Sunday, May 31, 2009

Interchange: Engaging Students Through the Arts in St. Louis

Here is another link I found on the HotChalk blog. It's called Interchange, and it's an integrated arts program in St. Louis. Here is an excerpt from their site:

What is Arts Integration?
Not all children learn in the same way. The arts can bring the curriculum to life, engage students and encourage learning. Through Interchange, community partners are helping classroom teachers in the St. Louis Public Schools do what they do best by providing additional support through arts-infused learning.

Arts integration incorporates the arts throughout the learning process by infusing some form of art, such as theater, music, dance, drawing, poetry, or other expression of creativity, into the core curriculum. It is experiential in nature and encourages learning by "doing." Using arts and cultural resources to expand the ways teachers teach and students learn has been proved to achieve measurable results. Arts integration also helps develop the whole child, ensuring a well-rounded education.

Integrating arts and cultural programs throughout the learning process is an addition to — not a substitution for — fine arts classes. Interchange strongly supports classes devoted exclusively to instruction in art and music, in addition to having a full range of the arts as part of the learning experience in all subject areas.

Click here to read about some examples of arts integration at work in the St. Louis Public Schools in the 2007-2008 school year.

How does arts integration work?
The arts engage students in learning and ensure that all students grasp key concepts by reaching beyond textbooks and lectures.

What can we expect from Interchange's partnership with the St. Louis Public Schools?
Arts integration is a model that is working to improve student outcomes in urban public schools across the country.

In St. Louis, we can expect:

Improved student performance. read more

Improved critical thinking skills. read more

Expanded teaching skills that engage the whole child. read more

Improved outcomes related to overall school culture and attendance. read more


Want to learn more about arts integration? Click here for some recommended sites to visit.


Click here to see some examples of Arts Integration.

Arts Every Day: Why Arts Integration

This is another great link I found on the HotChalk blog. It's from Arts Every Day, an organization that works on integrating the arts in Baltimore.

"When well planned and implemented, arts integration is one of the most effective ways for a wide range of students with a wide range of interests, aptitudes, styles, and experiences to form a community of active learners taking responsibility for and ownership of their own learning."

Renaissance in the Classroom, pg. xxvi

What is arts integration?

Arts integration is instruction that integrates content and skills from the arts—dance, music, theater, and the visual arts—with other core subjects. Arts integration occurs when there is a seamless blending of the content and skills of an art form with those of a co-curricular subject.

Why do it?

  • Arts integration is highly effective in engaging and motivating students. It supports the academic achievement and improved social behavior of students while enhancing school climate and parental involvement.
  • A rich array of arts skills and intellectual processes provide multiple entry points for students to approach content in other subject areas, while the arts instruction is likewise deepened through integration of content from the other subject areas. The arts provide students multiple modes for demonstrating learning and competency.
  • It enlivens the teaching and learning experience for entire school communities. At its best, arts integration is transformative for students, teachers, and communities. The imaginations and creative capacities of teachers and students are nurtured and their aspirations afforded many avenues for realization and recognition.

How do you do it?

  • Arts integration is a fundamental culture shift. It takes time to build awareness, understanding, and commitment among members of the school community.
  • Ongoing professional development is essential to give classroom teachers facility in arts disciplines, enable them to analyze curricula to find the natural connections between arts curricula and the curricula of other subject areas, and create lessons and units of instruction.
  • Collaboration is essential between and among classroom teachers and arts specialists. Common planning time is critical.
  • Arts specialists are key resources, collaborators, and leaders in developing arts integration programs. They are extremely valuable in guiding the planning of professional development and supporting collaboration among teachers and with partners such as cultural institutions and teaching artists.

What are budget and structural priorities for becoming an arts integration schools?

  • Staffing that includes as many arts disciplines as possible and an arts integration specialist or lead teacher is a priority. Some schools use part-time or shared positions to extend their reach.
  • Professional development—schools that are highly successful in arts integration provide ongoing training experiences for their teachers, whose capacity in arts integration will deepen over time.
  • Schedules that include common planning time allowing classroom teachers to collaborate with arts specialists and others are vital. Collaboration with arts organizations and teaching artists will provide rich arts integration experiences for students and professional development for teachers.

