Art Beyond the Art Room

I realize I am long overdue for a new post, I started this one early in the semester, but as I got caught up in my school work I did not complete and publish it. So now I am getting back on track and posting.

This fall I am taking Art 300: ART INTEGRATION FOR THE ELEMENTARY TEACHER, I am excited to learn from this class about ways to bring the arts into the general classroom.

Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement
This article gives a detailed argument for including Arts education in the curriculum and not letting it fall to the wayside with budget cuts, or for any other reason. The introduction discusses recent events that show support for the arts in education; from No Child Left Behind identifying the arts as a core subject with reading, math, and science, to polls showing that the general population of America supports arts education. Sadly the very next paragraph reports the shrinking of the arts from schools due to budget cuts when schools just do not feel able to provide this important topic, or not as much as they should be.
Arts have been federally recognized as an important subject since the Educate America Act of 2000. In 2001 that commitment of the federal government to support the arts was reiterated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As stated above this gave the arts the value of being a core subject. The disadvantage of NCLB is that it measures school achievement through “scientifically-based research” and provides financial support based on that research; it is challenging to test scientifically how a student is progressing in the arts, therefore it has often become a too low of a priority in schools that are short on funds and need to receive those federal resources.
Statistics show that the American public has voiced strong support for arts education with 93% agreeing that the arts are a vital part of providing a well-rounded education to our students. Studies have backed up the opinion of the American people, such research has shown that what is learned in the arts may help students to master other subjects, including the cores of reading, math and social studies. High School students who have had courses in the arts show significant patterns of high performance when looking at SAT scores.
More then 65 distinct relationships between the arts and academic and social outcomes are documented, including visual arts instruction and reading readiness; dramatic enactment and conflict resolution skills; traditional dance and nonverbal reasoning; and obviously many others.
Six major types of benefits associated with arts education and student achievement are identified and explained in the paper. They are:
1. Reading and language skills
2. Mathematics skills
3. Thinking skills
4. Social skills
5. Motivation to learn, and
6. Positive school environment
The benefits of arts experiences are further detailed in academic achievement (reading, language, and math), basic skills (thinking, social, and motivation to learn), and comprehensive (the positive school environment).
The final topic of the article is a marching call declaring the need for action by the public to ensure that the arts are not taken out of school, but remain forever for the benefit of all students.

Personal Reaction
I feel empowered by the Critical Evidence report. I could not tell you just why, but I was certainly aware that arts are valuable to education and academic achievement. The first thing that I would have told you is the motivation factor. It is my belief that the arts have a humanizing effect, and when we encourage our students to participate in the arts we are reaffirming their personal worth. Although worksheets and long lists of mathematics problems have their place in school, the completion of one of these assignments is not often a personal achievement to for the student, but the mastery of a musical piece, or the completion of a good painting have an inner value for the student who has done it. Worksheets are sometimes mindless busy work for the student, but the student will not complete a truly creative art assignment mindlessly.
The fact that art education has shown benefits across the curriculum is not surprising to me, as it is my understanding that any exercise of the mind will be beneficial beyond the obvious outcome. I am happy to read that there are so many identified benefits, and it is good to know some of the direct correlations between specific art activities and specific academic subjects. This is something that I will look into further for specific application in my classroom.
I am very excited to find ways in which I can help my students reap the greatest possible rewards from their arts activities.
“Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement”. Editorial. Ruppert, Sandra S.. National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. 2006. Monday Sep 14, 2009.

A First Experience in Teaching

Over the summer I participated in Vacation Bible School at my parish. I volunteered last fall to be a part of the planning committee and in the process of planning I wound up offering to teach the older group of kids; my class was fourth and fifth graders.
This age group is commonly thought to be a little bit of a challenging group to handle because they are still being asked to function as kids in the group when they know there is so little difference between themselves and middle-school students. Many kids who are much younger seem to be more child-like, and at the same time they are aware of the fact that there is only about a year keeping them from volunteering to lead in some way. I offered to work with this age group for two reasons: first when I volunteered in middle school at Vacation Bible School I worked with the same age group and had great success keeping the kids in line and keeping everyone happy. I had a lot of feedback from the leadership saying that I had done very well, so I felt confident that I would be able to pull it off again. Second I knew that fewer kids of this age would be attending and I felt more confident leading a “harder” group with fewer kids then the “easier” group with many more kids.
I can report that the experience was very successful, and I am glad that I did it. As a future teacher I have heard many times that the job will exhaust me, but to be honest I have never fully believed that, or perhaps I have just never given enough consideration to the exhausting part of my future, but all I needed to plan was for a half-hour of learning for six to eight kids and just five days. I was exhausted! Granted it fell in the same five days as my last week of summer classes so I had a lot going on, between writing important papers and figuring everything out, but still this was a tiny crumb compared to the work load I will face as a full time teacher in just two years...
I cannot WAIT!

The Purposes of Education

This is the final assignment from SOFD 328 with Joe Ramsey. I enjoyed the class quite a lot as it challenged me to think about what education should really look like. The professor also provided the class with an extensive lists of books that will stimulate thought about educational diversity. I am keeping the list to read some of the books in my spare time.
What is below is a short essay on what I feel the purpose of education is.

