ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Creating Experiences Through the Arts

Post submitted by Elizabeth M. Peterson, a fourth grade teacher, host of The Inspired Classroom, and author of Inspired by Listening: Actively Listening to Music While Teaching Your Curriculum. Connect with Peterson on Twitter @eliza_peterson and @inspired_clsrm.

Educators need to do more than teach; they need to create experiences for their students. Experiences are what make learning come alive. Let's face it, experiences are what life is made of and what we need to emphasize in our classrooms if we are to teach the whole child. The arts provide a wonderful way to bring experiences into your teaching.

Creating, acting, playing, listening, performing, molding, dancing: these are all ways to bring the arts into your teaching and when you take the time to stop and really focus on these, you are allowing your students to share in an experience and amazing things can happen in your classroom.

There are two main ways to allow for experiences in your teaching: teacher-led and student-led. Both are effective, both are important, and both need to live in harmony with one another to truly have a well rounded curriculum.

Teacher-Led Experiences

It's important for teachers to lead students through the creative process through art making. This is one way students learn: FROM us. We may assign a project, teach a process or skill, or create a time for students to share in collaborative creation.

When I was a novice teacher, experimenting with art integration, I focused on what I loved—music. I allowed time during our day to listen to music together. This method of music integration through listening experiences is something I still do with my students every day. It's an enjoyable time for us to share ideas about the music and discuss our interpretations of it. I ask my students guiding questions that will help them to listen more carefully and enjoy the experience more with each listening. From time to time, these shared experiences are used to enrich other parts of our curriculum. For example, if we are about to write some poetry or a narrative, we could use the music we are listening to as inspiration.

Another example of a teacher-led experience would be to accompany a book review with a piece of artwork. This artwork should not just be a simple picture that is tagged on at the end of the paper, but a well thought-out illustration. A clear purpose would be given to the assignment, for example, "The main character in the story has conflicting feelings. You are going to draw an illustration of how the character feels at some point in the story. You may use any medium you desire as long as your illustration is flat and fits on this size paper." Then ample time needs to be given so that students can really work on and edit their work. There is also the opportunity to draw attention to students' use of color, design, and setting and to emphasize the importance of details in their work.

With teacher-led experiences, you are exposing students to new things and rounding them out as individuals. My students become well-versed in Beethoven and Glenn Miller, they also become comfortable splattering a little paint. This may mean that some of them are working out of their comfort zone. That's OK! Allowing for this time and giving students these experiences is what students will remember and take with them for years to come.

Student-Led Experiences

Think of the times when students are asked to express their learning through a medium they choose. Maybe they want to create a paper-mache relief map for geography, perform a skit to retell a story, or write a song about erosion. These types of experiences are student-led, giving students a chance to explore something they choose.

I have had students come up to me and express an interest in putting on a play about Martin Luther King Jr. The topic and the art form were interests for this group of girls. My job wasn’t to provide them with a script and a plan, instead it was to give them the space, time, and encouragement they needed.

Sometimes it can be hard to allow students to take the reigns or to give that extra attention or time to stop and listen to their ideas, but we have to do it. Our job is to foster their curiosity and creativity and allowing them to take the lead on their learning every so often is a must!

Student-led experiences allow the students to explore what they know, learn what they are comfortable with, and give them a chance to challenge themselves as creative beings. We can't possibly be experts on all our students. We need to empower them with the trust that they will do what is right for them from time to time.

It's with a balance of teacher- and student-led experiences that a students' whole self is nourished. In what ways do you create these experiences for your students?

Comments (11)

Creating Experiences Through the Arts — Whole Chil

December 9, 2010

[...] Creating Experiences Through the Arts [...]

Kate Quarfordt

December 9, 2010

Yes! Love your point about how essential it is to allow kids to take a leadership role on their own creative projects. It can be so challenging for us as educators to give up control (especially considering how hard-won it is for some of us at first!), but I’ve found that once kids take responsibility for their own creative process, many of the so-called “management” issues melt away. The intrinsic drive to satisfy curiosity and create authentic, meaningful work coupled with the extrinsic motivation of knowing that their work will be seen and evaluated by an audience far outweighs any teacher-generated methods of classroom control!

Kudos to you.

Creating Experiences through the Arts

December 11, 2010

[...] read the whole post, please click this link:  Creating Experiences Through the Arts   Arts Education and Integrationactive listening, activities, balance, dram, experiences, [...]