What is a realistic timeline?

It may take three years to fully realize potential as an arts integration school. Planning to achieve this goal is essential. While schools tailor their own pathways to successful arts integration programs, there are some useful steps many follow. What follows is not intended to be prescriptive but rather suggestive of a successful process.

Phase 1:

  • Build awareness and commitment within the school community, including among parents.
  • Look at arts integration models in schools in Baltimore and across Maryland.
  • Begin to build staff in the arts.
  • Engage the school community in planning.
  • Begin to identify and engage partners from the cultural community.
  • Form a team to participate in arts integration professional development and share their experiences with colleagues.
  • Make budgetary decisions that reflect a commitment to arts integration.

Phase 2:

  • Continue to build staff in the arts.
  • Provide professional development for more teachers in arts integration. Those who received introductory training progress to more advanced work.
  • Address leadership for arts integration through arts staff, trained classroom teachers, and an arts integration specialist.
  • Identify arts integration mentor teachers on staff who could assist in the training of new personnel.
  • Network with other arts integration schools in the city and state.
  • Share successful arts integration units with the school community.
  • Display curriculum maps. Curriculum mapping is the process of delineating natural connections among curricula for various subject areas, identifying the outcomes being met through an arts integrated lesson or unit.
  • Seek cultural experiences for students that are linked to arts integration through collaboration with arts organizations and teaching artists.

Phase 3:

Continue with the above steps and attain specific goals such as:

  • Provide staffing in all four arts disciplines even if utilizing part-time staffing.
  • Ensure that all teachers have received professional development in arts integration, with some having extensive training.
  • Share your work with your community and celebrate the imagination of your students and teachers!

Arts Every Day is an organization dedicated to working in partnership with Baltimore City schools to inspire students and enhance learning by facilitating excellence in arts education and arts integration.

Related Links

Washington D.C. recently adopts comprehensive art education learning standards for its students

While reading about integrating the arts at the hotchalk blog, I came across some links that are good news for arts-based educators across the country. Washington D.C. has adopted comprehensive art education learning standards for its students. Here is the introduction:

In its recent report, “Tough Choices, Tough Times,” the National Center on Education and the Economy wrote compellingly about future skills that will be needed by America’s workforce, and the transformation that is going to have to occur in our nation’s schools in order to compete in the global economy.1 Reports continue to document that “United States leadership depends on creativity and innovation and not technology alone in order to compete in the global marketplace. Strong skills in the arts are essential qualities needed for success in the workplace: “creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized team players who are flexible and adaptable to change and facility with the use of ideas and abstractions."2 The arts enable students to develop the capacities to create, perform, use critical judgment, problem solve and appreciate many forms of art.

One goal of arts education in Washington, DC (District) is to prepare our students to be vibrant participants in a creative economy and positive contributors in our democratic society. Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization promoting the arts in America, estimates that the economic impact of the arts in the greater Washington metropolitan area is $2.1 billion, and that they contribute $144 million to the region’s tax base. The industry supports almost 12,000 jobs in the District of Columbia alone, 45,000 in the greater metro area.

High quality, sequential education in the arts, along with interaction with cultural organizations and artists, contributes in multiple ways to the development of workforce skills and the capacity to learn. Time dedicated to the study of the arts does not work to the detriment of other academic subjects. The arts reinforce learning, motivate and engage students, reduce dropout rates, defuse school violence and help retain teachers. The arts provide meaning to academics and to life.

Those in the arts community often talk about the “intrinsic” and “instrumental” value of the arts. Whether being awed by a dance performance, moved by music, captivated by the theater, or enthralled by appointing, art for art’s sake, has a powerful inherent value. For the District’s school children to compete in today’s world, the arts must play an instrumental role in the overall curriculum. We cannot ignore the growing body of literature that relates art education to the learning of other subjects like social studies, mathematics and reading. In March 2008, the results of a major, scientific three-year study, The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition: Learning, Arts, and the Brain, stated that training in the arts has positive benefits for ”more cognitive mechanisms.”3 For example, the study found correlations existing between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. Training in acting
appeared to lead to memory improvement. Eliot W. Eisner, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading education thinkers, believes that among many positive outcomes, the arts teach students to make valuable judgments about qualitative relationships, recognize that problems in life can have more than one solution, celebrate multiple perspectives, understand and recognize that small differences can have large effects and say what cannot be written or spoken.4

