Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not Just Friday Afternoon

We gathered on a Sunday a few weeks ago with some friends and their friends. There was this teacher-thread throughout the group. One was another primary grade teacher at an arts focus elementary school in another area of the state.

Arts LINC, etc. came up in the conversation (imagine that!) and the teacher from afar was excited to tell me that each week they give their seven and eight-year-olds a prompt and related instruction with the end 'assignment' to write a five paragraph essay. They are given time each day and have until Friday to finish it. However, if they are finished early, say Wednesday or so, they can do art that is related. The kids that take all week to write don't have time to do art (my comment: don't get to).

The arts program there includes a focus on an artist and composer of the month, a two-year cycle (so the kid will get same artists/composers in K, 2, 4) and the time designated for that is Friday afternoon. They also have a “club time” one afternoon a week with things like guitar club. I’m guessing that this is a program example that plays out in some other schools across the country.

It is becoming clearer each day that I am involved in Arts LINC that we ARE about INTEGRATION and not about ENHANCEMENT. I started to explain the difference to her, but then decided to save that for another situation. At least her students were getting something from a teacher that was enthusiastic and committed to including the arts.

I have always so off-handedly given an example from my own childhood as a differences to the philosophy, strategy and research of Arts LINC. (The example I use: "You may write about your summer vacation and if you have time, you can illustrate it.") I know now that an example like that is still real. So....the next article we write should be titled, "Not Just Friday Afternoon".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thinking Like an Artist

There is a growing pattern in the professional development of teachers to move away from an emphasis on pedagogical skills to thinking like domain experts. In many ways the idea is not new, yet the application is intriguing. Science teachers spend the summer being scientists working in university lab- thus learning the fabric of science. Math teachers spend their time learning and working math. Perhaps the most established of such ideas is the Writing Project. In the Writing Project each participant is encouraged to write and see herself as a writer, as a result, the logic dictates, she is more likely to teach writing, understand her students process, and finally help them identify themselves as writers.
The question that started emerging in our work is whether that is also true for teachers who are charged with teaching the arts in their classroom? We envision trying to foster Studio Habits of Mind with teachers as a way of transforming their practice. I think this may be a transformational piece for classroom teachers who are not formally trained as art specialist. For them (and me in all honesty) the last time they were engaged with any sustained effort of art making was in school (K12).
There might be a catch that must be considered: can elementary teachers who are asked to teach all, or almost all, subjects be domain experts in all these areas? Can we really expect depth of understanding and real experiences in Math, Art, Science, Writing, History etc.? I am excited about this idea but as I look at the larger context and being able to scale such practices up- I am sure we can scale our pedagogical ideas up (VIEW) but as for teachers thinking like artists, I am not so sure anymore.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Back in Action

A few weeks ago I watched a presentation on a video podcast out of TED Talks. In this particular one the speaker stated that the apparent failure of instructional technology in making large achievement gains is linked to the fact that most studies are conducted in "high achievement" schools. His point was that in such schools technology cannot make much of a difference. In struggling schools, however, it may make tremendous difference. It started me wondering whether that was true about arts integration too.
That is, does arts integration help students in lower achieving schools? In a way it's an empirical question we'll be able to answer this year.
On the other hand the arts are very different from technology. Class and professional status influence exposure to technology much more than exposure to the arts, especially creating art. My sense is that middle class/professional parents are much more likely to expose their children to technology than arts (sadly). So, the question is still open waiting for some data to shed light...