Some of you have seen my previous blogs about how I'm getting involved in the arts community in my new hometown, Greenville, SC. Today you'll get a glimpse into an amazing arts integration program sponsored by the Metropolitan Arts Council.
When I first moved to Greenville, I looked for opportunities to teach writing and was excited to discover the Council's program of training artists to work with teachers in the classroom. An organization committed to enhancing content instruction through the vehicle of visual arts, drama, music, dance and writing? Sign me up! Based on my enthusiasm (and maybe because I wrote Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8), Gayla Day, Director of Arts Education, asked if I wanted to attend their summer training. That's like asking if I love chocolate!
Last week I participated in my first SmartARTS Institute, a four-day instructional event for teachers and teaching artist candidates. Our first day we considered the inquiry question, "What is Arts Integration?" True to the emphasis on experiential learning (students learn content more effectively when they are active physically, mentally, and emotionally) we were given a variety of tasks to perform. One activity was answering with a team "What is Arts Integration?" by ONLY considering sensory information. (My contribution was that it was like a smorgasbord or stir fry. The texture person thought it was like layering fabrics or weaving metal pieces into cloth). In small groups, we created tableaux to answer that same question by using only three words and one phrase: Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Prepositional Phrase.
The dance class introduced us to a variety ways of moving through space using various body parts and then we choreographed small dances out of tableaux. In a group of four, two students received locomotion cards (examples: hop, gallop, slither, skip) and two non-locomotor (examples: whirl, explode, rise, jump). Our task was to first order the words and then create a tableau going from one word to another. Our group ordered reach, close, creep, and hustle. I'm proud to say we were the only group that created a story: a burglar reached for a open window, closed it, crept, and then hustled away. What a way to teach vivid verbs!
Tuesday we attended theater and music immersion workshops, as well as a session entitled "What is Inquiry?"
We watched a powerful powerpoint about Hurricane Katrina and in groups of four created tableaux that showed what it looked like before, during, and after the storm hit.
Here is one group's interpretation of during:
After written reflections and group sharing we found out that the inquiry question for our "unit" had been, "What is community?"
We made books on Wednesday in the art immersion:
I enjoyed seeing the variety of ways the teachers covered their papers with color. The facilitator's instruction that "there's no right or wrong" freed us all, even as we considered the elements of art we incorporated.
Our instructor showed us how to fold, cut, and glue the 18x24 watercolor paper.
The end products were as diverse as the teachers themselves. The books could be used as a journal for a field trip, a repository of poems or stories, or a collection of recipes.
Throughout the art immersion classes the instructors gave examples of how to integrate their discipline into content areas. I heard about teaching fractions and a number timeline through music; how the Pythagorean Theorem could be applied to imagining, conceiving, and building a structure that would withstand an earthquake; how dance movements could teach South Carolina history; and how poetry could be used to explain science and reflect on history (think: layering meaning about light and dark times in history with the upcoming solar eclipse.)
I watched Vera Gomez, the poet who I will shadow this fall, teach the writing immersion and then plan a unit with a second-grade teacher. I was impressed with how she responded to the teacher's goal (showing her students how to include more details in their writing) with a wide variety of written, art, and dramatic activities that will meet second grade standards.
In the role of student, I learned and practiced new concepts. I considered other art disciplines that will invigorate me as a writer. And I'm about to enter a new phase of teaching writing: becoming a teaching artist in the classroom. My brain is stuffed with new ideas that keep me awake at night.