1 “Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report on the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce” (National Center on Education and the
Economy, 2006).
2 “The Imagine Nation: Moving America’s Children Beyond Average imagination and the 21st Century Education (Poll conducted by Lake
Research Partners and released by AEP The ImagineNation, January, 2008

3 “Learning, Arts, and the Brain.” Report released by the Dana Foundation on March 4, 2008. The Report was based on a three-year scientific
study conducted by seven major universities across the United States.
4 Elliot W. Eisner, PhD., Stanford University, works in Arts Education, Curriculum Studies, and Qualitative Research Methodology. See “The Arts and the
Creation of the Mind,” Chapter 4 (Yale University Press, 2002).

It's great to see this taking place on a large scale. Let's hope it continues to take hold and gain traction throughout the country. It's also nice to see that many of the points made in this introduction are similar to those made on this blog.

What is Authentic Assessment?

This is an excerpt on defining authentic assessment from

Authentic assessment refers to assessment tasks that resemble reading and writing in the real world and in school (Hiebert, Valencia & Afflerbach, 1994; Wiggins, 1993). Its aim is to assess many different kinds of literacy abilities in contexts that closely resemble actual situations in which those abilities are used. For example, authentic assessments ask students to read real texts, to write for authentic purposes about meaningful topics, and to participate in authentic literacy tasks such as discussing books, keeping journals, writing letters, and revising a piece of writing until it works for the reader. Both the material and the assessment tasks look as natural as possible. Furthermore, authentic assessment values the thinking behind work, the process, as much as the finished product (Pearson & Valencia, 1987; Wiggins, 1989; Wolf, 1989).

(A comment from Jeff: this last sentence really resonates with me, as I have always believed that the journey is just as important as the destination when it comes to learning. We need to strike a balance between the two, if we are going to authentically assess our students.)

Working on authentic tasks is a useful, engaging activity in itself; it becomes an "episode of learning" for the student (Wolf, 1989). From the teacher's perspective, teaching to such tasks guarantees that we are concentrating on worthwhile skills and strategies (Wiggins, 1989). Students are learning and practicing how to apply important knowledge and skills for authentic purposes. They should not simply recall information or circle isolated vowel sounds in words; they should apply what they know to new tasks. For example, consider the difference between asking students to identify all the metaphors in a story and asking them to discuss why the author used particular metaphors and what effect they had on the story. In the latter case, students must put their knowledge and skills to work just as they might do naturally in or out of school.

Goals of Authentic Assessment are discussed in the article Incorporating Authentic Assessment from Park University. Here is an excerpt:

Goals of Authentic Assessment:
  • Enhance the development of real-world skills
  • Encourage higher order cognitive skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation)
  • Promote active construction of creative, novel ideas and responses
  • Encourage emphasis on both the process and product of learning
  • Promote the integration of a variety of related skills into a holistic project
  • Enhance students' ability to self-assess their own work and performance
There is a great deal more in this article including a chart that compares traditional assessment with authentic assessment, advantages and disadvantages of both, guidelines for creating authentic assessment and much more. Check it out; it's worth a close reading.

Although it doesn't specifically mention integrating the arts, it doesn't take too much effort to see how one could use those ideas with authentic assessment.

Formative and Summative Assessments

It may be important to define some terms as we continue to discuss assessments. The following definitions are from the article Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom by Catherine Garrison and Michael Ehringhaus.

Summative Assessments are given periodically to determine at a particular point in time what students know and do not know. Many associate summative assessments only with standardized tests such as state assessments, but they are also used at and are an important part of district and classroom programs. Summative assessment at the district/classroom level is an accountability measure that is generally used as part of the grading process.

Formative Assessment is part of the instructional process. When incorporated into classroom practice, it provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. In this sense, formative assessment informs both teachers and students about student understanding at a point when timely adjustments can be made. These adjustments help to ensure students achieve, targeted standards-based learning goals within a set time frame.

