(See Part I - Teacher Return to School on January 2nd)
Ask any second grader what they like most about school and there is a good chance it has something to do with making and doing stuff. It probably also has something to do with being imaginative, creative and accomplishing something that both teacher and student find mutually rewarding and meaningful. Well, there you go. That’s why dyed in the wool elementary teachers always seem so perky. They are members of one of the happiest and most rewarding professions. They love their jobs, and they love to watch children grow.
One thing they might be a little opposed to is the trend towards standardization of all things pertaining to education. Let’s just assume that they are for the rest of this blog. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m all for standards and standardization. But I think we have to realize that it can’t all just be one way. I think that in the tested areas we often spend the bulk of instructional time on logic/mind, and not enough on empiricism and heart. That premise is at the core of what I am communicating about arts integration and the arts as the solution. In their hearts, I’m thinking that the second graders, and the second grade teachers may understand more completely than others how important it is to address a variety of ways of understanding and knowing.
The map is not the territory, In order to draw the map, the territory needs to be known in other ways.
The quote is from Elliot Eisner. Although Eisner probably would not have been an advocate of arts integration, his thinking helps me to distinguish what I envision as the map from the territory. His metaphor became the basis of what we experienced on January 2, the first day teachers returned to school.
The territory represents all human thinking, all human experience, but for the sake of being comprehensible, for our January 2nd workshop, we narrowed our territory down to the Berlin Wall. Our goal was to understand the territory of events, political action, world events, and human drama leading to the creation and eventual destruction of the Berlin Wall. Our initial approach to the exercise was that we could begin by looking first at the understandings we wanted to embody as outcomes when we completed our work. Before I go too far with this, I want to acknowledge the work of Dr. Gail Mardirosian of Stephens College for originally conceiving these ideas about the Berlin Wall through arts integration. Below are the understandings we were striving to embody. We wanted to embody them through interacting with each other through visual art, dance, music and theatre. Each of the phrases below refers to a development or phase surrounding the Berlin Wall over a period from 1945-1989:
Liberation Relations Deteriorate Not so ‘Splendid Isolation’ Lines are drawn
Scar on the Face of a City Running the Gauntlet I am torn between joy and sorrow
A complete lesson format for this learning task exists, and if you want to find out more about it, please feel free to contact me. For now, I’ll briefly explain what we did in relation to each of the art disciplines, and how the experiences and learnings grew richer and more involved.
: Our first experience was to walk throughout the room encountering individual cards with visual imagery that defined each phase. We assumed an actor-ready pose and worked as an ensemble reading each card aloud.
The next experience was to distill the imagery associated with each phase into a gestural response drawing to be used later in the process.
After earlier exploring the elements of tableaux, we formed groups where each collaborated in forming a tableaux that embodied each phase.
Dance elements were integral in creating a choreographed movement that each group used to transition into the their tableaux compositions.
: Finally, after some earlier musical experimentations with rhythm instruments, we combined groups so that one group could play a musical accompaniment as the other group used their dance to transition into their tableaux.
The original gestural drawing responses were combined and used as backdrops for the performances. Each was videotaped using phones, and it’s my hope that the individual teachers will impart what they learned to both their students and their fellow teachers.
And there you have it, the essence of what we did that cold day, that minus six degree day, the day teachers return to work. I’m not completely sure what I really accomplished; my audience was much too polite to give me any pushback. One of them responded that they were amazed that anyone could have so much to say and do about how the arts can be made a part of all aspects of day to day school. I was encouraged by that. The superintendent was bursting with pride that she was able to find some arts specific PD for her arts teachers. But, she, like some, may have missed the point. What I offered was a way to make the arts a part of all content learning in schools. I’ll end with where I began. The arts are the solution.
Tom Tobias, Arts Education Director
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education