Arts for Learning Lessons

4 Oct

This article is cross-posted to the wonderful Inspired Classroom blog who is dedicating September and October to the topic of arts integration.

As one of the leading arts education orgs in our region, we at Young Audiences have been working with the idea of arts integration for a long time. More recently, we’ve started delivering the Arts for Learning Literacy Lessons (A4L) program. Developed by our National Office in New York (we are one of nearly 30 Young Audiences affiliates around the country), A4L is a unique, arts-integrated literacy program that includes teacher professional development, teacher-led unit implementation in the classroom as well as teaching artist classroom residencies.

(In case you haven’t heard, with our partners at Beaverton School District, we just secured a 5-year DOE i3 grant to implement A4L in the district’s elementary schools. Read more here.)

Both the lesson units and residencies are grounded in the learning science of the How People Learn framework published by the National Academy of Science. Through cycles of teacher or artist led instruction, independent practice, reflection, self-evaluation and revision, students not only learn the arts and literacy material, but also “learn how to learn” taking responsibility for their own learning process.

As an example, let’s look at the lesson unit that uses the visual art of graphic novel to teach sophisticated literacy concepts of visualization, story elements and author’s choice. Graphic novels and comics are a natural for arts integration for literacy. There’s a great article Going Graphic from ASCD’s Educational Leadership that discusses the value of graphic novels for literacy and another Comics Make for Colorful Learning on Edutopia.

The teacher-led A4L lesson unit is called Graphic Story Adventures. Using the text of the adventure My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, students develop graphic novel sequels. To give a sense of how the lesson unfolds… Beginning with a guided reading of the text, the teacher models   the idea of visualization. Visualization leads into the instruction of panels and drafting. Later the teacher introduces the concept of author’s choice, making the connection between the decision-making process of an author in creating a story and a graphic artist in how they are telling a story. Eventually, students independently work to identify story elements in the original text in order to create elements for a sequel and then come together to create a group graphic novel. The students are always guided to reflect on the text and make revisions to better tell the story. The unit works back and forth scaffolding learning between literacy and art.

Here are some examples of student created sequels to My Father’s Dragon created by students in the Hillsboro School District last year, followed by some student comments.

Student created graphic novel sequel to My Father's Dragon. Young Audiences' Arts for Learning Lessons.

“We had to think of every single part of the story: what the characters might be thinking, where to add our graphic story section. We also had to think about how to make our story very original and not copy anyone else’s idea,” said one student. Another, when asked why a particular part of his graphic story was his favorite, responded, “It took me the longest and I think I wrote it the best. I learned how to write in different styles.” These students were exceptionally engaged in deep learning.

For me the big takeaways of what we can do:

  • Administrators, parents: Empower teachers with a variety of basic arts skills for easy incorporation into their toolbelts, whether through a professional development program like A4L or requiring pre-certified teachers to have more arts training. Or even teachers empowering themselves through their own participation in art classes or online information sharing like here on this very blog.
  • Arts organizations: Empower teaching artists with training on arts-integration and provide ideas for subject matter content appropriate to their discipline. Not only will this make better teachers, I suspect it will inspire new perspectives on their own art.
  • Create ongoing connections between teachers and teaching artists who can reinforce subject matter skills as well as further engage students in learning the art form.
  • Appreciate and take advantage of the inherent nature of the arts and project based work to instill both independent and cooperative learning.

Learn more about our Arts for Learning Lessons here.

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