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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.

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Klea Scharberg

Arts Roundup

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?

Judy Willis

The Arts Inoculate Against Boredom and Its Consequences: Dropping Out, Physically or Virtually

When a high school eliminated the last-period guitar instruction elective available to students who had attended all of the day's classes, there was a significant dropout of the students who tolerated their other classes to enjoy the pleasure of that guitar class. What a shame at a time when we are experiencing the highest high school dropout rate our country has ever had. For the first time in our history, for students in high school, it is now more likely that their parents will have graduated than they will graduate.

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Klea Scharberg

How Do You Justify Arts in the Curriculum?

You've heard the comments: The arts are nice to have but not necessary to have. We have an afterschool program that integrates the arts so that they don't take away from the curriculum. If a kid can't read, does he really need music? And on and on. Yet NCLB includes the arts as core content, and there is plenty of research pointing to the value of arts education not only as a stimulant for student engagement and deeper learning in other core content areas, but also as a valuable curriculum all on its own.

What makes a subject or discipline a "major discipline?" In his book Arts with the Brain in Mind, ASCD author, former teacher, and leader in the brain-based-learning movement Eric Jensen tackles this question and arrives at the conclusion that the arts are not only fundamental to success in our demanding, highly technical, fast-moving world, but they are also what make us most human, most complete as people.

The book describes what findings from neuroscience and cognitive science research are teaching us about the need for the arts in our schools and presents instructional strategies and classroom activities that promote the musical, visual, and kinesthetic arts in school, as well as recommendations for assessing arts instruction. Do the arts help develop the brain? Are there special age-groups important for introducing the arts to children?

ASCD book: Arts with the Brain in Mind

Jensen grades the arts on a series of seven criteria:

  1. Is the discipline assessable?
  2. Is it brain based?
  3. Is it culturally necessary?
  4. What is the downside risk?
  5. Is the discipline inclusive?
  6. Does it have survival value?
  7. Is it wide ranging?

What do you think? Do the arts receive a passing grade?

"Make the goal high test scores, and you get a majority of students who get higher test scores and a minority who are turned off by learning and school. Make your priority better human beings, and you'll not only get better test scores; you'll also get cooperative, self-disciplined, creative, and compassionate students with a real love of learning." —Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen is also the author of Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It and has been a guest blogger for the Whole Child Blog and a featured guest on the Whole Child Podcast, where he addresses student risk factors, including health and safety issues and cognitive, social, and emotional challenges.

Klea Scharberg

Plácido Domingo Is for Whole Child Education

World-renowned tenor, conductor, and general director of Whole Child Partner the Washington National Opera, Plácido Domingo believes in a whole child approach to education.

The arts stimulate the very qualities that make us human and are an essential component in a whole child approach to education. Arts education engages young people in critical skills essential to success in the 21st century economy and global society: the ability to communicate [and] empathize for other human beings, the development of abstract thought, and the ability to work as part of a team.

For the world of opera is not just for singers, orchestral musicians, or dancers—you can also sew costumes or apply makeup on the performers; you can design, build, and paint the set; you can work on lighting, moving the set, or promoting the opera. The job opportunities are immense. So, opera isn't just about singing. There is a role for virtually everyone.

The stories of diverse cultures told through the arts give young and old alike tools to understand a complex, global society rich in history, convention, and beauty. Finally, the arts allow us to express our feelings in a healthy way, and sharing emotions is the bond that ties children to their families, friends, and community. People who are emotionally bonded to each other make up a healthy and empathetic world.

I hope you will join me in making the story of arts a priority in our schools and thus help make our world a better and more beautiful place.

If you stand for whole child education, you can speak out for it, too. Contact your senators, and ask them to support the National Whole Child Resolution, S. Res. 478, which makes a whole child approach to education a national priority and designates March as "National Whole Child Month." Don't forget to sign the Whole Child Petition to tell your state board of education that it must do more to educate the whole child.

Klea Scharberg

Advocating for Well-Rounded Education

As supporters of a whole child approach to education, we believe that each student must receive equal access to a credible, comprehensive, and well-rounded education that includes instruction in all core academic subjects—English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography—delivered at appropriate times throughout the school experience. Credible and comprehensive instruction should also apply to physical education and health education.

