Sometimes it’s possible to step back and ask the big question, “Why are we doing this?” The “this” is arts-integrated curriculum. Specifically, we are creating and sharing the Total Learning Digital curriculum that includes (1) teacher professional development, (2) student multi-modal or arts-infused learning across the curriculum, and (3) focus on positive and powerful teacher-student interactions.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been cleaning out piles of important papers, articles, notes, etc. from many years of work. I’ve also been teaching and videotaping 4th grade lessons, which will complete the more than 500 video segments that accompany the Total Learning Digital whole-group lessons at 5 grade levels. With only four lessons now left to videotape and edit, this component of the platform will be complete! The intersection of these two activities – cleaning and teaching – has offered a unique reflection opportunity.
After teaching two lessons of the four that comprise Grade 4 Lessons 4, I asked the students, who had just been totally engaged in identifying night characters in “I Love the Night,” by Dar Hosta – then making shadow puppets of these characters and exploring the characteristics of light that make shadow puppetry work –
“You just spent a lot of learning time doing this activity. Do you think it is worth the time, with all the things you need to get done during your available instructional time? The first child responding said, “Yes, because this is fun and we’re still learning.” Ah, the F word – FUN! This child realized that the fun needed to be focused on learning, or it could not be justified. A second child responded, “I like it, but I don’t think its worth the time because we have to learn a lot in reading, math, science, and history – I think this way takes too much time.” This child seemed very focused for a 4th grader, with a grasp of the daily and yearly objectives, and time management.
At the end of the next pair of lessons, completing the four-lesson unit, this second student made an unsolicited statement, “Now that we’ve completed all the lessons, I can see that we explored a lot of ideas through different lessons, and then pulled these ideas together to really understand the ideas in the book. Everyone had a way to learn, and I learned in lots of different ways that made me think. I think the way these lessons were put together was brilliant. (Honest, this was her language!) Everyone was so busy learning, and we made lots of interesting connections. I DO think it’s worth the time to learn this way!”
That same afternoon, I ran across a quote by Elliot Eisner, who was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and one of the United States’ leading academic minds, recognized for his contributions to shaping educational policy that reflects the potential of the arts in educational development of the young.
Eisner’s quote was this:
“In the end, the arts make three thing possible.
First, they develop the mind by giving it opportunity to learn to think in special ways.
Second, they make communication possible on matters that will not take the impress of logically constructed language. Poetry, after all, was invented to say what prose can never say.
Third, the arts are places and spaces where one can enrich one’s life. Such outcomes are not educationally trivial. When taken seriously, the arts have much to teach educators; they could provide the models needed to create schools that genuinely educate.”
Elliot Eisner in “Opening a Shuttered Window”,
Phi Delta Kappan (Vol 87, No. 01, 9/05, pp.8-10)
I would humbly add that one reason the arts are so important in education is that in the arts there are multiple solutions to problems, rather than one right answer. There is an abundance of theory and evidence to recommend Total Learning and other arts-integrated approaches. Eisner is only one of the many articulate advocates for teaching in and through the arts. Our student’s aha moment is an example of what happens every day in Total Learning classrooms – opening doors and windows to learning.
If you’re already using arts-based strategies, you’re doing something that we know works. Hooray for you! If you haven’t yet tried it, it’s time to get on board. Start with a year-long Total Learning Digital license at http://www.aeideas.com/?product_cat=total-learning-digital-licenses!