I am always happy when given an opportunity to share my philosophy of education; this is my passion. I am seeking a school where I will have the support to pursue what I consider an ideal classroom experience for my students. My goal is to foster their innate desire to know by providing them with opportunities to ask questions and find answers.

Today more and more education has been driven by the goal of passing children on artificially developed tests, in this situation the students are short-changed a good education and true learning is forgotten. This summer I first learned from a colleague about highly structured curricula wherein the teacher has no creative or adaptive power but simply follows the step-by-step directions for teaching a class. The goal is that all students in the school at a given level will be covering identical materials at any given time. I learned more about this schooling method by reading “Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s educational apartheid” by Jonathan Kozol (2005). Kozol discusses the trend in inner city schools to follow a program called Success For All (SFA) inspired by the scholarship of B.F. Skinner. As I understand it, this program serves the sole purpose of manufacturing students to pass high stakes tests, not to stimulate true learning or a passion for life-long scholarship; it is designed to cheaply graduate the masses.

Further understanding of the current trend of high-stakes testing in education brings us to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the legislation which was first published in 2001 requires that annual state assessment be given to children in grades 3-8 on the subjects of math and reading, stating that this will ensure goals are being met for every child. The program has effectively placed far too much emphasis on testing by using high-stakes tests as a yardstick to measure school success, then rewarding “exceptional” schools with extra funding and interfering in the control of “failing” schools while taking away their funding.

The modern educational system is a descendent of over a century and a half of educational reform in out country. Some of what we see today is in direct response to mistakes made in the past and some is the ongoing repetition of mistakes that we have not yet removed from our system. The public school system is set up to be highly secular, this is a reaction to the common schools which were exclusively Protestant. The creation of tracking occurred around the turn of the eighteenth century, and although it is much scrutinized has not been removed. Tracking brought the beginning of high stakes testing, when a test was used to determine what program a student would pursue in his or her school career (Nasaw, 1979).

The proper purpose of education is to foster students learning and to create life-long seekers of knowledge. This is my firm belief. The ideal classroom must be one where students are encouraged to take ownership of the curriculum. Barbara L. Brodhagen (Apple, 2007 p. 83-106) describes a class where this happened when the students were given the power to control what they would learn. The teachers’ goal in this classroom was to let the students experience a democratic approach to school. At the start of the year the whole class developed and signed a class constitution and discussed questions they were interested in finding answers to. Units were created around those questions and the students teamed with the teachers as they sought their answers. Many teachers today are afraid to take this type of approach for fear that the students will under perform on state assessments or will not have covered all of the standards set by the state and federal governments. Brodhagen said they were backtracking to the standards and the result was that everything that needed to be covered was, while the students took more away from the year in this class then in any other; they also performed at or above the average on assessments. This is a model classroom because the students learned not just content, but also discovered that learning could be a great benefit to them.

It is an absolute fact that every child is capable of learning, but as Nel Noddings points out in The Challenge to Care in Schools, it is not always the case that every child will learn the same materials, or will learn in the same way. This is important for me as an educator to keep in mind, as my goal is to offer challenges to all my students, but not to ask the impossible from them. This requires some extra work on my part to offer a differentiated curriculum wherein every student receives the maximum benefit from his or her work. Although there is a broad range of topics that students need to master to some degree, a teacher must recognize that each students will have special skills in some, not all topics. This is why the curriculum must be planned in a way that is cross-curricular. Brian D. Schulz (Apple, 2007 p. 62-82) tells the story of a class that sought to change the community through seeking a new school building. In this class something has been identified which is important to every student, so as they work to get a new building they cover many topics, and work to perfect the skills, understanding that it is important to do so in order to achieve their goal. For every student there is something that is important to him or her, and if that topic is integrated into other topics the student will have an authentic motivation to perfect all related topics. This is why units must be cross-curricular, when a student is passionate about sharks, he or she can read about the shark and be done, or the shark can become the topic of writing, presenting, and mathematics, all important to the student because the topic of sharks is important to him or her.

Students need a teacher who is concerned and interested in them as a person. I am committed to recognizing the needs of my students, and creating an environment where diversity is valued. Barbara L. Brodhagen (Apple, 2007 p. 83-106) discussed the choice made in her class to take time every Monday morning to allow students to share about themselves, their weekends, what they had learned, or other topics that were important to them. This created an awareness of the differences that existed in that class and sent a message to the students that they were important as a whole person, not just as students. An educator needs to look for opportunities like this to care for the emotional needs of his or her students so they will be more at home in the classroom.

Works Cited

Apple, Michael W., and James A. Beane. Democratic Schools, Second Edition Lessons in Powerful Education. Chicago: Heinemann, 2007.

Frasen, James W., ed. The School in the United States: A Documnetory History. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Kozol, Jonathon. "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's educational apartheid." Harper's Magazine Sept. 2005: 41-54.

Nasaw, David. Schooled to Order A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 1981.

"No Child Left Behind: President Bush's Education Reform Plan." 19 Jan. 2005. United States Department of Education. 8 Aug. 2009 .

Noddings, Nel. The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College P, 2005.