Learning Through the Arts – Personal Lessons Learned

Keeler School has a visual artist coming in for a residency at the end of May and into June. This is an excellent opportunity for our school to really look hard at how we utilize the arts to increase engagement and create learning around how students learn best.
From my own experience around the arts I have had a number of major “aha” moments that have hugely improved my practice and understanding of how students learn through the arts.

  1. Learning through the Arts is different than “Arts and Crafts” – When I think of arts and crafts, I visualize activities that usually look very much the same. The finished product is a copy of what the teacher made. For me, the arts means letting students explore and engage with the content and materials they are working with. There may be similarities but the works should stand up for themselves. They should not look the same and they should hold in some of the kids own exploration and understanding, which would come out through the process.
  2. Learning through the Arts does not mean “Friday Afternoons” – The arts need to be integrated on a regular basis in everything that goes on. It should not be saved up only for a specific time, such as on Friday afternoons, and be limited only to a subject by itself. As it is integrated with other subjects, it will allow students other ways to share and explore their deeper understandings of what they are working on learning. It can be integrated into math concepts, social studies, science, and any other big learning that students are undertaking.
  3. Learning through the Arts is something that must be practiced – Creating art is often done by professional artists through working on a study or using similar techniques over and over. Students need to have those same kind of opportunities. They need to try multiple times using a certain technique or style, and it needs to be something that they can engage and utilize with different content areas or subject matters. It is NOT a “one off” on a Friday afternoon kind of activity, where the finished product must be done at 3:10 PM when students are dismissed.
  4. Planning for learning through the Arts should tie in to the “Big Picture” – Some of the best work I have seen students do are when the arts are integrated into learning through multiple areas. It could be connected to a specific artist or their style, to a specific subject matter, a specific art technique, a specific movement in art, or even a number of mathematical concepts. This allows it to be tied in to the greater work and for students to connect their learning to art they are working on.
  5. Formative Assessment is everything for the Arts – Planning and thinking go hand in hand. Teachers, adults and their peers ARE allowed to provide ideas and feedback. When I first started out teaching, I held student art as somewhat sacred as it came from them and I should not add my own thoughts as that would change the process. I saw the phenomenal work that another teacher (Thanks Ray!) was doing with his students and I could see the amazing growth that was happening. I asked him how he did it and he shared with me that a big part of the process was students planning and sketching their work before hand, and then coming to him and to other peers for formative feedback to assist them in their work. I remember one student coming to me who had a tiny little sketch and in working through the process with him we enlarged his thinking. The work that he did was so much better than he had originally planned. Professional artists are continually seeking feedback, sharing their work, and discussing with their peers how to improve, such as The Group of Seven in Canada. As an educator, the arts are the perfect place to be working on your thinking around how formative assessment can improve learning.

Work hard in the Arts, and learn tons through the Arts!


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