For further study, you can read "The Concept of Formative Assessment" by Carol Boston at the Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation online journal.

"Versatile teachers encourage many forms of expression"

The line "Versatile teachers encourage many forms of expression" taken directly from the Massachusetts Learning Standards should lead many of us to examine our teaching practices. Are we, in fact, allowing our students to express themselves in many different ways? By extension, are we using various forms of assessment that tie into the multiple intelligences? Or is it always the same? Quiz. Test. Quiz. Test with an occasional paper thrown in? Are we gearing our assessments just to those students who do well linguistically and mathematical/spatially? What about those students whose intelligences are stronger in other areas? Does it mean they haven't mastered the concepts if they do poorly on a test? Can't they show their mastery in other ways? The answer is yes, and it is our responsibility as educators to use multiple forms of assessment, so we can authentically assess our student's progress.

Integrating Mathematics with Dance? Come on, is that in the Massachusetts Frameworks?

You bet it is!

Don't believe me? Check it out.

PreK-12 Standard 10: Interdisciplinary Connections

Students will use knowledge of the arts and cultural resources in the study of the arts, English language arts, foreign languages, health, history and social sciences, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.

Learning Standards

Students will

10.1 Integrate knowledge of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts and apply the arts to learning other disciplines

Examples of this include:

• using visual arts skills to illustrate understanding of a story read in English language arts or foreign languages;

• memorizing and singing American folk songs to enhance understanding of history and geography;

• using short dance sequences to clarify concepts in mathematics.

So there it is once again. Integrating the arts across the curriculum being supported by the Massachusetts State Learning Standards/Frameworks. Still don't believe me? Then click on the link and see for yourself. Better yet, click on it even if you do believe me and check out all of the frameworks-you might be surprised what's there.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Making Connections Across the Curriculum

Back to the Massachusetts Educational Curriculum Frameworks which advocate for making connections across the curriculum. Here's what it says:

Making Connections across the Curriculum

Teaching an interdisciplinary curriculum involves collaboration among faculty and the community. Teachers and students might explore topics such as:

• visual, oral, aural, and kinetic elements of the four arts disciplines;
• characteristics common to the process of creating art works in each discipline;
• interpretations of a theme or concept, such as harmony or compassion, through each of the four arts disciplines;
the ways in which the content of other disciplines is interrelated with the arts; including languages and literacy, scientific principles, mathematical reasoning, and geographical, cultural, and historical knowledge; and
the ways in which concepts from other core disciplines may be expressed through the arts.

While all of these points are important, I want to focus on the point of the last two since they deal with integrating the arts. They make a direct correlation between the arts and science, math, language and history and how concepts from these core disciplines, even though I'm not a fan of that term, can be "expressed through the arts."

I know I keep harping on this point, but the practice of integrating the arts is backed up by the highest educational power in the state. We need to become fluent in these frameworks, as we move forward in implementing them. We need to put language to what it is that we do in our classrooms so that others can understand and get behind it.

Learning by Doing

Okay, by now you're used to hearing this kind of thing coming from me, but this is from the Massachusetts Frameworks for education. I have highlighted the areas in color.

Learning By Doing

Students learn about the arts from the artist’s perspective by active participation — they learn by doing. They come to understand the specific ways in which dancers, composers, musicians, visual artists, or actors think, solve problems, and make aesthetic choices. Massachusetts schools should educate students to think like artists, just as they teach students to think like writers, historians, scientists, or mathematicians.

Learning in, about, and through the arts can lead to a profound sense of understanding, joy, and accomplishment. It is important that students learn to express and understand ideas that are communicated in sounds, images, and movements, as well as in written or spoken words. Sequential education in any of the arts disciplines emphasizes imaginative and reflective thought, and provides an introduction to the ways that human beings express insights in cultures throughout the world.

This is significant for those of us who are arts-based educators and need the language to communicate what we are doing in our classrooms to administrators, colleagues, parents, and others. It is important to become familiar with these frameworks, so that we can substantiate our practices when called upon to do so.

