Enjoy my colleague, Ashley LaValley’s response to a summer retreat course assignment: Pretend you are in a situation where you have to advocate for the arts in learning and arts integration. Use part or all of your elevator speech to deliver your message. ~Elizabeth
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Setting: A 2nd grade elementary classroom in an open concept school. The noise level is energetic, but focused. The teacher is circulating the room guiding students along.
Scenario: Students are working on different stages of an arts integrated lesson, some students are using cray pas to color in their rainbow fish, other students are choosing water color as their artistic medium. Those that are further along are using paint swatches to list adjectives describing their fish. It appears that students are doing a wide variety of unrelated activities, but they are all in different stages of the creative process which will culminate in a final descriptive writing piece.
A neighboring teacher enters the room.
Mrs. Old School: What is going on in here? My students are trying to focus in on our weekly grammar lesson on adjectives, but they cannot seem to concentrate. They keep peering over wondering what your class is doing. They are groaning at the worksheet I gave them.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. Is the noise level bothering you?
Mrs. Old School: No, but I’m having trouble keeping them motivated. They don’t think it’s fair that your students are playing while we are working.
Me: Mrs. O, I can assure you that although it may look like we are playing, we are busy working on our adjectives. I find that integrating the arts across the curriculum makes the content more accessible and meaningful for my learners.
Mrs. Old School: The arts? Do the arts really belong in the classroom? Shouldn’t we save the teaching of arts for our specialists?
Me: The arts belong everywhere, Mrs. O. The arts connect us to the curriculum and to each other. I use art as a vehicle to teach to the social, emotional, kinesthetic, and academic needs of ALL of my students. It encourages them to not passively receive knowledge but to engage with it, to experiment, to explore….to create their own meaning. And isn’t that what we want? Students that are excited to learn, students who want to learn and who are able to deepen their understanding in interactive, thought provoking and creative ways?
Mrs. Old School: Well, I can’t really disagree with that, but do you really think it’s our job to teach with the arts in mind? It looks very unstructured in here. There can’t possibly be THAT much learning going on.
Me: My job as a teacher is to provide rich, meaningful experiences for my students; Experiences that complement the curriculum and allow different venues for my children to reach understanding. Integrating the arts into the curriculum helps me do just that. And yes, it may look unstructured but I can assure you that what you are seeing is purposeful and organized chaos. There are clear objectives set forth and my students are aware of them. Rather than mindlessly memorizing facts, my students are coming to their own understandings and drawing their own conclusions. How they get there looks different for each unique and individual learner.
Mrs. Old School: Interesting. But are you really preparing them for 3rd grade?
Me: Yes, I am preparing them for 3rd grade AND life outside of the classroom. To prepare them for the ever-changing modern world, they need opportunities to collaborate, to actively engage in problem solving, to encounter and adapt to changes and the creative process helps them do just that.
Mrs. Old School: Well I will say, they do look more engaged than my students do.
Me: Motivation fuels learning. Hands on opportunities, like this, foster a deeper understanding of the material being studied. I urge you to look around and really SEE. This is what learning should look like…hands on, and minds on; A community of learners working together grow and develop skills and knowledge. Their thinking capacities are growing exponentially as they collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create. They are learning not only about adjectives, about art and about descriptive writing, but they are also learning that there are different ways–multiple solutions–to the challenges set forth. They are learning from each other and from their own creative processes. And that to me is true learning–learning that will reach far beyond the classroom alone. Hopefully learning that will connect us all and change the world.
Mrs. Old School: Wow…do you think we could join you on your next project?