7 Ways Arts Integration Helps the Whole Child
Here are seven ways successful schools help champion creatively alive children.
April 2019, Volume 42, Issue 8
1. Navigating Social and Emotional Issues
Art develops self-regulation and a sense of belonging. At the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington, Vermont, principal Bobby Riley works to change the discipline paradigm.
“Kids don’t intentionally get in trouble,” he says. “When they act out, there is always something else going on. Especially in that moment, kids have difficulty articulating what is at the root of the issue.”
That’s where the arts come in, as a therapeutic listening strategy that includes a series of Rs—readiness, recognize, regulate, respond, reflect, and restore. The six-step process, says Riley, shifts social-emotional challenges from disciplinary repercussions to shared responsibility in a respectful learning community.
2. District-Level Support for the Arts
Experiences in the arts are associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills. It improves motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. So many district leaders champion arts opportunities in curriculum and even out-of-school settings.
“The elementary principal role is pivotal in the trajectory of how students and parents see the arts,” says Roberta Marcus, Pennsylvania School Board Association consultant in residence and former school board president of Parkland School District in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “We need to capture families early so the value is not diminished along the way due to competing priorities.”
To build districtwide support, Brad Foust, fine arts supervisor of Bartlett City School District in Memphis, Tennessee, suggests starting with five essentials—start small, form a leadership team, attend professional learning sessions, read and research, and share your knowledge.
3. Peer Coaching to Drive Change
Peer coaches help colleagues visualize new teaching strategies and pioneer pathways for schoolwide, transformative change. But change is incredibly difficult, no matter how necessary the transformation or how noble the aspiration.
“Because my art teacher is such a valuable resource to colleagues, we make sure she has time for co-planning art-integration projects with classroom teachers,” says Theo Quinones, principal of Governor Wolf Elementary School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “So I step in and relieve her of some of her other duties. … And I bring in substitutes to free up time for teachers to collaborate and have deep conversations with each other.”
Principals can follow a series of five steps—design a creative leadership team, become personally engaged in the transformation, establish a vision and culture, build creative capacity, and evaluate policies and structures—that shift the school toward desired outcomes.
4. Blending Ways Humans Convey Meeting
Multiliteracies make big ideas visible and provide teachers with a means of seeing what their students understand. Students learn by creating artifacts, manipulating concrete objects, and sketching math challenges.
For example, students at Vero Beach Elementary in Vero Beach, Florida, created a multiliteracies project to redesign learning spaces. They called it “Zen Zone.” Vero Beach principal Cindy Emerson shared the school’s standardized test scores and behavior referral data with fifth-graders. Using this information, students visualized problem patterns and generated solutions.
“The data revealed students needed a place to de-escalate when behavior got intense,” says Emerson. “Their analysis of the reading scores led them to hypothesize that a comfortable place could increase interest in reading. … They created a cozy reading nook to increase the joy of spending quiet time with books.”
5. Find Inspiration in Nature
Biophilia, literally “love of life,” describes the innate tendency humans have to connect with nature. Biomimicry is a field of science that studies ways to imitate nature’s best, time-tested ideas. Together, they create the opportunity for students in STEAM challenges to discover solutions based on characteristics like patterns, physical structures, and systems found in nature.
Innovations often result from combining already existing elements or systems in new ways to solve other problems. Bringing biomimicry into classrooms underscores the importance of blending each of the STEAM disciplines to view solutions with new multifaceted lenses.
6. A Multidisciplinary STEAM Approach
To introduce the multidisciplinary STEAM approach, consider using the IDEA design thinking approach, outlined by the National Art Education Foundation.
- Identify community members, parents, and faculty with content expertise to help teachers develop rigorous project plans.
- Define how this work will be done. Provide collaborative planning time and STEAM-related professional development to embed this approach schoolwide.
- Explore new ways to support these teaching practices. Remove barriers. Find resources. Apply for grants (like the Champion Creatively Alive Children grant highlighted below). Document progress.
- Assess and review the process and projects. Do formative assessment throughout the initiative. Help teachers use STEAM artifacts in authentic assessment. Include students in building evaluation tools and conducting self-assessments.
7. Student-Led Game-Making
Challenging students to design learning games creates rigorous, memorable learning. Getting started, according to Jordan Shapiro, Ph.D., a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, is easier than you might think. He breaks it down into these four steps:
- Teachers set the learning objectives that align with curriculum standards and other goals.
- Students combine their creativity with online inquiry and traditional ways of gathering and sharing ideas.
- Teams follow a scaffolded game design process that provides time for planning the game’s objectives.
- Students teach their games to others.
A classroom of children who have designed their own games is one with students beaming with pride. It’s work, but it won’t feel like it to students.
To read the full version of these articles, check out the Principal supplement Champion Creatively Alive Children.
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