Here's some more from Pre-K to Grade four where the goal is to develop and sustain the natural curiosity, expressiveness, and creativity that very young children often display. Arts education begins with a foundation that emphasizes exploration, experimentation, engagement of the senses, and discussion as paths to understanding.

Young children use the arts to explore sensation and recreate their memory of real and imagined events. They are trying to find out all they can about the expressive qualities inherent in different forms of communication. Through what they choose to dramatize, sing, or paint, children let others know what is important, trivial, appealing, or frightening in their lives. Because arts experiences allow children to play with ideas and concepts, students often express freely in their artwork ideas and understandings that do not emerge in other classroom work. Versatile teachers encourage many forms of expression and learn how to appreciate the messages children transmit through their artworks.

Here are more ideas that back up integrating the arts across the curriculum and advocate for multiple forms of assessment and varied teaching strategies. Here the state, the same folks who standardize test our kids to the point of absurdity, is advocating for the arts and by extension, integrating the arts into the classroom. We all need to make sure we know this and can put language to it as we move forward.

Writing a short story in English class-is it fluff? You might be surprised who says no.

The State of Massachusetts!

The English Language Proficiency and Outcomes Benchmarks in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks state:

[The student] Writes a story or script with theme and details. (W.2.17a)

The main point here is not about creative writing, it's about becoming familiar with the learning standards in your state. This way you can put language to your teaching methods and defend them, if need be, to administrators who don't get what it is you are trying to do. Too often the arts are looked on as fluff, whether they are taught as an art class or as an integrated learning experience. So, we not only have to keep adding to our creativity as educators and learners, but we need to be able to express how what we are doing as arts-based educators is backed up by our state standards. Massachusetts has standards that relate to dance, visual arts, theater, poetry and more. Check them out and put language to what you are doing in class.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Science and Dance together, What?

I constantly have math and science teachers tell me "this is a math (or science) class, I can't integrate the arts like they do in English and History." To that I heartily disagree. Don't believe me? Then check out this lesson on the ArtsEdge site that pairs Atomic and Molecular Structure with Dance. And oh ya, you're worried about standards right? Don't be, it covers National Standards in Dance, Physical Education, and of course Science. Here's the lesson overview:

In this lesson, students will utilize their knowledge of basic physical science concepts to create movement patterns that simulate the movement of atoms and molecules. They will formulate and answer questions about how movement choices communicate abstract ideas in dance and demonstrate an understanding of how personal experience influences the interpretation of a dance.

Need an example of pairing Math with Dance? Try this one for grades 1 & 2 called Shaping Patterns and Dancing Shapes. Here's the lesson overview"

Students verbally explain and then create with a stretch rope several geometric shapes (triangle, rectangle, square, and circle). Students also identify and create the missing shape in a set of patterns. After exploring ways to arrange the four geometric shapes, students work in small groups to create a dance including all four shapes and transitional movements.

The point is this: Math and Science lessons readily lend themselves to integrating the arts. One of the main blocks that I find with teachers is the trepidation of breaking out of the way that it's all been done for a hundred years, when that is exactly what our kids need. Why not take a chance and give it a shot.

"Textbooks dare not speak of"

I've written a number of posts about designing curriculum and instruction that allows students to construct their own meaning and make real connections to what is being taught. One student of mine wrote this in a reflective piece after concluding a unit based on the book The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Students wrote poems and letters from one character to another. They also had a choice between visual art pieces, musical pieces and any type of project that utilized one or more art modalities. They were also required to write short reflective responses to different lessons that got beyond the head and into the heart and gut. At the end of the unit, they were asked to write a reflective essay on the entire experience. Here is the excerpt:

"The unit on Vietnam that has been covered in class is unlike anything that I have ever done in English class, and perhaps school in general. We, as a class, were able to feel some of the more emotional aspects of war that our textbooks dare not speak of."

This student was able to connect with the material on a level that was very personal and powerful and transcend the normal experience with textbooks. He states that he was able to "feel" what was being learned, which by his own admission is an experience he had not had previously in school. We should try to get all of our students to connect in such a way.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Creating New Knowledge or Perpetuating Established Knowledge?

