Glossary of Arts and Education Terms

Every field develops a language of its own which is generally understood by those immersed in that field. In the last twenty years Arts Education has in fact become a field and as such has a vocabulary all its own. This is not to say that those deeply involved in arts education all speak the same language—there are variations and nuances to the terms that can mystify and confound even the most experienced arts educators. But for those who do not have a background in arts education, it can be a veritable Tower of Babel. What is presented here is a basic glossary of terms that are consistently used by educators, artists and researchers and defined as prudently as possible. Hopefully this glossary will provide a comfort level for funders as they pursue opportunities to support arts education.

This glossary is by no means an attempt to define pure education terminology—which is vast; nor does it attempt to define arts discipline-based terminology. There is a listing at the end of this glossary of websites and resources to assist funders in defining those terms.

In creating a Glossary of Arts Education Terms, it may be important to first focus on those terms which refer to the various curricular approaches that may be employed in order for the arts to appear in education. They may likewise overlap and vary in definition by those that employ them. The following terms refer to those approaches or configurations:

Individual Terms Relating to Curricular Approaches

Arts-Based Curriculum/Arts-Based School ~ one in which the arts are core subjects and featured as entry points into other aspects of instruction; one in which arts are taught in their own right while other subjects are taught through arts avenues. This approach blends arts across all curriculum areas.

Arts-Cultural Curriculum ~ one in which the arts connect the child's culture or worldview to cultures in their immediate community (neighborhood, school and/or family), to cultures of nations, to culture viewed broadly, as the connection to humankind.

Arts-Expanded Curriculum ~ one in which the arts become a vehicle for extending or expanding arts education beyond the walls of a school to the larger community of arts venues, such as museums, community arts centers, concert halls.

Arts-Extra Curriculum ~ one in which the arts are taught outside the daily curriculum and considered as extra-curricular activities, often reserved for after-school hours, including poetry clubs, musical groups, drama clubs and productions.

Arts-Immersed Curriculum ~ one in which all students are required to take classes in visual arts, drama, dance, and music.

Arts-Included Curriculum ~ one in which the arts are taught alongside of the core curriculum; the arts are considered on par with the basic subjects being taught. This is often seen in magnet schools and pilot schools.

Arts Infusion ~ infusing the arts into the core curriculum to develop higher order thinking skills by creatively seeking solutions. Also defined as a child-driven process stimulating creative ability to translate and analyze one form of information into an art form. It is also defined as infusing curricular activities with visiting artists.

Arts Integration ~ is an approach that incorporates the arts into core curriculum (also known as “arts-curricular integration.”) Students engage in the creative process which connects an art form and another subject area (e.g., English Language Arts) and meets in-depth objectives in both.

Arts-Professional Curriculum ~ one in which the arts are taught as serious training and preparation for a career in the arts; most often to students who have a recognized talent and are seeking advanced training in a specific field.

Co-Teaching Model ~ involves teacher-artist pairs integrating concepts from the arts and non-arts disciplines that reinforce each other. At different points, students' experiences may focus more on the art form or on the non-arts subject, while at other times the arts and non-arts instruction appear seamless. The teacher and artist create lessons that guide the artist during sessions that focus on the arts, and clarify what the teacher will do when the artist is not present.

Discipline Based Art Training/ Discipline Specific Art Training ~ seeks to impart a well-rounded view of art by studying any given work or type of work using different disciplines, tailored to specific ages and grade levels; originally developed for use with the visual arts it evolved to encompass the study of multiple fields such as dance, drama, and music.

Integrated Curriculum ~ educators and artists working collaboratively to create a plan to advance educational objectives in the arts and other curricular areas.

Interdisciplinary Art Curriculum ~ one in which any art discipline is one of multiple disciplines brought together to examine a central theme, question, problem, or experience.

Individual Terms Relating to Arts Education

Aesthetic Education ~ the education of perception; rather than actually creating works of art, the act of making sense out of art. Aesthetic education helps one develop the ability to utilize the arts as a way of making sense of the experience.

Art Therapy ~ therapeutic application of an art form (visual art, dance, etc) as a vehicle to assist in a patient's recovery, special needs, etc.

Arts Education ~ a collective term referring to a comprehensive and sequential education in separate and distinct artistic disciplines, such as: dance, music, drama, folk arts, media arts and visual arts. For this report, “arts education” is used as the broadest term, encompassing both “direct or sequential arts instruction” and “arts integration or arts-curricular integration.”

Arts in Education ~ refers to the inclusion of arts learning in mainstream education; students and teachers partnering with artists, arts, and/or cultural institutions to incorporate the arts into the curriculum.

Artistic Disciplines ~ branches of knowledge and instruction in the arts (e.g., visual art, performing arts, literary arts, folk arts, media arts).

Arts Exposure ~ refers to students visiting arts organizations and cultural organizations to see examples of the arts (i.e., via field trips), or performance demonstrations that may take place in a school-setting. Generally, these are “one-time” or “short-term” arts opportunities for students.

Arts Instruction ~ sequential instruction in arts disciplines that is taught by certified Arts Specialists or teaching artists.

Arts Standards ~ official expectations for academic content and student achievement for arts subjects K – 12, usually adopted and disseminated by state boards of education.

Assessment ~ the process of using comprehensive evaluation tools to determine the value, significance, and level of skill or achievement reached as a result of an arts in education program.

Certified Arts Specialist ~ a visual arts, music, dance or theatre educator certified by the state to teach.