Each of these subjects is crucial to a student's learning in its own right, and no single subject should be considered more important than another. Indeed, the combination of the subjects and the interrelationship among disciplines enhances learning and understanding for each student. Moreover, a well-rounded education provides students with the academic preparation and knowledge to succeed in the increasingly global marketplace and in our own complex and ever-changing society.

In July 2010, ASCD and major education organizations representing a wide array of subject areas released consensus recommendations for how the federal government can better support core subjects beyond reading and math during a policy briefing on Capitol Hill. The policy recommendations are a response to the No Child Left Behind Act's singular focus on student performance in reading and math in addition to the Obama administration's Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) blueprint and FY11 budget request, which continue to prioritize reading and math over other subjects.

As part of her testimony, educator, artist, writer, theater maker, and mother Kate Quarfordt said:

I know that when we talk about the importance of ensuring every kid in America gets a well-rounded education, we're not talking about funding cute and cuddly side projects; we're talking about one of the crucial factors that determines whether we graduate healthy, engaged kids who are ready for college, career, and citizenship—or funnel kids into the dropout machine, into the welfare system, into our nation's prisons, and onto the street.

Now, I know that may sound extreme, but I'm here because I know firsthand that every time our nation's schools miss an opportunity to engage kids in broad-based and transformative learning that persuades them to stay in school, graduate, go to college, and participate meaningfully in the world, we lose them. When their experience of school is limited to cramming for standardized tests in a limited number of subjects, we lose them. As a nation, we are losing them at a rate of 7,000 kids every school day; 1 dropout every 26 seconds. And when we lose kids, especially in neighborhoods like the one I work in, most of them don't get a second chance. But when we offer them an education that is well-rounded, that engages them in multiple interconnected ways of seeing the world, that feels relevant to who they are and who they can become, great things happen.

Organizations continue to sign on to endorse the policy recommendations, but what can you do? Whole Child Partner Americans for the Arts asked why arts matter and one of the winners, Student Advocates for the Arts, answered.

"Every child should have access and have a well-rounded education. And they cannot have a well-rounded education without the arts."
—Richard Kessler, executive director, Center for Arts Education, and musician

Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA) is a grassroots student organization dedicated to educating on and advocating for public policy affecting the arts in the United States. Founded in 2002 by graduate students in the Arts Administration Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, SAA engages students in hands-on lobbying, workshops on advocacy and cultural policy, and discussions on the American system for funding the arts. Read SAA's guest post on Americans for the Arts' ARTSblog.

Act now! Sign the Whole Child Petition asking your state board of education to support policies and practices that ensure each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. When your state has reached its goal, we will deliver the petition to your state board of education.

Judy Willis

Art for Attention

The brain's information intake filter admits only about 1 percent of the sensory input available each second. That means that because all learning enters the brain as sensory input, teachers need to be sure their lesson material "makes the cut."

This involuntary filter in the low brainstem, called the reticular activating system (RAS), gives priority to novel sensory information. First priority goes to novel sensory information interpreted as potentially threatening—thus the need to have a strong classroom community; interventions to reduce states of sustained high stress; and the trust of your students that you will do all you can to intervene when actions by classmates threaten their property, physical, and emotional safety.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Benefits of Arts Education Experiences

Post submitted by Janet Rubin. Rubin, with John Ceschini, facilitates the ASCD Arts in Education Professional Interest Community, which works to elevate the status of the arts as an important curriculum component. It provides a forum for educators to share ideas and activities for teaching the arts and fosters liaisons with other arts-in-education groups and curriculum specialists.

In the 21st century, young people will require an education that addresses the whole child. Today's learner will need to acquire critical thinking and creative competencies. The work place will demand skills in problem solving, innovation, adaptation, working collaboratively, demonstrating initiative, productivity, taking responsibility, and leadership. The complex world in which today's students will live requires that they communicate clearly, understand social and cultural contexts, and have the ability to be flexible in the face of challenges and changing circumstances. The arts give students opportunities to develop and refine these critical skills.

Research supports the benefits of arts education. The Dana Foundation, for example, has sponsored summits and posted research on its website that notes connections between arts training and learning, cognition, focus on task, memory, creative thinking, and general intelligence. Training in music, for example, correlates with the ability to differentiate and manipulate sounds—a predictor of reading fluency—and training in drama and theatre suggests better social skills, increased motivation, and improved memory. Another connection addresses equity, as socioeconomically disadvantaged students have benefited significantly from arts education experiences.

