Arts Integration Connections

Arts Integration and 21st Century Skills

What knowledge and skills do students need to be successful in the 21st century? Arts integration provides answers.


Graphic Organizer

21st Century Skills
(click to enlarge)

“Educators across our country are opening young minds, fostering innovation, and developing imaginations through arts education. Through their work, they are empowering our Nation's students with the ability to meet the challenges of a global marketplace. It is a well-rounded education for our children that will fuel our efforts to lead in a new economy where critical and creative thinking will be the keys to success.”1 -- President Barack Obama

“Arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination and innovation. These capacities are increasingly recognized as core skills and competencies that all students need as part of a high-quality and complete 21st-century education….one that includes learning in and through the arts…”2 --The National Task Force on the Arts in Education

21st Century Skills

With the vast social, cultural, technological, and economic changes our nation is experiencing, as well as those we have yet to imagine, many are reconsidering what knowledge and skills students need to be successful in the 21st century. The question under consideration is how to create “a new learning environment consistent with the cognitive and expressive demands of the 21st century.”3

Answers are coming from various places. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has been working since 2002 with educators, civic and community groups, and business leaders to define and advocate for the knowledge and skills they perceive as essential for 21st century success. In 2011, there are sixteen P21 Leadership States4 and numerous organizations such as Pearson, Apple, and Blackboard, involved as Strategic Council Members5. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development/ASCD developed a position statement in 2008 titled “Educating Students in a Changing World”6 and in 2009 dedicated an issue of Educational Leadership to teaching for the 21st century7. Other groups have been examining the needs of 21st century learning, including The College Board’s National Task Force on the Arts in Education8 and The American Institutes for Research with the Metiri Group and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory9.

What are 21st Century Skills?

Many organizations have described 21st century skills. This article focuses on the skills articulated in P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning10. The Framework identifies four overarching Student Outcomes as well as the Support Systems needed11. The Student Outcomes include (1) the Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes; (2) Learning and Innovation Skills (also known as the 4Cs - communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity); (3) Information, Media, and Technology Skills and (4) Life and Career Skills.

How do the arts/arts integration contribute to the development of 21st century skills?

  1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes

    The arts are one of the core subjects in 21st century learning. To demonstrate how learning in and through the arts builds 21st century skills, P21 has also collaborated with six arts education professional organizations to create a Skills Map for the Arts12 that provides examples of how the four arts areas (dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, which collectively include the media arts) help develop many 21st century skills and outcomes including curiosity, imagination, creativity, and evaluation skills. The introduction to the Skills Map states:

    “Collectively, the examples in this document demonstrate that the arts are among society’s most compelling and effective paths for developing 21st Century Skills in our students.”13

    The Arts Skills Map also describes how all the 21st Century Themes (global awareness; financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy) are supported by arts learning.

  2. Learning and Innovation Skills/4Cs

    One of P21’s central goals is to fuse the core subjects with the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. This “fusing” suggests an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. Arts integration is inherently interdisciplinary; it demonstrates ways to accomplish this “fusion.” Through arts integration, students develop dual content knowledge (in both an art form and another area of the curriculum) as well as develop skills in the 4Cs.


    The first C in the P21 Framework, learning to communicate, is central to arts integration. Students communicate their emerging understandings through an art form. The medium for communication is the art form itself. Each art form has a language and symbol system through which students interpret information and communicate their ideas. For example, acting, storytelling, puppetry, and performance poetry develop skills in oral communication. Students develop written communication skills through such art forms as playwriting and poetry and develop non-verbal communication skills through dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. Additionally, arts integration engages students in metaphorical thinking, which enlarges the power of their communication.


    The Framework’s second C is collaboration. When students engage in arts integration they usually collaborate in small groups to solve problems. Even when students work individually, they also draw on peer input. In all cases, students enlarge their understandings when they see how others think and react to their thinking. Arts integration provides opportunities for students to learn to be open and responsive to diverse perspectives, work respectfully with their peers, make necessary compromises, and share and accept responsibility.

    Dennie Palmer Wolf’s research has documented the extensive collaboration (and communication) inherent in arts experiences. The research found that when students create original operas they were engaged in “more sustained and coherent collaboration over time”14 than when they were involved in other curriculum areas.

    “…students progressively develop judgments about how well their work is expressing what they want to say and they find ways to talk to one another about it and to make decisions about how to adjust the work to enhance the quality.”15

    Critical Thinking

    The Framework’s third “C” is the ability to reason effectively, make judgments and decisions, and solve problems, among other things. When students are involved in arts integration, they develop critical thinking skills as they make judgments about how to solve problems that have no single right answer.

    Creating in the arts involves critical thinking and “sophisticated intellectual engagement:”16

    “The arts are not just expressive and affective. They are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools: pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical, and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.”17 –David Sousa


    The Framework’s fourth “C” is the ability to think creatively, work creatively with others, and implement innovations, among other things. Creativity is a hallmark of arts integration. Students engage in the creative process as a way to construct and demonstrate what they know and understand. The creative process requires students to solve problems by imagining a wide range of solutions; by exploring and experimenting with the most promising solutions; by creating a product (e.g., dance, musical composition, collage, digital story, poem); by reflecting on, assessing and revising their products; and sharing them with others.