Community Schools of the Arts ~ non-profit, non-degree granting, community-based institutions offering open access to quality arts instruction by professional faculty.

Contact Sessions ~ each time an artist and teacher together connect with a small group of students (separated by time) can be considered a contact session.

Core Group ~ a core group is the same group of students who interact with the same artist for a minimum of three class sessions. This is not a select group of students “pulled out” but an existing class.

Core Subject ~ a body of knowledge that all students are expected to learn—not an elective subject.

Cross-Curricular ~ connections that exist between concepts, vocabulary, and skills from different subject areas (including the arts), particularly those connections that lead to deeper understanding.

Cross-Disciplinary ~ considering multiple disciplines when planning for and delivering instruction so that the learner understands concepts from multiple perspectives and makes natural connections between disciplines.

Cultural Process ~ culture and knowledge passed on through folk, popular, or elite cultural modes.

Elite or Academic Culture ~ the culture and knowledge taught officially through formal curricula and instructions such as schools, colleges, museums, and conservatories, as opposed to folk culture or popular culture.
Folk Culture ~ culture and knowledge passed on over time informally by word of mouth, imitation, and observance in the context of daily life. Also know as traditional culture and folklife.
Popular Culture ~ culture and knowledge passed on through mass media such as the Internet, newspapers, radio, television, etc.

Evaluation ~ systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone using criteria against a set of standards. Evaluation is often used to characterize and appraise subjects of interest including the arts.

Informances ~ student-centered group displays created to showcase academic progress through music, visual arts, drama, dance, readings, songs, and other performance-based activities.

Learning Outcomes ~ the actual result of an activity designed to achieve a specific intended future result (objective) in a student, teacher, and artist partnership experience.

Multi-Disciplinary ~ consisting of many disciplines. When one subject is studied from the viewpoint of more than one discipline.

Multiple Intelligences ~ a set of theories about how people learn in a variety of ways. The theory that there is not a single "intelligence" but rather that there are eight intelligences: verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

Partnership ~ educators, artists, and arts and cultural institutions combine talents and resources in a spirit of mutual cooperation and responsibility to create programs for students that are interdisciplinary and/or integrated in the study of non-arts subjects and the arts or environmental sciences.

Performance Demonstration ~ professional artists visiting schools and allowing students (assemblies) to experience an art form or culture through performance, demonstrations, and audience participation.

Performance Indicator ~ evidence or a performance measure, often indirect, which shows if the intended outcome has been achieved.

Reflection ~ teachers, teaching artists, administrators take time to develop methods of collective inquiry; the kinds of conversations and processes that create collective responsibility for assessing and improving instructional practice and learning opportunities.

Arts or Artists Residency ~ an intensive series of classroom sessions with a qualified teaching artist. Residencies are designed to immerse students in a particular art form, and most are also designed to teach another subject area (or areas) through that art form.

Teaching Artist ~ professional performing, literary, visual, or multidisciplinary artists whose training and experience includes programming for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 students, teachers, and/or families in schools or communities.

Thematic ~ curriculum that is interdisciplinary/integrated, organized around themes, with many hands-on arts activities and in-depth study of content.

Thematic Webbing & Curriculum Mapping ~ brainstorming a single idea and expanding the web of ideas which becomes an illustration of what could be used in a theme or unit or project approach to curriculum.

Two-way Integration ~ instruction which values and maintains the integrity of disciplines for their specific contributions to an instructional objective. It is evidenced by the understanding that learning is incomplete without the incorporation of both content areas. It is the incorporation of arts knowledge into non-arts curriculum and the incorporation of non-arts curriculum into arts knowledge.

Visual Thinking Strategies ~ a visual arts program for elementary school students and teachers using art to teach thinking, communication skills, and visual literacy.

Whole-School Arts Model ~ involving school personnel, artists, and the community in the implementation of an interdisciplinary curriculum for all students with instruction in music, dance, drama, and visual arts.

Workshop ~ Professional teaching artists work with students and teachers in a classroom setting incorporating hands-on experiences that allow students to gain skills in both arts and non-arts subject areas.


Research unearthed several links to useful glossaries for defining general education terms/phrases. The specific terms are not listed here but easily accessible on these websites:

Jessica Hoffman Davis recently published Why Our Schools Need the Arts (Teachers College Press, 2008) which has a chapter on “A Glossary of Arts Education Terms.” Many of these are discipline specific or very broad terms. There are, however, a number of very useful words/phrases that have been incorporated in this glossary. Davis' book and glossary are not available on-line.

In researching this glossary we were able to utilize many already prepared materials from a number of sources, including: Empire State Partnership, Arts Education Partnership, Project Zero, Visual Understanding in Education, Chicago Arts Partnerships, Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC), Kennedy Center, Louisiana Voices, Very Special Arts, the Bartol Foundation, US Department of Education, Stamford Youth Foundation, and Oklahoma A+ Schools. GIA is most grateful for their contributions in this endeavor.

Glossary of Arts Education Terms — Steering Committee

Jeanne Butler, primary advisor

Beth Feldman Brandt, Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation
Julie Fry, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Stan Hutton, Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation
Rory MacPherson, The Wallace Foundation
Sydney R. Sidwell, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation
Sarah Solotaroff Mirkin, senior advisor to the Chicago Arts Education Collaborative

Staff: Julie Sponsler, Grantmakers in the Arts