Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interest and the Arts

A colleague in a recent meeting passionately described the importance she places on teacher candidates focusing on something they find interesting at the core of their integrated lesson plan. The guiding idea is that our students (future teachers) will find this approach motivating and rewarding and thus will be engaged at a much higher level.
The parallel for me is working with elementary students and my own children. General interest is a very problematic concept as we find ourselves and our students engaged in a topic that they have no apriori interest in. Despite this apparent lack of initial we can engage and motivate enough interest to foster learning- also known as situated interest. This is especially true of elementary teachers who teach many different subjects.
This concept is crucially important since curricula are determined by standards, assessments, and group decision making. Neither students not teachers can afford to be engaged only in what they find initially interesting, thus we need to teach future teachers how to become engaged outside their area of interest and find the interesting and "cool" and exciting aspects of these topics- just like we expect our children to do.
This is very important in arts integration. Engaging future teachers in arts integration is a very important tool that we must promote since they will see very little of it in their schools as they start teaching. My fear is that by focusing on topics that they are excited by we are actually reinforcing the idea of arts integration as a fun but too rigorous activity. One that you engage with when teaching (or learning) a favorite topic in which you are already highly engaged- not the everyday humdrum topic.
The image in the blog was created by a graduate student on a visit to a natural history museum. The students were not motivated in learning science before the visit to the museum but the process and the museum itself created enough situated interest to generate engagement and thus learning.
Arts integration can be helpful in many areas and domains and its success is partially related to arts as an engagement strategy- thus a less effective strategy if the topic is already highly engaging. Ultimately, in the elementary years we teach many topics that we are marginally interested in, we develop situated interest. Arts integration is a way of developing such an interest and not just when we as a teacher are excited about our favorite topic.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where does art integration reside?

Art integration happens on many levels. From the federal grants and policies all the way into the water color brush in the student's hand. But, the work we've done over the last eight years, the research, the observations in classrooms and assessment of student performance all point in one direction. Arts integration is a classroom phenomena and it resides in the details- the how of that classroom practice.
All art educators and most writing ones have for decades focused on process. Our conclusion is very much the same- process is at the heart of what we do. We work with our teachers on transforming their practice- the processes that they use to enable student learning, the processes they use to teach. This is not a one way street because every time we interact with a teacher thinking about their process we learn something ourselves that changes the way we work with that teacher but also with the ones that come after her.
At the same I do not want to imply that we must be present and understand everything about the process to understand the product. In many ways the analysis of products: writing, visual art, and music over the past eight years have confirmed the fact that the products correspond to the process. That is you can judge the quality of classroom practice by the products.
Without an understanding of the process, however, you cannot pin down the reasons for the outcomes. As a result a good evaluation and research must include a clear look at both.
As this administration focuses, and rightly so, on teacher performance and development it is useful to remember that it is the details that count.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A New Academic Year

As August unfolds we face a new academic year. With it a realization that we have to continue to explore ways to bring the arts into classrooms. The promise of a new administration with a different agenda that may help us in classrooms has dissipated. We are faced again with the fact that most of the publi wants the arts in school but consider them secondary to everything else. They are a great addition but also the first thing to go when budgets and time need to be allocated carefully. Thus, we are left in a constant effort to maintain and expand our efforts to teach in and through the Arts.
On our home front in the project we still have a group of teachers that are as committed as ever. All of our indicators show that working on this project empowered teachers as true professionals and helped teachers develop as professionals. We are working on a book highlighting the connected units that our teachers created. As this is a second hand report I will ask Nancy A. to post a little more about it.
The most important thing is that in our last year of funding we are not losing steam, in fact we are gaining momentum.

A thought: We create art to amplify the memory trace of our emotions and to share them with others.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Transition Back

I’m back at home, reflecting on the month of July and thinking about when and how to share the things I’ve learned. I’ve already made a presentation to one group during our district’s staff development days, but a few other ideas are percolating. I’ve got a supportive team around me, so things will get going with their help. I think the hard part will be making time to plan for one “big” event, so I’ll concentrate on one grade level at a time. Think anyone will voluntarily come?