intelligences.  Memory training, or work involving memorization of material in any subject, should therefore be taught in such a way that all eight memories are activated." (Armstrong, 2000, P.113)  I plan then to apply this to perhaps, math.   Maybe write a song for the multiplication table to teach my students and also visually represent some of the more difficult multiplication facts.

Here's a big project that I want to integrate all that I've learned in this class to:  I just finished reading The Firework Maker's Daughter to my class.  I’ve been thinking about this group of students and how many of them liked Reader's Theater and putting on skits related to their literature circles.  I thought about putting on a class play for the whole school.  I would introduce the MI theory to them, and give them a choice as to which intelligence they want to work on for this play.  I would group them to write the script (Linguistic), design the set (Logical-mathematical & Spatial), design the props (Spatial & Naturalist), design the costumes (Spatial), make up song and dance (Musical & Bodily Kinesthetic) and design the program covers (Spatial).  Interpersonal and Intrapersonal intelligences will be active throughout the whole process.  Especially when it comes to choosing roles for the play.  I will also incorporate parent volunteers to chair each of the groups.  I believe this is going to be a wonderful experience of discovery for my students.  Perhaps after the play, we can do a self-evaluation as to how comfortable everyone was doing their parts and did they discover their strengths and weaknesses.



By Nora Lu