The Arts in Educa(r)tion

2 03 2010

For the past week or so in my life, all roads have led to research on the importance of teaching the arts in education.

There is a wealth of research and information out there that explains why teaching the arts in education is so important, along with free resources and tools for teachers to use to assist them in teaching the arts in education.

The term arts, as defined by national standards includes music, dance, drama and visual art.  An article entitled Learning Through the Arts by Dee Dickinson, for New Horizons for Learning (located in Washington State) features this quote: “The term arts education has had various meanings throughout the years. Following the lead of both the national standards and the Washington State Essential Learnings, the term arts includes music, dance, drama and visual art.” The home page for the New York City Arts Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects Website features this description of their program and goals: “The mission of the Office of Arts and Special Projects is to provide New York City public school communities – students, teachers, school leaders and parents  – with information and resources that will enable every student to achieve a full education in the arts…Fulfillment of this mission will lead students to discover the lifelong enjoyment and wonder inherent in the visual arts, music, dance and theater, and will connect them to arts institutions and organizations that exhibit and perform the arts, offer advanced study in the arts, and generate the myriad jobs available in New York City’s arts-related industries that are both financially and personally rewarding.”

Also, in this post, I’d like to discuss not only the importance of teaching the arts in specialized classrooms for those arts, but also the importance in incorporating certain arts into regular classrooms such as English classrooms.

Why Arts Education Is Crucial

An article published in the Arts Education  issue of Edutopia magazine in February of 2009 and also featured online, by Fran Smit entitled, “Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best: Art and music are key to student development,” features some incredible discussion and research on the importance of teaching the arts:

The Effect of No Child Left Behind on Arts Education:

“Whatever NCLB [No Child Left Behind] says about the arts, it measures achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills. It’s no surprise, then, that many districts have zeroed in on the tests. A 2006 national survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy organization in Washington, DC, found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, 44 percent of districts had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects. A follow-up analysis, released in February 2008, showed that 16 percent of districts had reduced elementary school class time for music and art — and had done so by an average of 35 percent, or fifty-seven minutes a week.”

“In California, for example, participation in music courses dropped 46 percent from 1999-2000 through 2000-04, while total school enrollment grew nearly 6 percent, according to a study by the Music for All Foundation. The number of music teachers, meanwhile, declined 26.7 percent. In 2001, the California Board of Education set standards at each grade level for what students should know and be able to do in music, visual arts, theater, and dance, but a statewide study in 2006, by SRI International, found that 89 percent of K-12 schools failed to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines. Sixty-one percent of schools didn’t even have a full-time arts specialist.”

Who’s Doing it Best

“In Dallas, for example, a coalition of arts advocates, philanthropists, educators, and business leaders have worked for years to get arts into all schools, and to get students out into the city’s thriving arts community. Today, for the first time in thirty years, every elementary student in the Dallas Independent School District receives forty-five minutes a week of art and music instruction. In a February 2007 op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News, Gigi Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought, the nonprofit partnership working with the district, the Wallace Foundation, and more than sixty local arts and cultural institutions, explained the rationale behind what was then called the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative: “DALI was created on one unabashedly idealistic, yet meticulously researched, premise — that students flourish when creativity drives learning.”

Smith’s article also discusses the New York State requirements and standards for arts learning, guided by New York City‘s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, PreK-12: “New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made arts education a priority in his school reform plans, and the city has launched sweeping initiatives to connect more students with the city’s vast cultural resources.”

The Arts are Key to Student Development

Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual’s life — according to the report, they ‘can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing,’ creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.”

“Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math.” (Source: 1999 College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers, The College Entrance Examination Board, Princeton, New Jersey)

– – –

The Arts in an English Classroom

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm‘s book, “You Gotta BE the Book” includes many new and creative ideas on how to incorporate the arts into an English classroom; including drama strategies, visual techniques, the use of illustrated books, collages, picture mapping, and symbolic story representation. In the section, “The Visualization Project: Art in the  Classroom,” Wilhelm discusses his experiences incorporating illustrated books into his classroom, and he writes “I just have to wonder if school conveys a very limited view of literature that does not include picture books and comics, and if this limited view of literature contributes to how bummed out and distanced many of my student readers becomes from literature and the literary experience.”

As Wilhelm began to notice and understand that three of his students were especially more visual than the others, he began to give them assignments like drawing the characters, and drawing, creating or building scenes from the book. These students would then place their characters and props representations in these scenes at the appropriate places, based on where they visualized them to be as they read; and, they would place representations of themselves in those spaces to show their point of view, or from where they felt they were watching this scene take place. Wilhelm wrote about his female, visual learner, “She explained that she usually had a very sketchy iea of what people and places in a story looked like until she drew them.” This same student also replied to Wilhelm later, “If I draw a person I know them. I know their feelings.”

