The response: “It’s not about the arts, it’s about best practice.” The question: “How do I get teachers to buy into an arts integrated approach?”
This is my paraphrase of an exchange I heard between a school principal and Sean Layne, founder of Focus 5, Inc. Since then, I heard this idea of arts integration as best practice, reiterated in a number of ways in several different contexts. One challenge to implementing arts integration in a school/district often spoken about is teacher buy-in. Perhaps, one way to respond to that challenge is to show that integrating the arts is really just best practice.
For instance, take differentiated instruction. In order to differentiate, one thing we need is an awareness of our students. What’s a great way to get to know our students? Have them create art! When students create art that is personal to them, we learn so much about them. Not only by observing how they approach the task, but by looking at the content of the art they create, And, by reading/hearing the reflection they make about their art.
We already know, even before we meet our specific students, that no two learners are alike.
By giving students a variety of modalities to learn and to express learning, we honor the diversity of learners, Not only that, but we provide them a choice. Dance and theatre appeal to those kinesthetic learners that need to “do” to understand. Visual art is great for visual learners, and music appeals to those auditory learners. If you are a believer in the various intelligences, the nature of all art appeals to those who have a strong emotional intelligence.
Formative assessments are key in differentiating teaching. Art is a great way to assess students. When students convey what they know/understand about a topic through art, a teacher can see their level of understanding. Plus, they can see any misconceptions they may have. Also, teachers may discover strengths a student has that may not reveal themselves in more traditional means of assessment. If you start a new unit and want to assess what students already know, try putting out a series of pictures related to the topic. Then, have the students talk about/write about what they see while generating a list of questions the pictures inspire. In no time at all, you will have a good sense of where you need to start with your instruction, and they will be excited and primed to learn more!
Collaboration and Problem Solving
Collaboration and problem solving are other elements of differentiated teaching and of best practice. Students can certainly create art individually, but co-creating art can be a transformative and eye-opening experience. I had second graders creating a dance about the life cycle of a frog. After observing actual footage, the students were exploring how to create those same movements with their bodies. Once they had a chance to explore a bit, I gave them each a scarf thinking it might help with the wiggling of the tadpole tail. I had no other preconceived notions for the scarves.
Over time, students discovered the most accurate way to show the tail was not to tuck the scarf into their pants and try to wiggle it that way but to use their hand behind them and wiggle the scarf. Problem solved! They also discovered the scarf could be used to represent the protective gel around the frog egg. They created the egg with their bodies and draped the scarf over them. Later each scarf represented the eggs themselves as the students acted the part of the frogs laying and fertilizing the eggs.
One beautiful moment came when one child excitedly suggested that the students huddle together closely at the beginning of the dance when they were moving as eggs because then they would look like a real cluster of frog eggs or spawn. I wanted to kiss her! Talk about assessment and a brilliant choreographic instinct! And all of those uses of the scarves came from those second graders, not their teachers.
So, In Conclusion,
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea! The next time you need to create some teacher buy-in for an arts integrated approach to teaching, try having those teachers brainstorm best teaching practices and then show them with a few activities how integrating the arts exemplifies those practices. Buy-in may be easier and closer than you think!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.