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The Importance of Fine Arts in the Classroom
Fine Arts is defined in the Encarta Dictionary as being, “any art form, for example, painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, or engraving, that is considered to have purely aesthetic value” (Encarta, 2004). Though this definition is used in relationship with the arts in the regular world, in regards to teaching, fine arts is defined as a subject beneficial, not essential, to the learning process and is often phased out because of lack of time, little learning potential, and no money. Fine arts is simply seen as painting and drawing, not a subject studied by an academic scholar. Writer Victoria Jacobs explains, “Arts in elementary schools have often been separated from the core curriculum and instead, offered as enrichment activities that are considered beneficial but not essential” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 2).
What is missing in classrooms is the lack of teacher knowledge of the benefits of maintaining an art- based curriculum. Teachers “have very little understanding of the arts as disciplines of study. They think of the arts instruction as teacher-oriented projects used to entertain or teach other disciplines” (Berghoff, 2003, p. 12). Fine arts expand the boundaries of learning for the students and encourage creative thinking and a deeper understanding of the core subjects, which are language arts, math, science, and social studies. Teachers need to incorporate all genres of fine arts, which include, theater, visual art, dance, and music, into their lesson plans because the arts gives the students motivational tools to unlock a deeper understanding of their education. Teaching the arts is the most powerful tool that teachers can present in their classrooms because this enables the students to achieve their highest level of learning.
From 1977 to 1988 there were only three notable reports demonstrating the benefits of art education. These three reports are Coming to Our Senses, by the Arts, Education and Americans Panal (1977), Can we Rescue the Arts for American Children, sponsored by the American Council for the Arts (1988), and the most respected study, Toward Civilization, by the National Endowment for the Arts (1988). These three studies conjured that art education was very important in achieving a higher education for our students. While these studies proved the arts to be beneficial to the learning process, it was not until 2002 when the research analysis of Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development “provided evidence for enhancing learning and achievement as well as positive social outcomes when the arts were integral to students’ learning experiences” was taken seriously by lawmakers (Burns, 2003, p. 5). One study, in this analysis, was focused on the teaching of keyboard training to a classroom in order to see if student’s scores on spatial reasoning could be improved. It was then compared to those students who received computer training which involved no fine art components. This concluded that learning through the arts did improve the scores on other core curriculum subjects such as math and science where spatial reasoning is most used (Swan-Hudkins, 2003).
This study shows how one little change in the way students are taught through the arts can have a powerful impact on their learning achievements and understandings. Another study showed at-risk students who, for one year, participated in an art- based curriculum raised their standardized language arts test by an average of eight percentile points, 16 percentile points if enrolled for two years. Students not engaging in this form of activity did not show a change of percentile (Swan-Hudkins, 2003). Though this may not seem like a big increase, at- risk students were able to use this style of learning to better understand their learning style thus bettering their learning patterns. The most interesting case study in this analysis involved the schools of Sampson, North Carolina, where for two years in a row their standardized test scores rose only in the schools that implemented the arts education in their school district (Swan-Hudkins, 2003). Teaching the arts needs to be incorporated in every teachers daily lesson plans because, based on these studies, students who are taught through the arts raise their test and learning levels.
Due to the high volume of attention President Bush’s, No Child Left Behind Act, has required in schools, teaching the arts is left behind. Another reason for the lack of arts in the classroom author Victoria Jacobs explains, “Given the shrinking budgets of school districts around the country, art specialists and art programs have disappeared from many elementary schools” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 4). Fine arts are being seen as non-educational or an extra-curricular activity. Therefore, when there is a lack of money in school districts, this subject is easily being cut. Teachers need to find a way to incorporate the arts into the classroom rather than rely on outside activities and Jacobs suggests teaching “through the arts… with a means of using the arts successfully and in a way that it is not just “one more thing” they must include in the curriculum” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 4).
The arts can open the minds of students in ways mere reading and writing will never be able to accomplish. Yet, the point of teaching this subject is not to teach about the arts, but to teach through the arts. Jacobs explains,
Teaching though the arts requires students to engage in the act of creative art. For example they might draw a picture, write a poem, act in a drama, or compose music to further their understanding of concepts in content areas other than the arts. Teaching through the arts helps students experience concepts rather than simply discussing or reading them. This approach is consistent with educational theories that highlight the importance of reaching multiple learning styles or intelligences. (Jacobs, 1999, p. 2)
Teaching through the arts can be done in many different ways depending on the teacher’s interests, but truly is the only way to reinforce the students learning experience. In a time where budget cuts and new learning laws are being established, teachers need to be more informed and educated on the negative impacts of the loss of the fine arts programs.
Three, veteran teachers at a public elementary school did a case study which involved teaching through the arts. They believed “our students had to experience cycles of inquiry wherein they learned about the arts and through the arts, and that they needed to see teachers of different disciplines collaborate” (Berghoff, 2003, p. 2).
The study was based on teaching a history lesson unit on Freedom and Slavery through the arts. Ms. Bixler-Borgmann had her students listen to the song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in many different styles of music, such as an African-American Quartet, Reggae, and Show Tunes. She then incorporated this lesson into the importance singing played to the slaves at that time. Ms. Berghoff had her students read samples of African-American folk literature and write down sentences that made an impact on them while they were reading. She then incorporated those sentences into group poems. Ms. Parr explored two art pieces entitled, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and had the students talk about artwork by asking three questions: “What is going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can you find?” (Berghoff, 2003). She also had the students focus on the images, concepts, and meanings which the artists wanted to depict. Ms. Parr felt this would teach the students how to uncover the hidden meanings in other core curriculum subjects (Berghoff, 2003). After the study, the students were asked what and how they had learned from this style of teaching.
