Are the arts fluff? Well, first of all, NO! That being said, let’s explore why the answer is no.
Lessons From the Teacher Art Retreat
This week is the summer Teacher Art Retreat and yesterday we spent time in two sessions based in music and storytelling. Debbie Ambrose started us in the process of composing a song and Lori Cotter led a session in how storytelling brings history alive. It was during these sessions that I kept thinking to myself how much people in attendance are learning and how much students who go through these processes can learn.
We were constantly questioning, processing, thinking, collaborating, and creating.
The most poignant thing that came across, though was the deep learning that goes along with these arts-infused experiences. By writing lyrics to a song (to be revealed later this week!), the retreaters were working deeply with the key concepts of our theme. In our case, we are composing a song about the importance of arts education and integration. It, so far, seems to be akin to a letter of advocacy to the education world, something we will need to have in our back pocket as we continue our work in education. We came up with our theme together, brainstormed important words that were related to our theme and then broke off to create lines of lyrics (in couplet form.)
Any Teacher Can Adapt This to Their Curriculum
Take any subject area, find a theme within your units and have students work with the ideas, vocabulary and content. When they start to create the lyrics and put it to meaningfully chosen music, they are working so deeply with the subject that they will remember the content, not to mention the experience itself. I have done this with my fourth graders in years past during our science unit on Land and Water. During this unit, I have the students compose the Erosion Blues. The students work collaboratively to use science vocabulary, explain the three forms of erosion, describe cause and effect and they do it in style! It’s something none of us forget!
When Lori was leading her session “Historically Speaking,” again, I could only think about how much the students would learn through effective storytelling from the teacher and through their own creation of stories. Her focus was on personal stories and that of local history. I couldn’t help but connect this to what my team does during our immigration unit. (Or maybe more like what we should be doing!) We ask our students to find out information about their families, but we don’t take it to that next step and have them story-tell. We should. And, as Lori pointed out, public speaking is in the common core. What better way to practice public speaking than to tell relevant stories that connect with the other content standards you may be required to teach?
And it is through the processes of researching the information, creating the questions to research (both of which are also in the Common Core Standards) in order to create the great stories to tell that students get that deep learning.
So, are the arts fluff?
Hopefully, you can appreciate how foundational the arts actually are. If anyone balks at you for wanting to do more art in your classroom, whether you are a gen ed teacher or an arts teacher, refrain from your frustration and think about the depth of learning the arts provide us with. When working in the arts, infused in another content area, students gain a better, deeper understanding of the material at hand.
What else can the arts do? How long do you have? Check out these posts for more about building community, working collaboratively, and thinking deeply. You can also check out the advocacy tab for more related posts.