I’ve just finished reading a post by Jessica Wakefield called, “Learning In and Through the Arts.” In it, she discusses the whole child and the importance of students’ engagement with the material they are learning.
Research and years of experience reinforce the power of integrating the arts to engage students in every dimension of learning and development. When the arts are integrated, students are more engaged because they take on a more active role in learning by experiencing things directly and expressing themselves in multiple ways. They are challenged to take what they learn, build a deeper understanding, and then do something with it. When the arts are integrated well, students are involved in making decisions about their learning.
The idea of engagement with the material you are learning is maybe the most beneficial attribute of arts integration – TRUE arts integration, that is (when the art form and the accompanying curriculum recieve equal importance).
One of my favorite lessons of all time is the one I do with main idea and supporting details. This is a great example of student engagement as we learn about “MI” through drama. I’ve blogged about “MI” before. (Almost exactly a year ago, in fact.) Here is what the lesson entails:
I introduce the lesson by saying that I’ve decided to call in an expert to help us learn about main idea. And then, turning around, I magically “beam in” the guest teacher for the day, “MI”. This character (that I have become) talks funny, acts funny and gets the point across.
After introductions to the class, MI gets on with what he came for – talking about a main idea. He states, “I am MI and I want to tell you: Dogs are cute! ” He then asks the kids to come up with statements that support what he has said. For example, one student may give a reason (a supporting detail SD), “They tilt their head when they look at you.” Then that student comes up and holds up (supports) MI’s arm. MI walks around the room collecting more supporting details until the other arm and a leg is being supported by the details for the main idea. (Yes, by this time I am hobbling around the room, being supported by my students.) Each time that MI collects another SD, the whole paragraph is repeated orally: MI states the main idea and each student recites the SD they came up with.
Now, yes, there are only three students participating in the actual drama at this time, but the engagement of the class always amazes me. I’ve been doing this for years now and each time the entire class is mezmorized by the performance. Students often ask later, “When is MI coming back??” And sometimes, if necessary, he does.
One year he came back and led students to work collaboratively on their own version of a personified MI and SDs. Students worked on creating their statements and then, one group at a time, they presented their oral paragraphs as “MI” and the “SDs”.
When MI “beams away” and I return, the kids are still excited from the experience. As we transfer this experience into a graphic organizer, light bulbs are going off everywhere. The connections the students make between the parts of a paragraph (and later longer essays) and our improvisational skit are becoming solid because they have a new, deeper understanding of the concepts. It is amazing how a little art can engage the mind and in turn, do so much for our learning.