Arts in Schools: Using Novelty & Variety to Define Engagement

By | 2017-08-18T13:30:25+00:00 March 20th, 2017|

We are continuing our Defining Engagement through STEAM series based on the research of John Antonetti and Phillip Schlechty.  Each session will share strategies, provide templates and rubrics to self assess, and/or offer downloadable resources to ultimately define engagement in an actionable way.  Check out the introduction to this series.

Novelty and Variety

Last week we began with Session 1 , which took a look at the use of personal response as a means to increase student engagement.  This week we are introducing how arts in schools via novelty and variety can also increase student achievement.

Session 2: Novelty & Variety

Novelty and Variety is so important for building engagement in STEAM.  In order to be authentically engaged, students must be allotted the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways.  The more students are able to create, design, and engineer, the higher they move up Bloom’s ladder.  Let’s take a look at Antonietti’s suggestions for developing authentic engagement through novelty and variety.

Variety of Products
Incorporating a variety of products will help increase student engagement and the arts are a great way to provide that variety.  Offer multiple ways for students to prove their knowledge including options in visual, musical, and movement-based demonstrations.

Diverse Perspectives
Allow students to look through multiple lenses.  Having students “step into another’s shoes” or “speak in the voice of” will provide novelty in the classroom.  Instead of approaching content from the eyes of students or teachers, have students use a different perspective.  For example, characters, historical figures, scientists, their family, or their favorite basketball player all while rationalizing this perspective.

Layered Interests
Take the time to survey students and capitalize on their interests.  Layer these interests into the variety of products students can produce and the diverse perspectives students can view.

Simulations & Role-Play
Let students perform!  When we bring the performing arts into the classroom we watch student engagement soar.  Any content can be transformed with simulations and role-play.  Having students plan, produce, and perform their knowledge is one of the highest levels of rigor and creates even higher levels of engagement.

Games & Competitions
Our students are always amidst a competition.  Whether in athletics, after school-activities, dance, improvisation troupes, or even advanced placement or SAT preparation, everything is a competition.  Bringing a playful competitive spirit into the classroom will quickly increase student engagement.

Authentic Engagement via Novelty & Variety
Pushing students past compliance and into the realm of authentic engagement is not easy, but including opportunities for students to use the arts as a chance to bring novelty and variety in the classroom is.  None of these require you to rewrite curriculum but it does require you to change up the way students demonstrate their knowledge.  You can still present your content but instead of having students just regurgitate it back to you in the form of a written response or a multiple choice quiz, have them share their new knowledge in a variety of ways.  When we create these opportunities in the classroom, our students are engaged, they retain the information, and perform better in the ultimate assessments.  

Next Week: Session 3
Session 3 will take a look at how fostering an environment where students feel emotionally and intellectually safe will help students become authentically engaged in order to achieve success.

Typhani Harris is a dance educator and mentor teacher who has been on the boards of both the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CAHPERD) and California Dance Education Association (CDEA). Recently, she has made a cross-country move and is now an instructional coach in Brooklyn, New York. Having begun as a high school English teacher, it has been her mission to bring theory and research into the traditional dance class, and in 2009 she won the Music Center’s Bravo award for excellence in Arts Education. Typhani is currently on a mission to help teachers Stop Teaching and Start Reaching their students, check out the unTeacher Lab at

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