Tagged “Voices”

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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Klea Scharberg

On Education and Creativity

Creativity expert and author Sir Ken Robinson says that creativity is as important to education as literacy. Schools however, he adds, could be doing a better job of widening their understanding of intelligence to move education beyond a protracted preparation for careers as university professors.

Picasso once said this, he said that "all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up." I believe this passionately: That we don't grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Or, rather, we get educated out of it.

Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one, doesn't matter where you go. You'd think it would be otherwise, but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth. And in pretty much every system, too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think maths is very important, but so is dance.

After watching the film, consider the following questions and exercises alone or with colleagues at your school.

  1. Do you agree with Robinson that public education is, in fact, educating children out of their creativity? Why or why not?
  2. Robinson defines creativity as the process of "having original ideas that have value." Using that definition, cite examples of the last time that you or one of your students came up with a creative idea. What criteria did you use to determine the idea's value?
  3. Brainstorm ways that you might allow students more creative outlets in your subject area or daily classroom routine.

Creativity is part of being human, and everyone has it in various areas and to different degrees, say experts. So 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? ASCD Express offers numerous examples of programs, approaches, and activities that schools are using to unlock this often untapped potential in their students.

Judy Willis

The Brain Learns Creatively When Arts Are in the Picture

The current theme of the critical role of the arts in providing students with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child promotes thoughts about how the arts can "increase students' college-, career-, and citizenship-readiness in all subjects as well as keep them engaged in school and contribute to their social and emotional health."

The arts are not optional, separate entities that can be isolated into short periods of playing with clay. The arts, by nature, are opportunities for creativity. There is creativity for personal expression in art interpretation as well as in artistic production and performance. The increasing buzz about a creativity crisis comes at a time when neuroscience and cognitive science research are increasingly providing information that correlates creativity with intelligence; academic, social, and emotional success; and the development of skill sets and the highest information processing (executive functions) that will become increasingly valuable for students of the 21st century.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

FAIL: Why Student Voice Isn't Enough

Post submitted by guest blogger Adam Fletcher, student voice expert and author of Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Follow Fletcher on Twitter.

Student voice is not enough. Adults working to stop bullying in schools have learned that it is important to engage students as self-advocates and peer teachers, behavior monitors, and student-body cheerleaders. As schools become more savvy, more students who bully are being effectively taught to challenge bullying themselves, working with their peers to create safe and supportive learning environments.

However, after more than 15 years of national interest in bullying, many schools are still struggling to effectively address the problem. In the past two weeks I have blogged here about bullying as a form of student voice and the role of student/adult partnerships in challenging student voice. But student voice is not enough.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Bullying Left Unchecked: Proactively Keeping Classrooms and Schools From Hitting the Tipping Point

Two recent blog posts from our partner the Developmental Studies Center (DSC) bring light to the important role educators play in not only addressing bullying, but also proactively preventing it by creating a positive school culture where students and educators can work through the root of the problem rather than just the symptoms. Ginger Cook's post poses the question, "How might we proactively keep classrooms and schools from hitting the 'tipping point,' and stop bullying before it even starts?" Ginger outlines five ways educators can get to the root of bullying and develop a positive school climate.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Accepting Responsibility for Bullying

Post submitted by guest blogger Adam Fletcher, student voice expert and author of Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Follow Adam on Twitter.

Research continuously shows us that bullying has its roots in adult behavior: Children and youth replicate the actions and words they see and hear in their environments. If not parents, then teachers; if not teachers, then television—somewhere, somehow, young people learn they can use intimidation to get other people to do things. Despite the temptation to say otherwise, not just "bad" adults perpetuate bullying. Almost every single one of us has relied on intimidation to get a student to do something, and that behavior is at the heart of bullying.

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Molly McCloskey

On Superman, Oprah, and Dinner

I believe movies should be rated based on how many dinner conversations you get out of them. A top-notch film will provoke at least five conversations, the dregs produce zero, etc. And it's not always the quality of the film itself (or song, or photograph, or piece of art) but the impact it has on your thinking that makes the difference for me. It's about the questions the art provokes and the quality of conversation that can be had over the answers.