Wilhelm wrote in reflecting on this experience, “The artwork considered in this study helped me as the teacher, and helped the students themselves, to see the various ways in which one text could be evoked and the various possibilities that it held to be read in different and potentially richer ways.” Lastly, Wilhelm wrote that, “The greatest recommendation for including artistic response in the language arts classroom is that it encouraged very different readers to respond in natural ways, to share that response with each other, and to extend and develop it in unforeseen, socially supported, and personally validating and exciting ways.” Wilhelm’s book “You Gotta BE the Book” contains a ton of creative teaching ideas and strategies, unique ways to incorporate the visual arts into the English classroom, the theory behind these ideas, and commentary to each chapter in which Wilhelm reflects on the research and insights he introduces. “You Gotta BE the Book,” is seriously worth reading for any educator, tutor, or teacher of reading or writing.

Similar to Wilhelm’s experiences incorporating illustrated books into his classroom, one form of art that can be applied to an English classroom, and that has always interested me, has been graphic novels. Read, Write, Think features a lesson plan entitled Making It Visual for ELL Students: Teaching History Using Maus (a graphic novel) created by Christian W. Chun and Martha Atwell. I found the theory which influenced Chun and Atwell’s lesson plan to be extremely interesting, and it discusses the importance of art in education:

Chun, C.W. (2009). Critical literacies and graphic novels for ELLs: Teaching Maus. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(2), 144–153.

  • Teaching graphic novels can be an alternative to traditional literacy pedagogy, which ignores the dynamic relationships of visual images to the written word.
  • The multimodalities of graphic novels such as Maus and Persepolis, along with their engaging content reflecting the diverse identities present in many classrooms, work in tandem to help deepen students’ reading engagement and develop their critical literacies.
  • Making connections between these stories and students’ own experiences, and drawing on their outside multiliteracies practices aid literacy development.

Guthrie, J.T. (2004). Teaching for literacy engagement. Journal of Literacy Research, 36(1), 1–30.

  • Students’ engaged reading is “often socially interactive” (p. 4). These interactions are clearly evident in the reading club, chat room, blog, and posting activities that have flourished in the wake of recent phenomenally popular books among adolescent and adult readers.
  • Students’ increased engagement with particular genres (in this case, graphic novels) can facilitate their entry and apprenticeship into important social networks that amplify opportunities for academic success in mainstream classes.

– – –

Awesome Resources

Thanks to the English Ning, I found through Frank W. Baker’s post an amazing cite through Ovation TV that offers and Arts Ed Toolkit containing “curriculum units [that] have been designed in collaboration with New York City Department of Education and are available for download. The materials are suitable for grades 9 through 12 and include documentaries, films and complementary curriculum units, in alignment with the National Visual Arts Standards, as outlined by the National Art Education Association, as well as other activity guides. They are applicable to various other disciplines including language arts, social studies and beyond.” And all of this is completely FREE! In less than a minute all of the material was at my fingertips!

The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE “empowers educators to teach in, through, and about the arts by providing the tools to develop interdisciplinary curricula that fully integrate the arts with other academic subjects.” The websites “offers free, standards-based teaching materials for use in and out of the classroom, as well as professional development resources, student materials, and guidelines for arts-based instruction and assessment.” It also has a page of awesome arts quotes, and a page entitled Look – Listen – Learn, which features links to created, detailed and developed interactive web sites / pages on topics ranging from Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Check out these links for fun:

City Dionysia: The Ancient Roots of Modern Theater

A Dancer’s Jounal: Martha Graham

Sounds of China PodPage – with awesome podcasts like this on it

African Odyssey Interactive




2 responses

3 03 2010

Holy Cow, Laura! This post is incredible. It has everything! I just found a video about creativity in education and how school started as one big advertisement to increase consumerism, and this is exactly where I was going with what would have been my next post. I commented on Jessie B’s blogpost a little earlier today (she posted about a long term career oriented education–where students were encouraged to explore careers on a long term basis instead of right before applying to college). I loved this idea, and it made me realize that no one ever pushed me in high school. Essentially, I had no interests because I could only be creative one semester a year in whatever art class I decided to take. I like the idea of included all types of art into this sort of overarching theme of artistic expression in the classroom. I wish that I had the opportunity to free write/draw, create, and explore different mediums of art. I didn’t realize that I could use my creativity in writing until freshman year of college, and although it’s never too late, I feel cheated in a way. Awesome post, Laura. So many great resources. I may or may not have post envy. =)

18 03 2010
PLN Day 64: LLED 420 Blog Digest « Whitneymeister's English Education Blog

[…] suggestions to folks that are feeling blocked when it comes to blogging.  Her previous post “The Arts in Educa(r)tion” is this extremely impressive overview of the issues facing art education in the current academic […]

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