    Judy Willis, in her Whole Child blog, points to research that shows that creativity correlates with the brain processing associated with the highest forms of cognition. She states:

    “…neuroscience and cognitive science research are increasingly providing information that correlates creativity with intelligence; academic, social, and emotional success; and the development of skill sets and the highest information processing (executive functions) that will become increasingly valuable for students in the 21st century.”18

    Although the creative process exists in many fields, the arts are one of the most accessible and powerful ways to build the creative mind in the classroom. Stanford University’s Elliot Eisner makes the case that our encounters with the arts are critically important because the arts are a way to cultivate our imaginative abilities, offer a variety of means for representing our imagination in material form (inscription), and provide opportunities to edit and adjust the representation to achieve the quality, precision, and power for effective communication.19

  3. Information, Media, and Technology Skills

    The arts include the use of media and technology as means of communication. When students are engaged in arts integration, they develop skills in accessing and evaluating information (in both the art form and the other curriculum area). They communicate their developing understandings using a variety of ways including digital media and technology.

  4. Life and Career Skills

    The P21 Framework identifies Life and Career Skills which include various dispositions or habits of mind20. These dispositions are aligned with those developed through arts integration. Students have opportunities to:

    • Solve problems having more than one right answer. Through arts integration students engage in the creative process which develops flexibility in thinking, tolerance for ambiguity, and a perspective that experimentation involves missteps which are a natural part of learning.
    • Develop initiative and self-direction to solve problems and manage their work with increasing independence. When students are engaged in arts integration, they make choices and direct their own work with ongoing feedback from the teacher or other students. Over time they accept increasing responsibility for their learning.
    • Work collaboratively and develop social skills. Through arts integration, students gain experience in clearly stating their ideas, and listening to and respecting their peers’ ideas.
    • Be both productive and accountable. In arts integration, students learn manage their projects so they can produce results within a limited timeframe. They learn to set and meet goals, prioritize, and engage in a process that leads to a product.
    • Take on leadership roles. Arts integration is student-centered learning. As a result, students have many opportunities to lead as well as to be a responsible group member. Since arts integration thrives in a supportive learning environment, students learn to encourage others to do their best.


Arts integration makes a significant contribution to the development of 21st century knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Through the development of critical thinking, creativity, imagination and innovation, arts integration offers a powerful way to create “a new learning environment consistent with the cognitive and expressive demands of the 21st century.”21



Lynne B. Silverstein
Senior Program Consultant
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Editors & Producers

Amy Duma
Director, Teacher and School Programs
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Works Cited

  1. Presidential Proclamation -- National Arts and Humanities Month, 2011, October 3, 2011 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/03/presidential-proclamation-national-arts-and-humanities-month-2011
  2. The National Task on the Arts in Education, Arts at the Core: At the Core of Civilization, at the Core of Education, (The College Board, 2009) 9. http://advocacy.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/arts-at-the-core.pdf
  3. Peter W. Cookson, Jr., “What Would Socrates Say?” Educational Leadership, September 2009, Vol. 67 No. 1, (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development/ASCD) 10.
  4. Current P21 Leadership States include Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
  5. Full list of P21 Strategic Council Members is listed at http://www.p21.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=508&Itemid=192
  6. 21st Century Skills: Educating Students in a Changing World (ASCD Position Statement 2008). http://ascd.org/research-a-topic/21st-century-skills-resources.aspx
  7. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, “Teaching for the 21st Century,” Educational Leadership, September 2009, Vol. 67, No. 1.
  8. National Task Force on the Arts in Education, Arts at the Core: Recommendations for Advancing the State of Arts Education in the 21st Century, (The College Board, 2009).
  9. Metiri Group, enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age. http://www.metiri.com
  10. It should be noted that some individuals and groups have raised questions about the P21 approach, pointing out that there needs to be more focus on content knowledge, that these skills are not new but have been a part of the progressive education movement since the early 20th century, and that equity is an issue, especially for disadvantaged students. It should also be noted that this article does not examine Information, Media and Technology skills (although the media arts are a part of all the art forms).
  11. P21 Mission Statement. http://www.p21.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=188&Itemid=110 The Support Systems include standards and assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and learning environments.
  12. Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 21st Century Skills Map: The Arts, (Tuscon, AZ: Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010). http://www.p21.org/documents/P21_arts_map_final.pdf
  13. 21st Century Skills Map: The Arts, 2.
  14. Gail Burnaford with Sally Brown, James Doherty and H. James McLaughlin, Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice, A Literature Review, (Washington DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2007), 32.
  15. Lauren M. Stevenson and Richard J. Deasy, Third Space: When Learning Matters, (Washington DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2005), 44-45.
  16. David A. Sousa, How the Brain Learns, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006), 40.
  17. Ibid., 217.
  18. ASCD The Whole Child Blog, The Brain Learns Creatively When the Arts are in the Picture, October 13, 2010. http://whatworks.wholechildeducation.org/blog/the-brain-learns-creatively-when-arts-are-in-the-picture/
  19. Eisner, Elliot W. The Arts and the Creation of Mind, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) 4-9.
  20. Habits of mind:
    • Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers, (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2009).
    • Eric Booth, The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2009), 70-73.
    • Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, Kimberly M. Sheridan, Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, (NY: Teachers College Press, 2007), 6.
  21. Peter W. Cookson, Jr. “What Would Socrates Say?” 10.

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.