"We can't narrow the focus of our schools into just math and reading and still expect to graduate students who are ready for college, a career and citizenship," writes ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter in his special commentary for CNN's Schools of Thought blog. "A comprehensive education provides students the opportunity to discover what they excel at and inspires a boost in overall student performance and confidence across all subjects."
ASCD and more than 25 other major education organizations (including several whole child partners), representing a wide array of subject areas, are promoting consensus recommendations for how federal education policy can better support subject disciplines beyond reading, math, and science. The recommendations are a response to proposals that could threaten schools' and districts' ability to provide students with a comprehensive education that prepares them to graduate from high school ready for success in college, careers, and citizenship, and that narrows the definition of such readiness to only the Common Core State Standards.
A new nationwide survey on the state of arts education in U.S. public schools finds that arts offerings haven't declined as much as expected, but that students in high-poverty schools, particularly at the secondary level, do not receive the same rich exposure to arts opportunities as their wealthier peers.
Young adolescents have specific developmental needs as they negotiate puberty and its effect on their intellectual, social, and emotional lives. Appropriate environments, strategies, and programs provide structure for academic success.
In his book, The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice, learning and human development expert Thomas Armstrong identifies 12 educational practices that support the social, emotional, and metacognitive growth of middle-grades students and provides school examples from each. These practices are
Safe school climate
Small learning communities
Personal adult relationships
Positive role models
Expressive arts strategies
Health and wellness focus
Emotionally meaningful curriculum
Student roles in decision making
Honoring and respecting student voices
Facilitating social and emotional growth
Too many educators believe that early adolescence is either a time for whipping kids into shape for the academic rigors of high school or a time for patient (if painful) endurance while they go about their tortuous process of growing up. It is neither. There is a great middle area between these two extremes that must be the focus of those who wish to deal with the reality of young teens. Young adolescents live rich and intense lives. To demand that they leave these lives outside of the school boundaries is to commit a serious injustice to them, and it also threatens to deprive society of the gifts these kids have to give. By embracing the passion of early adolescence and using that energy to revitalize the classroom, educators will ensure that these vibrant young voices will sing out their hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows in a way that can benefit not only themselves but the rest of society as well.
Which of the developmentally appropriate practices for young adolescents described in this chapter are most important in your opinion? What other practices would you add to this list?
When Peter Reynolds' teachers dared him to teach others, through art and storytelling, they uncorked the genie of Ish-ful thinking.
At the second general session of ASCD's 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, the award-winning children's book author, illustrator, and software designer (FableVision), shared some of the backstory to Dot and Ish, and how educators can incorporate the maxims from these books into their classroom culture and practices.
Dot encourages readers to "make their mark and see where it takes you." Ish builds on this theme, advocating that there are no prescribed "right" ways of imagining and creating.
How well do all schools reflect these values of creating something meaningful to yourself and the world and breaking free of conformity and standardized thinking?
Reynolds suggested six essentials for classrooms that support creative ideals:
Environmental Cues: How does the physical space of our schools encourage creativity?
Open-Ended Invitations: A blank page, or a blank screen, invites creative thinkers. Let the good stuff come from you and your students, not scripted curriculum, said Reynolds. "Bottled-up creativity leads us to consume, not create. We need to make more."
Expressive Tools in the Hands of Students: Reynolds demonstrated a digital drawing tablet that turns a computer mouse into a pen. "Technology lets us explore and share ideas, and see what else is possible."
Time and Freedom: Reynolds said teachers need more time and freedom to dive more deeply into learning. "We're much more creative than standardized testing. Standardized testing is like dial-up in a broadband world."
Visionary, Enlightened, and Engaged Leaders: Reynolds aimed this appeal not just at school leaders, but political leaders who need to "get it" that creativity is not just a once-a-week art class. It's every day, across curriculum. Art can connect the dots between the subjects and fun.
Love: Let every child know they exist and they matter. Ask students, who are you? Where have you been, where are you going, and how will you get there? Reynolds' middle school math teacher noticed him and connected the dots between doodling in class to using art to teach lessons through stories. Know that you change the lives of your students for the better, and let that prompt you to do it even more.
ASCD's Annual Conference is an "opportunity to stop and imagine what next year could be like," noted Reynolds. He called on educators to express themselves bravely; to be kind, creative, and generous and to "let no one squish your ish or the ishes of the ish-ful thinkers around you."
With class sizes rising significantly for the first time in decades, now is a good time to continue to lobby for better funding and supports in education and to also look at how some big schools manage to tend to individual student needs despite high enrollment.
Big schools can present big opportunities for bringing the whole child tenets to scale, but they must draw on their larger community as a resource—strengthening parent and community partnerships, activating student voice and interest, and empowering teacher leaders.