On the website and in publications of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), resources and research further the case for the arts. AEP's mission centers on the essential role of the arts in students' success. In addition to the Dana Foundation and AEP, many other professional organizations, government agencies, foundations, and research institutes are sources for arts education support and advocacy. Anecdotal evidence also abounds, not the least of which are the heartfelt testimonials of students whose lives have been enriched through the arts.

The arts engage students in ways that other subjects may not, providing ways into learning that compliment learning styles and encourage creative risk taking. The arts are process-oriented, facilitate inquiry, and promote self-expression. Through the arts, children can see themselves as creators who value their own ideas and respect the ideas of others. This gateway to learning helps them to understand that there is not always a right answer to a question or that there may be multiples ways to address a problem. The arts allow them to learn both from their successes and from their mistakes. The positive results are tangible, both in terms of arts content learning and in the ability to understand and communicate meaning across disciplines. In addition, the arts can make positive social changes as they open doors to knowledge. Through arts experiences, students learn to value their own ideas and to respect the ideas of others. Their talents are nurtured as their potential is realized.

Ten Arts Education Benefits

  1. Improve academic performance
  2. Result in better attendance and lower dropout rates
  3. Level the playing field for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds
  4. Build self-esteem
  5. Foster self-confidence and self-expression
  6. Improve academic and performance skills for children with learning disabilities
  7. Improve literacy skills
  8. Foster motivation
  9. Create empathy for and understanding of others
  10. Improve oral and written communication skills

In what other ways do arts education experiences benefit students in your school and community?

ASCD Professional Interest Communities are member-initiated groups designed to unite people around a common area of interest in the field of education. Flexible, fluid, and based on the needs of its participants, each professional interest community is operated independently and provides different resources to its members.

Judy Willis

Art for Joyful Learning

The brain, in animals and humans, evolved to better protect the well-being of its owner and species. Expending energy without the expectation of imminent satisfaction is not part of the survival programming of the brain. Effort and attention are limited commodities that the brain parses out to the actions it predicts will be successful in protection or pleasure. To predict the likelihood that effort will result in successful outcomes, the brain uses the outcome of previous experiences.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Learning In and Through the Arts

After analyzing four years of data, we know that of the five tenets of a whole child approach to education, "engagement" is the tenet that whole child supporters are most interested in. A major factor in ensuring each student is healthy, safe, supported, and challenged is engaging them in the process of building each critical dimension.

For example, school leaders can choose to ban cell phones because of cyberbullying concerns, but that response treats the symptom rather than the problem and does not engage students in the process of creating a safe place. Alternatively, giving students the opportunity to create a play that illuminates the realities of cyberbullying allows them to construct and demonstrate their understanding of its effects. How might we consistently engage students in the process of making their schools and communities safer places, healthier environments, more supportive climates, and more rigorous and challenging learning cultures?

Research and years of experience reinforce the power of integrating the arts to engage students in every dimension of learning and development. Arts integration has been defined by teaching artists, teachers, education specialists, and leading arts organizations as "an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form." When the arts are integrated, students are more engaged because they take on a more active role in learning by experiencing things directly and expressing themselves in multiple ways. They are challenged to take what they learn, build a deeper understanding, and then do something with it. When the arts are integrated well, students are involved in making decisions about their learning. But you don't have to take our word about the power of integrating the arts.

According to the Search Institute, interviews with several thousand U.S. teenagers yielded more than 200 different inspirations that enrich teens' lives, excite them, and tap into their true passions. In the top 10 were participating in or leading art, dance, drama, music, writing, or other creative arts activities. Researcher, author, and consultant Robert Marzano states, "One is struck by the superior findings reported for visual and dramatic instruction over verbal instruction in terms of the percentage of information recalled by students one year after the completion of the unit."

This month on wholechildeducation.org, we're focusing on the power of engaging students in learning through the arts. Join us as we continue to change the conversation about how learning can and should take place inside and outside the classroom—and learn about and contribute resources, ideas, inspiration, and examples of arts integration on the Whole Child Blog and this month's Whole Child Podcast.

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