Posts filed under ‘Literacy’
In the recent issue of Teaching Artist Journal, Arnold Aprill, Founding and Creative Director of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE, http://www.capeweb.org), addresses the dichotomous, and seemingly inimical, relationship between direct instruction in the arts and arts integrated learning, in his article “Direct Instruction vs. Art Integration: A False Dichotomy.” He suggests that the scarcity of funds bore the rivalry, pitting program against program and content area against content area, all the while neglecting the truth that, by working together, couldn’t both parties serve the children better?
Properly delivered, high-quality arts instruction ought to be cultivated as part of the whole culture of the school, both as it is integrated into the core subjects and taught as a stand alone, fundamental element of the curriculum. Developing arts integrated programs that concurrently and significantly impact arts and academic learning involves collaboration among classroom teachers, arts specialists, and teaching artists.
One can think of many reasons why it benefits students to integrate the arts into the standard curriculum of reading, math, science or social studies. Some may think that involving students in hands-on art work helps to engage them in the subject matter, thus reaching children that may be habitually distracted or uninterested when participating in more prescriptive instruction. However, there are many more “unseen” benefits of integrating the arts than meet the eye.
One benefit in particular is the way in which the artistic process of creation that includes cycles of reflection and revision can impact student literacy.
Sustained and revised thinking about texts is a critical skill for literacy, though it is often neglected when teaching children to use reading comprehension strategies. Because artistic creation intrinsically involves extensive revision, arts integration can help students learn how to change and manipulate their thinking about texts.
Teachers who practice deep reading instruction encourage children to select books that cause them to question and rethink what they know and believe. They also show them how to reread selectively as a way to affirm, expand on, or alter their knowledge and beliefs.
The Arts for Learning (A4L) Lessons Units use different art forms to help students understand and experience how artists rework an artistic piece over time, allowing them to discover, and then rediscover, new and different things about their understanding of their art and their worldview in the process. By linking these art forms to reading through the process of sustained and revised thinking, teachers can help their students discover a deeper meaning in their texts.
In each A4L Unit, students begin with the text then create artwork that reflects their initial understanding of the reading. By encouraging students to share their interpretations and art with one another, the class discovers new and different things about the text. Then, as the students read further, they return to their original artwork and revise it to reflect those new discoveries. This process not only encourages students to manipulate and revise their interpretations of a text, but it also creates an awareness of one’s thought process and encourages them to be persistent in searching for deeper meaning when reading.
Research and observational reports show that integrating music with reading and writing can be highly effective in teaching literacy and 21st century skills.
The A4L Unit called Planting a Community is a case in point. The Unit draws parallels between themes in books and themes in musical pieces, helping teach kids higher level thinking skills. By drawing the connection between thinking as an artist and thinking as a reader, the program teaches students that both activities require similar skills, such as creativity and critical thinking.
The unit also supports “soft skills,” like teamwork, as well as self-esteem, added Dana Sudduth, Executive Director of Young Audiences of Northeast Texas.
Why are the arts in general so effective in reaching kids? Victoria Tilney, in an Instructor Magazine article (http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4314) explained:
“The arts allow students to develop self-esteem, to be self-expressive, and to apply their knowledge of other academic subjects in creative ways.” Integration of the arts with the curriculum captures the magic and substance of the arts for all students, while also engaging students in the substance and skills of other subjects. This can be effective in building students’ confidence, especially for those who are not engaged by the standard curriculum and teaching styles.
Says Tileny, “Because the arts address multiple intelligences, they provide a gateway for students to enter academic areas that they may have otherwise found difficult or off-putting.”
Increases student achievement on state and local literacy standards
Students who participated in Arts for Learning Lessons showed a marked improvement in difficult reading, writing, and communication skills compared with students in a standard literacy curriculum. A recent study by the independent research organization WestEd found that Arts for Learning Lessons accounted for student improvements in an array of literacy skills, including the ability to make inferences to create meaning, identify the theme of a novel, and describe a character’s or the author’s traits, emotions, and thoughts. Significant majorities of elementary and middle school students demonstrated improvements in these skills based on pre- and post-tests. (WestEd Formative Evaluation, 2007-08)
Arts-integrated curriculum increases reading outside the classroom, too, say many educators. Teachers in some arts-integrated programs notice an increase in students’ pleasure reading. Many report that students are reading more during free time, on weekends, and during vacations breaks.
What changes in students’ pleasure reading have you observed as a result of your arts-integrated programs?
One of Young Audiences’ national programs is a supplemental literacy program which focuses on innovative ways for teaching and learning literacy, learning and life skills.
The program consists of five instructional units designed for use in Grades 1-8, each with a particular art form as its focus—one each with theater, music, dance, and two with visual arts. Each unit improves specific, difficult reading and writing skills drawn from state and national standards while building children’s capabilities to think imaginatively, work cooperatively, and communicate effectively. Students work back and forth between literacy and the arts, as they strengthen their creative and critical thinking skills, including self-assessment of their work.
Putting an emphasis on the “whole child,” the program is designed to have an impact on children’s essential learning and life skills, such as planning, problem solving, revising and working both independently and collaboratively. Examples of each of these will be presented when we discuss individual units in future posts.