Elizabeth Peterson

December 11, 2010

I would agree, Kate.  Releasing that control is hard.  You never know if things will fall apart or who will wander into your room and perceive chaos.  But those who “get it” realize that it’s in those situations that real learning is happening: mistakes, successes, realizations and all!

Thanks so much for your comment.

Victoria riehle

December 11, 2010

I, too agree the classroom should be student driven but reality isost teachers are afraid to let go of the reigns. We, in the arts, know the importance of exploration and active engagement for a child to have true understanding, but educarors who are not experienced in the arts struggle putting themselves in untrained territory. I continually hear from other educator, “I’m not creative” or ” I could never do or think of that.”. I believe telling people the importance of the arts in a Childs education is monumental but untill we show our educarors that they have nothing to be afraid of, we are preaching to the choir. We need to teach our teachers how to use the arts and that it is not this scary process.  Basically, bringing out our teachers creativity will enable the teacher then to foster their students creativiy!

Courtney J. Boddie

December 18, 2010

This is exactly the way the Education Dept at The New Victory Theater work with their students in the Pre/Post-show and residency workshop program. The creativity of students are limitless and our job is to open access to let that creativity flow!

Thanks for this blog.

Maria Bravo

December 19, 2010

Loved the article on teacher and student led activities. I agree that student led activities are important to integrate into the curriculum. I teach second language learners and know the importance of making learning meaningful to the students. When students choose the manner in which they learn, they are able to make connections and relate their learning to their lives. If you have second language learners, all I can say is BUILD BACKGROUND AND MAKE CONNECTIONS! Let them use the arts to be creative.

Poner el arte en el centro « Pensar l'e

December 29, 2010

[...] Peterson, Eliabeth, Creating Experiences Through the Arts [...]

Learning Theory and Educational Technology «

December 31, 2010

[...] I believe people learn best through feedback, reflection, and opportunities to improve.  Too many fail to follow up a learning experience by offering these chances.  Teachers themselves often don’t feel the time to look back and consider alternatives and possibilities.  Choice should be a norm in education rather than the one for all approach.  Giving options offers an avenue for creativity and engagement while learning and exploring content.  Which would you prefer; lecture and worksheet practice of verb conjugations, developing a poem incorporating the verbs in various ways, creating a pneumonic memory rap to share verb conjugations, gaining approval for an imagined innovative way to express verb conjugation?  Any of these could integrate technology tools as well as offer independence, collaboration, inspiration, and connected learning.  Through the act of creating with content, individuals remember the learning as an experience.  Some say teachers are the worst students as they tend to disregard all their own rules and expectations in behavior that are insisted upon of the learners entrusted to them.  I say learning for any individual should be presented in small doses with time to collaborate.  This peer sharing provides validation which serves as feedback, insights to extend thinking and reflection, as well as a desire to improve upon the original small dose of learning.  All without droning on about information hoping the minds of your audience are open and receiving.  The pulse of knowledge gained can be determined through instant assessment means such as student response systems, board races, mind mapping, etc.  This same choice for students should be modeled through teaching.  Vary the dissemination of content methods.  Multimedia resources are endless.  Rather than being the only source of information, showcase the world as your resource.  Skype an expert, email those involved in the subject matter, offer students an option of discovery for sharing, read a story together that can lead to learning tangents, find an audience interested in sharing learning and commenting on building knowledge, pull in community guests, invite variety, etc.  Design learning instead of dictating content.  (Check out this blog post on Educating the Whole Child) [...]

Elizabeth Peterson

January 5, 2011

Some great comments here!
Victoria - I absolutely agree with your stress on the importance of getting teachers to feel comfortable with the arts.  It’s about comfort and empowerment.  That’s why I feel strongly about reaching out to teachers and helping them to get inspired so that they can be inspiring to their students.  Would love to hear more from you!

Courtney - I love your statement, “The creativity of students are limitless and our job is to open access to let that creativity flow!”  We need to always remember that!

Maria - Building background seems to be need for so many students, doesn’t it?  It seems like part of our job is now to make sure students are provided with certain experiences so that connections can be made and learning can occur.

Putting Arts Integration into Practice

January 12, 2011

[...] Creating Experiences through the Arts This is a guest post I wrote for the Whole Child Blog on the ASCD website.  It describes how teachers can use both student-led as well as teacher-led experiences to build learning opportunities in the classroom. [...]

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