Austin’s Butterfly.

With a name like that, I figured I was going to like this video suggested to me at a workshop I attended.  Even though the viewer never actually gets to meet Austin, s/he does get to see his process of drawing an Austin’s Butterfly.  It’s a thought-provoking video that is worth a look for a variety of reasons.  One that struck me so clearly was what a perfect example it is to support an argument for arts instruction and arts integration.

The video shows Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning presenting to a few different groups of children of various ages.

Berger is illustrating a process of revision and peer critique that this student, Austin, went through to create a scientific rendering of an Austin’s Butterfly.  As it is, it’s a wonderful demonstration of what a process of peer revision can help individual children achieve.  Austin is a first grader and his final drawing is truly impressive for a student that young, especially given the change from the first draft.  It speaks to the grit and growth mindset I had written about last week. It illustrates what our children are capable of when we give them the room to grow and the expectation that they will.

In The Context of Arts Integration

As inspiring as the video is, and I was inspired, I couldn’t help but think what a much richer experience this could have been if it happened in the context of arts integration.  The idea behind the approach is to help students help one another with descriptive feedback.  In watching the video, you may notice the lack of art language of these children.  Even though the intent of the lesson is to have students make a more accurate and scientific drawing of a specimen with peer descriptive feedback, the students who were studying Austin’s drawings and making observations and suggestions would have benefited greatly from instruction in visual art.

When talking about a straight line versus a curved one, a student drew it in the air suggesting he did not have the vocabulary to articulate his observation.  Even the fourth graders shown did not refer to balance or symmetry when discussing issues of accuracy of the Austin’s Butterfly wings in Austin’s drawings.  Having that language could have strengthened the discussion and clarified their critiques greatly expanding their ability to give and understand descriptive feedback.

The intention behind making a scientific drawing of an Austin’s Butterflyand making an imaginative or interpretive drawing of a butterfly are different but an artist who has a scientific awareness of a subject and a scientist who has an artist’s training are both better equipped for their unique renderings of a subject.  Each area informs the other.  That is why we teach both subjects discreetly and how and why we can integrate them so naturally.  Children who have learned about science and art are that much better equipped to both process an experience, articulate that experience, and visually represent that experience.

As you tackle ways to integrate the arts and core content areas, don’t forget to have students seize the opportunity to use the vocabulary and skills they know from one area to apply them to the other, to help them make sense of the other.  That is just one of the many benefits of arts integration.