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.
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