Continuing on this thread of pedagogical posts, I came across an interesting student paper by kcofrinhsa titled "Evolving Views on Education and the Nature of Knowledge." on the Serendip blog from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. It's an interesting piece that deserves a close reading. Here are some points that resonate for me.

1. The concept of our brains being "creators of new knowledge" or "mechanisms meant to perpetuate already established knowledge." When we think of our own pedagogical concepts as educators, which is more important for students? Clearly there is knowledge that needs to be passed on, but it's what students make out of that knowledge that constitutes true learning. We, as educators, need to be acutely aware that allowing students to construct their own meaning is key, especially as we continue our journeys through the conceptual age.

2. Allowing students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum is a key component in education. Are the basic tenets of our curriculum geared toward the dominant group? Are other groups institutionally marginalized? An interesting metaphor is cited from Emily Style's article "Curriculum as Window & Mirror:"

"If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self, education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected (21).

The paper goes on to say that many schools are attempting this by adding such authors as Toni Morrison to their literature classes. However, the author makes a great point when he/she states that these "new types of literature have been added to the curriculum without changing traditional methods of literary study" (Vinz). The author goes on to cite a case where a "class discussion reveals a forced discussion where the teacher inadvertently dismisses student's ideas about the novel." We need to move past the idea that the teacher is the font of knowledge who regulates the interpretations in the classrooms and knows just what the author is intending in a work. I've always wondered how teachers know the meanings that Henry David Thoreau is putting forth in Walden or exactly what Walt Whitman means in "Song of Myself?" Isn't it more fitting to allow students to construct their own meanings and allow them to back up their ideas with evidence and analysis rather than state they are wrong right off the bat? This would suggest that while adding these new titles which reflect other groups in society is a good thing, we also need to change our teaching strategies around them.

This paper is worth a read and some heavy consideration. It also stands as a prime example that our students can construct their own meanings and make excellent points just as kcofrinsha has done here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Moving into the "Conceptual Age" where "data will be less important than creativity"

I've voiced my concern on many occasions regarding my fear that our schools are training a generation of students who are adept at taking standardized tests and following the status quo instead of thinking creatively and critically.

One question I continue to ask educators is why are we still using a system of educating our children that was developed to train industrial workers in the early 1900s? Especially since most of our industry has moved on.

Author and speaker Daniel Pink says that we've moved through the information age and are now in what he calls the "conceptual age." In this age it's creativity and the "ability to move smoothly between boundaries" that will pay off for our students.

I came across this Boston Globe article by Penelope Trunk and have excerpted a part of it below:

"We are entering a new age in economic history, and it will elevate those who are nimble and creative. When we moved from industrial economy to the information economy, jobs became more interesting; coal miners were unemployed, tech support centers hired like mad, and secretaries became small-time database operators. Now we're in the early stages of the "conceptual age" in which data will be less important than creativity, and jobs will be more fulfilling.

Daniel Pink presents this one-minute economic history in his book, "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age." He says, "Key abilities will not be high tech but high touch," and we will value the ability to make meaning and connections in a world where information is a commodity.

According to Pink, the people who will do best in this economy are those who don't just take and give orders but also move smoothly between boundaries, like the technical guru who understands marketing or the accountant who speaks four languages. "But," Pink warns, "you cannot get a move-smoothly-between-boundaries aptitude test, so a lot of this is about self-discovery."

Here are some traits you need to develop to do well in the conceptual age:

  1. Empathy. Think emotional intelligence on steroids. The most empathetic people have the ability to see an issue from many different perspectives. And work that can be done without infused empathy begs to be outsourced.
  2. Aesthetic eye. Pink says, "Design sense has become a form of business literacy like learning to use Microsoft Excel. Smart business people should start reading design magazines."
  3. Ability to negotiate and navigate. The conceptual age will be filled with possibilities that point to no single truth. Pink says, "People must learn to do something that is not routine, that doesn't have a right answer."

Bottom line: You'll have to be creative to stay employed. But really, who doesn't want to be creative? It's inherently more rewarding to be creative than to be an information drone.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention," says that, "Being creative is a way in which life becomes richer."

"But if you want to be creative you must learn to do something well. You need to learn a set of skills, and then, once you feel comfortable you can ask yourself how you can make it better."