Many students wrote in their journals that working in multiple sign systems in parallel ways heightened their emotional involvement. They found themselves thinking about what they were learning in class when they were at home or at work. They noted that even though they had studied slavery at other times, they had never really imagined how it felt to be a slave or thought about the slaves’ perspectives and struggles. (Berghoff, 2003)
The students had learned more from this lesson because they were able to use all styles of learning and were taught from an angle which is rarely used, through the arts. “Studies indicate that a successful arts integrated program will use these components to guide student learning and assess growth and development (Swan-Hudkins, 2003). The students were able to learn based on abstract thinking and find the deeper meaning of the lessons prepared by the teachers.
“The study of the arts has the potential for providing other benefits traditionally associated with arts….arts has been linked to students’ increased critical and creative thinking skills, self-esteem, willingness to take risks, and ability to work with others” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 4). With these benefits, teachers can not afford to limit their teaching of the arts in the classroom. Teaching through the arts are the key elements of learning and the traits teachers strive to establish and reinforce in their students. By working through the arts, instead of about the arts, the students’ educational experience will be achieved in a different way than just teaching the standard style of learning. Former Governor of California, Gray Davis, noted, “Art education helps students develop creativity, self-expression, analytical skills, discipline, cross-cultural understandings, and a heightened appreciation for the arts” and that “students who develop artistic expression and creative problem solving skills are more like to succeed in school and will be better prepared for the jobs and careers of the future” (California Art Study, 2003, p. 1).
Exposing students to abstract learning will teach the students about logic and reasoning and help them grasp what might not be represented on the surface. Recent Reports from the National Art Education Association (NAEA) confirmed with Governor Davis when they reported “Students in art study score higher on both their Verbal and Math SAT tests than those who are not enrolled in arts courses (California Art Study, 2003, p. 5). Attached is a copy of the test scores of students in the arts and students with no arts coursework.
What is a better way to enhance a lesson plan than to add another dimension of learning than by incorporating different levels of teaching? A company that has the basis of focusing on different learning styles is Links for Learning, [http://www.links-for-learning.com]. This company understands the importance of incorporating arts into the classroom. Former Secretary of Education, William Bennet wrote, “The arts are essential elements of education just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…Music, dance, painting, and theater are keys to unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment” (Swann-Hudkins, 2002).
An example of the benefits of teaching the arts would be the study of a teacher who taught the water cycle lesson through movement and music. The students were introduced to the water cycle in the traditional style of teaching, reading and lecturing. Yet, in order for the students to fully understand the “experience” of being a snowflake, the students listened to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (The Waltz of the Snowflakes) and closed their eyes visualizing the adventure snowflakes encounter on there way to the ground. A great side effect of dance is that “exposure to dances foreign to them (the students) helps them to understand and appreciate differences in societies. Their minds become open to new ideas and a different perspective. This understanding helps to eliminate possible prejudice, enriching the student and our society” (Swan-Hudkins, 2003, p.17). While the music was playing the teacher asked them questions, such as, “How are they going to land” and “What do you see as you are falling”. The second time listening to the music the students were asked to act out the water cycle through movement and dance. Teachers should know “a class that includes dance can make students feel empowered and actively involved in their education. In creating their own dance, students develop conceptional thinking, which is not always expressed verbally” (Swan-Hudkins, 2003, p. 17).
With these activities, the students were able to become part of the water cycle instead of just using their listening skills and trying to mentally figure out this lesson. The teacher also had the students write a poem using words they felt while they, the snowflakes, were falling to the ground (Jacobs, 1999, p.2). “The motivational powers of the arts are significant as this teacher explained, “Hooking a kid is half, if not more than half, the battle of learning. If you can hook them, then you can get them to learn” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 6). Teachers need to gain access to all styles of learning which can only spark their motivational powers.
Harvard Project Researchers Winner and Hetland remarks, “The best hope for the arts in our school is to justify them by what they can do that other subjects can’t do as well” (Swan-Hudkins, 2003, p. 18). Teachers need to gain a better education of teaching their students through the arts. Without the arts, teachers are limiting their students’ ability to use their entire thinking process, providing less opportunity for complete comprehension. Teaching through the arts is the most powerful tool that teachers can give in their classrooms because it enables the students to achieve their highest level of learning.
With the lack of attention art is getting outside of the classroom, teachers cannot afford not to incorporate dance, theater, visual arts, or music in their lesson plans. Fine arts is the core curriculums constant and most important companion. No child should be left behind, and teaching through the arts will reinforce this idea.
Berghoff, B., Bixler-Borgmann, C., and Parr, C. (2003). Cycles of Inquiry with the Arts. Urbana, 17, 1-17.
Burns, M. (2003). Connecting Arts Education Policy and Research to Classroom Teaching. Presented at The Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Chicago, IL.
California Art Study. (2003). Retrieved on April 18 from [http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:IM_j8A3_whsJ:www.smc.edu/madison/about/draft_eir/appendix_f_purpose.pdf+benefits+California+art+study&hl=en&ie=UTF-8]
Encarta Online Dictionary. (2004). Retrieved on April 17 from http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/fine%20arts.html
Jacobs, V. and Goldberg, M. (1999). Teaching Core Curriculum Content through the Arts. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Ontario, Canada.
Swan-Hudkins, B. (2002). The Effect of an Elementary Fine Arts Program on Students’. M.A.Thesis. Salem International University. Salem, West Virginia.
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