Bronx Preparatory Charter School in New York prepares underserved middle and high school students for higher education, civic involvement, and lifelong success by holding high expectations and providing a caring, structured environment. The school's 700 students in grades 5–12 spend 50 percent more time in school than their peers in traditional public schools. Heavy emphasis is placed on math and literacy. Middle school students attend up to two hours each in math and English daily and are introduced to high school-level content in 8th grade. During the 11th and 12th grades, students can take college-level courses.
College is integrated into every aspect at Bronx Prep, with rooms named after colleges and universities and teachers constantly referring to students' future higher education. Consistent science, social studies, physical education, and artistic block scheduling provide a well-rounded education. Middle and high school students spend one hour a day, four days a week participating in classes such as piano, violin, dance, and drama. One hundred percent of the school's first three high school graduating classes were admitted to four-year colleges.
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.
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.
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?
Giving Thanks for Teachers Who Help Hungry Students: Educator Susan Graham describes a lesson in which students share Thanksgiving meal traditions, from turkey and mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie and even pizza. But recent data show that close to a quarter of U.S. schoolchildren regularly struggle with hunger, and Graham gives thanks to teachers who often use their own money to help them get through the school day. Read more.
This month, the Whole Child Blog has been focusing on the critical role of the arts throughout a whole child education. The arts play an essential role in providing each student with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child. Although classes strictly focused on music, visual arts, drama, dance, and art history are critical, integrating the arts across the curriculum is also key to ensuring that students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Peter Yarrow, recording artist and founder of Operation Respect and United Voices for Education; Mike Blakeslee, senior deputy executive director and chief operating officer of (Whole Child Partner) MENC: The National Association for Music Education; and Vanessa Lopez, an exceptional arts educator from Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Md.
Learn about the connection between creativity and the brain with guest blogger Judy Willis, ASCD author and expert on learning-centered brain research. Read the first, second, third, and final posts in the series.
Find resources for arts and arts-integrated educational content for students, families, and educators looking for lesson plans, multimedia-enhanced instruction, and performance footage on Whole Child Partner the Kennedy Center's ARTSEDGE website.
Watch musician Peter Yarrow and conductor Plácido Domingo talk about their belief in the importance of the arts and the value of a whole child approach to education.
Think about the research-based benefits of arts education experiences and how the arts engage students in ways that other subjects may not, providing ways into learning that compliment learning styles and encourage creative risk taking.
Discuss whether or not public education is educating children out of their creativity after listening to an engaging presentation by Sir Ken Robinson. How can schools do a better job of recognizing and encouraging creativity during class to stimulate thinking and as preparation for the future work arena?
Support and advocate for all core academic subjects—English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography—that make up a well-rounded approach to education.
Sign the Whole Child Petition to tell your state board of education that it must do more to educate the whole child.
Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter to find more resources, research, and stats, including links to
What could a focus on the arts look like at your school? The PS22 Chorus is an elementary school chorus from Public School 22 in Staten Island, N.Y. It is composed of 60–70 fifth-graders, and is directed by Gregg Breinberg ("Mr. B."), who started blogging and created a YouTube channel to promote the benefits of keeping the arts an integral part of the school curriculum. As of this month, the chorus's videos have been watched more than 23,000,000 times.
In Choral Director, the choral director's management magazine, Mr. B. talks about the importance of integrating the arts throughout the curriculum:
I hope that these kids take away a confidence, a sense of empowerment, and a sense that anything is possible. That last bit is certainly more along the lines of the last few years because of the amazing opportunities we've had, but I don't want this chorus to be just about the exposure that these kids are getting. I do think it's so important that this is blowing up at a point where our budget is a mess and music and arts programs are being cut left and right, so in a sense, globally, with the success, I'd love to keep people thinking about how important music is. I don't think anyone can miss by watching how those kids sing how important it is to them, how it keeps kids wanting to come to school. Every kid in my chorus will tell you that they look forward to coming to school. That's something we take a lot of pride in because we just happen to be a school that really subscribes to the arts.
We've also used the music to teach other areas of the curriculum. The kids learned PEMDAS through rhythm equations that I made. I try to keep things fun and keep the students on their toes. I want them to love music, learn, be engaged, and I want them to come to school. When you take the arts out of schools, there's a risk of drop outs, especially among children who maybe don't have great parental support and might be saying to themselves, "Why am I going to this place where I'm not succeeding, I'm made to feel like an idiot, there's nothing I do well in this life, and I have to come back tomorrow to feel like an idiot again?" I want to reach these kids, and a lot of the children in my chorus do not necessarily succeed in other academic areas as well as they and their families would like. It's so important that we tap into other avenues that kids are capable of succeeding in. I think that every one of these kids in my chorus has something to offer. Maybe they don't have that prodigious, exceptional vocal talent, but there's more behind the music that these kids are tapping into within themselves. They're amazing people and that's a part of it, too. I want them to be open to each other. I want them to be open to life and to new things.
How are you or how is your school integrating the arts throughout the curriculum? What are the benefits to students?