Educating the
whole child.
Educating the
whole child.

A K-8 public charter school in Harrisville, Utah.

Learning Through the Arts

Learning in and through the Arts in EL Education

The purposeful integration of the arts can enliven and deepen teaching and learning. The arts can play an important role in conducting lessons, planning learning experiences, and designing investigations and expeditions. Viewing and responding to works of visual or performance art, participating in the creation or performance of art, and reflecting on the process simultaneously builds culture, fosters character, and teaches academic content and artistic skills.

There is an expectation in EL schools that cultural arts staff have an understanding of current grade-level expedition topics, as there are many ways they can support expedition content and project work while covering their required standards. It is essential that school leadership provides time for these staff members to plan along with classroom teachers.

Arts as a Window onto Expedition Content: One way to narrow and focus an investigation or expedition is to use a particular artist, medium, or significant works of art, music, etc. as the case study or context. An artist can provide a way into an event, an issue, or a time period, and a specific art form or significant works can provide a lens onto a culture or time period.

Arts-Informed Practices for Engaging and Representing Student Thinking: Employing engaging practices that involve the arts enhances teaching and learning. Asking students to represent their thinking and understanding using the visual arts, music or drama motivates students to immerse themselves deeply in content, engage in sense-making, and learn significant content and skills. Artistic representation also varies the media in which students express their learning (so that it is not always through writing), helping to make student thinking visible. Instructional practices employing the arts vary lesson design and pacing, and offer opportunities and positive challenges for students with diverse learning styles.

Arts Used as a Medium for High-Quality Products: Using an arts-based medium or format for an investigation product enables students to learn the elements and principles of the medium studied, craftsmanship, and content relating to an investigation.

  • Original songs, musical performances based on expedition content
  • Political cartoons taking a stance on the Federal Theatre Project
  • Large format water colors of the endangered species of Florida

Making Sense of Art Using Comprehension Strategies: "Reading" the arts provides another means for students to learn about a culture, time period, or a response to an issue or event. In order to "read" or interpret art thoughtfully, students benefit from comprehension strategy workshops using art as the text. "Reading" art/music, in turn, enhances students' critical thinking skills.

  • "Reading" a landscape painting from the Ming Dynasty
  • Using inference to make sense of political cartoons from the New Deal
  • Interpreting a selection of jazz music from the Harlem Renaissance

Art as Anchor Text: A work of art or music can be used to "anchor" an investigation. It can be used to track changes in student understanding of content when used as a "mystery" text and then referred to over the course of the investigation as students "re-read" with more background knowledge. The very act of re-reading often leads to more insight into the artwork/music – and content.

  • Jacob Lawrence's Great Migration Series for an investigation on the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North
  • Guernica by Picasso for an investigation on the Spanish Civil War

Documenting student work and thinking: Aesthetic documentation panels enliven classrooms and school halls, and show the process of learning and craftsmanship.

  • Documenting the process of creating a product or performance
The arts also play a role in, and are enhanced by, the following aspects of EL pedagogy:
  • Providing access to plays, performances, exhibitions
  • Using fieldwork as the basis for creating/representing using an art medium
  • Opportunities to apply thinking strategies to make sense of the fieldwork
Assessment for Learning Opportunities
  • Generating criteria
  • Creating rubrics
  • Setting goals
  • Critique and revision (critique and revision often makes more sense to students in the context of an observable art form)
  • Skilled artist or performer comes in for a critique or to teach techniques for creating/ performing
Development of Observation Skills
  • Close observation of paintings, photographs, or other visual art to analyze detail, technique, composition, craftsmanship, interpretation
  • Close analysis of musical score/text
  • Close observation of expert technique
Character: Viewing, creating, participating, responding to, and reflecting on the arts, either individually or collaboratively, foster the following character traits:
  • Perseverance
  • Discipline
  • Collaboration
  • Risk-taking
  • Craftsmanship
  • Ability to take multiple perspectives
  • Empathy
  • EL Design Principles
Culture of quality: Products and Performances
  • Revision through multiple drafts/practice
  • Building a common language for critique
  • Using critique protocols
  • Understanding good audience skills/behaviors
  • Access to variety of art/musical forms
  • Diverse ways to access content
  • Diverse ways to represent meaning and sense-making
  • Diverse ways of knowing
  • Opportunities to develop skills and talents
  • Diverse perspectives
  • Another avenue to literacy
  • Opportunities to create, perform, and respond
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for the 2019-2020 school year!

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