Those with no patience for climbing traditional corporate ladders, pay heed: Innovation without a basic knowledge in that area is not creativity but dilettantism. Not that dabbling in topics you know nothing about isn't fun, but that lifestyle will not create the kind of value that keeps your job this side of the ocean. To find what you love to do, Csikszentmihalyi recommends exploration.

"A richer life is one in which you have access to different aspects of the world." Sure, you need to find your talents to figure out where you will put your creative energy."

One of the statements that really resonates with me is valuing the ability to "make meaning and connections in a world where information is a commodity." If this is the case, and I believe it is, then why aren't our schools spending more time helping students make meaning and connections in the learning process. Why are so many of our classes filled with long lectures, recall activities, and worksheets copied from mass produced workbooks that basically amount to busy work?

The answer is clear. We must change our teaching methods to include higher order thinking skills and tailor our lessons to the individual's learning styles while touching on all of the multiple intelligences. Integrating the arts is one way to achieve this goal, to energize our classrooms, and to engage our students. The time is's actually past now.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Constructivism and Critical Pedagogy

While perusing the Critical Pedagogy on the web site, I came across this discussion of Constructivism and its ties with critical pedagogy. It's worth taking a few moments to read. The red highlighting is done by me.


"A philosophy that views learning as an active process in which learners construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through action and reflection. Constructivists argue that individuals generate rules and mental models as the result of their experiences with both other human subjects and their environments and in turn use these rules and models to make sense of new experiences.

Three important concepts emerge from this definition:

  1. Knowledge is socially constructed. It is not something that exists outside of language and the social subjects who use it. Learning--obtaining knowledge and making meaning--is thus a social process rather than the work of the isolated individual mind; it cannot be divorced from learners' social context.
  2. Learning is an active process. Students learn by doing rather than by passively absorbing information.
  3. Knowledge is constructed from experience. Students bring prior knowledge into a learning situation, which in turn forms the basis for their construction of new knowledge. Upon encountering something new, learners must first reconcile it in some way with their previous ideas and experiences. This may mean changing what they believe, expanding their understanding, or disregarding the new information as irrelevant.

In this framework then, learning is not a process of transmission of information from teacher to student, a model which positions the student as a passive receptacle, but an active process of construction on the part of the learner that involves making meaning out of a multiplicity stimuli.

In practice, educators use active techniques (experiments, real-world examples, problem solving activities, dialogues) to introduce students to information and issues and then encourage students to reflect on and talk about what they did and how their understanding is changing. The teacher makes sure she understands the students' preexisting conceptions and guides activities to address and build on them. Constructivism also often utilizes collaboration and peer criticism as a way of facilitating students' abilities to reach a new level of understanding.

Relationship to Critical Pedagogy
Many of the characteristic tenets of critical pedagogy are consistent with a constructivist approach to education. Long before Paulo Freire (1921-1997) wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), which contains his famous critique of the "banking concept of education" (education that revolves around the actions of teachers who "deposit" knowledge into their passive students), John Dewey (1859-1952), generally considered the founder of "progressive" education and constructivist educational theory in the United States, rejected teaching practices that positioned students as passive receptacles, such as the rote learning of isolated facts, advocating instead for a pedagogical approach that involved students' active engagement with each other and with the world. Like Freire, who embraced both "problem posing" and dialogic educational practices, Dewey emphasized the importance of active social learning environments, rather than one-sided lectures, and argued that learning involves the active construction of knowledge through engagement with ideas in meaningful contexts, rather than the passive absorption of isolated bits of information. And just as Freire maintained that education must engage with the language and experiences of learners, drawing upon their thematic universes, Dewey had also argued that learning takes place within meaningful contexts that allow students to build upon the knowledge they already have. Both argue that educators need to understand the experiences and world views of their students in order to successfully further the learning process. Moreover, both associate learning with critical reflection, with actively seeking after truth and applying it to future problems. They also draw a connection between critical reflection and politics, with Freire linking critical reflection with the fight against oppressive social conditions and Dewey linking it to responsible and ethical democratic citizenship."