Unfortunately, and frustratingly for this career public educator, the movie Waiting for "Superman"—and the Oprah Winfrey Show episode dedicated to it on September 20—thinks it has the answers: fire teachers and start new charter schools. I haven't actually seen the film yet, so it goes a bit against my nature to talk about it, but I certainly can talk about what was shared during the Oprah episode, which I watched in fits and starts of agreement with some of the issues raised and abject anger at the inflammatory, blame-based, flat out inaccurate answers proposed.

So let's review:

1. The current public education system in the United States is deeply flawed and fails far too many young people, including the 30 percent who drop out all together and the 40 percent who require remedial coursework in college. — TRUE

2. Teachers play a critical role in the achievement and success of each child. — TRUE

3. Decisions about education in schools, school districts, and states and at the federal level too often prioritize adult wants over student needs. — TRUE

Therefore, according to Oprah and her guests we should:

4. Fire all the ineffective teachers (paraphrasing here: If we got rid of all the ineffective teachers, the United States would be number one in the world again). — Not so fast

  • There is little agreement regarding how to measure what effective teaching is beyond every parent's personal definition of what works for his or her child. My son and daughter had the same 1st grade teacher. She was absolutely perfect for one and absolutely wrong for the other because the children are different, not because she changed or was somehow less effective than the previous year.
  • Proponents of using student achievement data as a significant portion of teacher evaluation (including Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee) often fail to acknowledge that achievement tests were not designed for this purpose (and, in some cases, were not even designed to accurately measure student performance!).
  • No single staff member of any school is solely responsible for the achievement of any single student (or even class). Student achievement is influenced by interactions with many different adults—from counselors to librarians to custodians to principals to parent volunteers—throughout the school day and year and each has a profound impact on that student's achievement and success.

5. Fund and open more charter schools [so that kids don't have to attend those horrible public schools]. — Not so fast

  • Clear, consistent research indicates that charter schools are no more effective at raising student achievement (see flawed measurement system caveat above) than public schools. Some are great; some are lousy, just like public schools.
  • Bill Gates, one of the guests on Oprah's show, implied that quality public schools are few and far between and often the only viable option for any parent seeking quality for their child is a charter. That could be shocking to those folks who send their children to school districts like Arlington, Va.; Madison, Wisc.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Richmond, Va.; or Durham, N.C., each named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 20 places to educate your child and each enrolling upward of 85 percent of students in public schools. And just this week, America's Promise Alliance, an ASCD Whole Child Partner, announced its 100 Best Communities for Young People, in part based on actions taken to prepare students to graduate from high school and succeed in college and a 21st century career.

This is the truth about education, not only in this country but also around the world: when the adults in a community (parents, policymakers, business owners, and school staff) work together and individually to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, each child succeeds. It is both that simple and that complex. Evaluate any fabulous charter or public school (large, small, urban, rural, racially and ethnically diverse or not, socioeconomically diverse or not), and I promise that you will find indicators and strategies under each of those categories that range from school-based health clinics to extended hours for academic, social, emotional, physical, and artistic support and enrichment to skilled instruction across multiple adult roles of a comprehensive, rich curriculum. Conversely, examine any failing school, be it a charter, public, or private, and you will find gaps in one or more of those areas.

It's not size that matters. It's not public or charter. It's not rich or poor. It's the conscious, conscientious, and continuous attention of all the adults of the community to ensure that each child in each school is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged that will meet the immediate needs of our children and provide for the long-term success of our democracy, economy, and society.

Days after the show now, I'm still talking about this episode, and Oprah has announced that Friday's show will be a follow-up (maybe including teachers?). Perhaps, in the end, that's really what matters here and what garners this episode, and maybe the film itself, a five-dinner rating. It's the conversations, the community-wide attention to the questions, and a national effort to find the answers that will finally change education for each of our children. Whether you agree with the solutions offered by the film and by Oprah's guests or not, I do hope you will take the time to talk about it!

Read an open letter to Oprah Winfrey about the episode written by ASCD Executive Director Gene R. Carter.

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