Featured Cover art by Jessica Ottewell via Flickr
In April, I began a three part blog sharing my thoughts on Arts education. The series includes the following topics:
- Part I (April): Why Arts education must be funded and included as basic education for all students.
- Part II (May): Lesson ideas and resources for incorporating the Arts in the content classroom.
- Part III (June): “Art Means Business.” STEAM, CTE, & the Maker Movement are natural Art cohorts.
In my April blog, I propose that the Arts are an essential part of basic education for students at all levels, deserving of content area incorporation. This claim is grounded in the following principles:
- We need the Arts to be human
- “Art Means Business”
- The Arts make us think, feel, and do differently
A healthy body of research supports Arts incorporation as a vehicle for access to and improvement of students’ academic and social-emotional growth. There is certainly need for Arts classes at all levels in which students explore, analyze, and create deeply in various art forms. However, just as Common Core Standards call for “[s]hared responsibility for students’ literacy development”, in other words instruction in and application of solid communication skills across all content areas, so too can Arts incorporation across curricular lines increase achievement and growth .
On that note, I offer 4 examples of what Arts integration might look like in the content areas of English Language Arts/Humanities, STEM/CTE, History, and Mathematics.
I learned about Poetry Out Loud 3 years ago when I was invited to a Get Lit training. Between that and the work of Jackson Holbert, a graduate and poet, I became convinced of the power and need for more robust incorporation of this integral and thriving human art form into my ELA classes: Poetry matters .
Poetry Out Loud , begun by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006, is an annual, national competition for HS students. Students choose from over 600 poems to learn the art of poetry performance. I incorporate recitation and memorization lessons, practice, and peer-feedback, along with an exploration of slam poetry, into text-based units with my ELA students.
Doing so allows my students to more deeply experience and understand Common Core concepts like close reading, analysis of craft and structure, and the power of language. My students reflect on how the experience prompts personal growth in their “well-grounded sense of confidence” and their “ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures” (CASEL). POL competitions at the school, regional, state, and national level further build confidence and empathy. MS and ES teachers are incorporating POL style lessons as well; my daughter’s 5th grade team recently hosted a Coffee House style recitation. The end product may be zany, cathartic, or poignant, as evidenced by the 2013 national winner’s recitation:
I have been privileged to teach alongside several inspiring STEM/CTE educators, including Terri Sardinia , 2016 Washington Conservation Educator of the Year, who stretch their students’ creative and critical thinking skills. Students in programs as diverse as Teaching Academy, computer integrated manufacturing, and biotech research benefit from Arts integration. Arts Integration Teachers offer a rationale , based on increased student achievement and growth, for incorporating Arts experience into STEM learning (STEAM); value adds include unique hands-on experiences, opportunity for differentiation, and creative problem solving.
Task students with telling the story of a science concept. Examples include creating a storyline about the lifecycle of an atoll, composing a cartoon about roundabout design, or performing a live newscast covering mass dinosaur extinction. Alfonso Gonzalez, a fellow Corelaborater, recently tweeted about Book Creator , a storytelling tool for younger kids. Students with access to a 3D printer or digital software might depict their stories as an artistic rendering or relief. In the professional world, science often informs performance art and literature: Star Wars films, Bukovich’s Symphony No.1, Alan Brody’s Operation Epsilon, Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth.
The NGSS move the focus toward doing science; “Scientists and engineers present data in a myriad of visual formats in order to reveal meaningful patterns and trends.” This standard links directly with CCSS Reading Anchor 7 and Writing Anchor 7. Though the correlation doesn’t specify storytelling as a desired product, research supports writing as a scaffold for increased understanding and a vehicle for concept application and synthesis. Writing helps the brain categorize and relate specific facts and procedures.
Creative writing further offers social-emotional benefits as students stretch and play with ideas in new ways, developing informed voices (especially important when science presents ethical dilemmas). Try these writing prompts for the science class. Recently, Allen Distinguished Educators paired engineering and creative writing in their MAKEshift poetry project. Perhaps the pairing works due to the messy nature of both (chaos theory anyone?): this isn’t a bad thing. Students who view mistake-making and uncertainty as meaningful may develop stronger resiliency and healthier risk-taking — art can help.
Another Lakeside teacher, Matt Sullivan, brings U.S. history to life with music and dance incorporation. His students recently analyzed folk rock lyrics to experience and better understand feminist perspectives. Several expressed a deeper connection to and understanding of the movement after encountering it in music. Some students who wouldn’t otherwise connect personally or express their thinking aloud participate with gusto in these Arts experiences.
Mr. Sullivan uncovers just a few technical concepts so his students can fully appreciate the experience. For example, students learn how rhythmic variations in cha-cha-cha, tango, and swing reveal social mores. The History Matters website offers some helpful materials regarding music analysis.
Text introducing a particular dance form or musical era can set the stage for the experience; an sample is Susan Brown’s tango history (adjust reading level at Rewordify). Students might then view and try partner and line dances, perhaps followed by discussion about how each reveals cultural values like gender expectations. The Teaching Channel shows how dance promotes MS understanding of socio-political ideas. Younger students might view the videos at Echospace, published by the Alaska Native Heritage Center, to see how dance can represent cultural values.
Navigating music and dance as primary sources facilitates student growth in areas like CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 : “Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.” Further, Arts incorporation enriches students’ “[integration of] information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources” (from Anchor 9). To borrow from my April blog: Greene et. al.’s study indicates simply exposing students to art can impact learning. Participating in art processes and creation increases that impact; for instance, self and social awareness growth may occur when kids explore dance and music as part of a “close reading” of diverse cultures and peoples.
Before her retirement, the students of award-winning math educator Barb Anderson always impressed me with their tessellation art. Alongside geometry concepts, students were introduced to the art of M.C. Escher — which could be paired with that of mathematician Sir Roger Penrose. Students created colorful 2D tessellations and 3D models that hung from the ceiling.
Engage New York suggests 3rd graders study tessellations to “Solve real world and mathematical problems involving perimeters of polygons” (CCSS Math 3.MD.8); combining the practical concept with the artistic application will deepen student understanding and skill. In addition to academic achievement, students studying and composing graphic design may indeed be learning stress coping skills. Curry and Kasser’s research, published in the 2005 Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, found “structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern may induce a meditative state that benefits individuals suffering from anxiety” (81). Math-art calms the savage beast: who knew?
To get started, show art via Escher’s official website. Teach the involved geometry concepts and have students create simple regular tessellations. Perhaps add a twist like reflections, 3D creation, graphic design with tilings and mosaics, or digital production. Tesselations.org offers kid-friendly materials and examples. Exploratorium has a middle school lesson plan. HS students might find Totally Tessellated’s interactive website useful.
If you would like to further explore Arts incorporation lessons and resources, here are some online tools I mentioned in the April blog:
- AFTA provides a thorough compendium of research based rationales and resources to help guide the why and how of arts incorporation.
- ArtsWA has educator grants and resources.
- Get familiar with the STEAM movement; the extensive Arts integration resources at EducationCloset include Common Core aligned lesson ideas, videos, podcasts, and a magazine.
- Check out some examples of Arts integration to get your thoughts percolating.
I’ve also found a lot of inspiration following distinguished teachers and Arts advocates on twitter, including Tim Needles and Susan Riley. If you have Arts incorporation ideas, resources, or tweeters, please share in the comments section!