So, if in fact learning is not about the "transmission of information" from teacher to student, and in no way do I believe it is, then why are so many of our classrooms and beliefs about education in this country working under that model? Why are we stuck in a system that was set up to train workers during the Industrial Revolution? We all need to work to bring our pedagogy into the 21st century and engage our students with relevant ideas that matter to them. We need to actively involve them and get them excited about what is going on in the classroom, not keep them in hard, straightback chairs when what they want to do is move. We need to practice "critical reflection," so we are helping them to think for themselves and not training them to be good standardized test takers.
We need to integrate the arts across the curriculum and grade levels to engage our students and energize our classrooms.

Critical Pedagogy: Paulo Freire and the Banking Theory of Education

Paulo Freire's Banking Theory of Education positions students as empty vessels to be filled by the teacher. According to Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, education is traditionally framed as "an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor" (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 58). In this framework, the teacher lectures, and the students "receive, memorize, and repeat" (58). Freire explains that banking education is generally characterized by the following oppressive attitudes and practices:

  • the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
  • the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
  • the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
  • the teacher talks and the students listen-meekly;
  • the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
  • the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
  • the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
  • the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who are not consulted) adapt to it;
  • the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his own professional authority, which he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
  • the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects (59).
If any of this speaks to you, I would highly recommend reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. Keith and I use it in our courses, and it is always one of those books that students find extremely powerful and transformative. If you're not familiar with Freire or Critical Pedagogy, then click here Critical Pedagogy on the Web, and it will take you to the site where the above information comes from.

Making Learning Relevant to Student's Lives and Interests

In a recent post titled "Seven Thoughts on Implementing Positive Change in the Way We Teach our Students," (click on the title of this post to read it in its entirety) I discussed making learning relevant to students' lives and interests. This is a way to engage students and get them excited about learning. When that happens, the sky is the limit. But how to do it?

Here's a couple of ideas tied to the teaching of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare that could be adapted for use with other works as well. I'm sure these ideas are not completely original with me, and that there are many of you out there who do these or something like them, if so I'd love for you to share your versions here on the blog. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

1. Texting
We should all pretty much be able to agree that cell phones and texting are common to most high school students. They text each other all the time. So why not bring it into the classroom? After reading the balcony scene, which many students are asked to memorize, why not have students re-imagine it as a texting conversation? Rather than memorization, this is something that students will get excited about and really get engaged in. They have to really read the material closely and understand it before they can "translate" it into texting language. To make it even more powerful, two students could take the parts and actually text each other the assignment. This would also lend it more authenticity. Sharing this in class would be a lot of fun, and fun in the classroom should not be discounted.

2. Romeo's Song
There are not too many high school students who are not into music in a very big way. So isn't it natural to bring THEIR music into the classroom? Won't they be excited to share what they listen to? Here's one way to do it: after reading about Romeo's unrequited love for Rosaline in the first scene, ask students to go home and choose a song that would fit how Romeo is feeling at that moment. Then they can write a paragraph on why this song is appropriate and include some evidence and analysis. They can bring the song into class the next day on an ipod, a CD, or just bring in the lyrics. Then you can turn the class over to them and let them present their song, usually the first verse and the chorus will do, and say why this song fits. I know of one student who chose "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick. How perfect is that! Letting them group around the sound system will enable them to be able to move while the song is playing and really enjoy the experience while learning. Great concept.

My high school experience with Shakespeare, and poetry as well, was mostly painful, as teachers did an excellent job of sucking all the fun and joy out of both. It wasn't until I got to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where professor Normand Berlin breathed life and joy back into Shakespeare, that I really fell in love with it. Thanks Dr. Berlin.

But that's part of the power we have as educators- to bring enthusiasm, joy, empathy, and creativity into our classrooms- no matter what the subject. If we have passion for what we are doing in the classroom, it will have far-reaching positive effects, not only on the students but on us as well.

Making what we do in the classroom relevant to students' lives is an important step.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Join Our Cause on Facebook

We just started a Cause on Facebook called Integrating the Arts into Education. If you're a member of Facebook, then please click on the title of this post, and it will take you right there. If you're not a member of Facebook, then you might want to consider it. It's a great way to stay connected and do social networking.