The arts and literature seem like a natural fit to me. I began my career in an elementary school that was literature based so all teachers used books and stories in curriculum design, and this included the art, music, and dance teachers. It wasn’t until I moved to another district that I realized this was not the normal course of things. Luckily, throughout my career I have always had teachers in the arts who valued the collaboration between content curriculum and their arts curriculum. A new voluntary national arts curriculum was just unveiled, called appropriately, National Core Arts Standards, (http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/), that reinforces my beliefs. “These new, voluntary National Core Arts Standards are framed by a definition of artistic literacy that includes philosophical foundations and lifelong goals, artistic processes and creative practices, anchor and performance standards that students should attain, and model cornerstone assessments by which they can be measured” (http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/content/conceptual-framework). This statement forms the perfect base for the arts to collaborate with content standards.
One of my favorite elementary art teachers, Gaye Cline, truly embodies the notion of integration of the arts which has led to some amazing projects, but more importantly to students who can recognize the role the arts play in history, literature, even science! I have some of her former students in my high school now and they remember the projects they did AND the content with which it was integrated. And while this is not listed in the standards, they have become individuals who value the importance of the arts in the world. Gaye is an art teacher at J.W. Reason Elementary School in the Hilliard School district, and in addition to each student feeling like a winner with art displayed at the annual Art Fair and Gala, many of her students also had their art displayed around Hilliard and the greater Columbus area.
Gaye and I recently talked about children’s literature, art classes, and the library. Here are a few of our salient discussion bites.
I asked Gaye why she takes the time to read and discuss children’s literature, most notably picture books, with her first through fifth grade classes. Gaye’s response was passionate and powerful. She said, “My students LOVE being read to! It stimulates their recall and perception skills. It encourages observation.” Then she added my favorite observation, “Children’s literature creates a focus from which an idea for a project can occur.” Don’t you just love it?! Of course we know that quality children’s literature can easily and successfully form the basis for learning in all content areas. In fact, one of the standards in these arts standards is creating, conceiving, and developing new artistic ideas and work. Using picture book illustrations as a jumping off point for creative thinking can serve so many purposes; a students starts from a familiar base, it can easily be integrated with other content subjects, and it motivates students to visit the library for related books.
Then we talked some more and debated the types of things that can be taught with picture books. According to Gaye, she uses many different picture books, fiction and nonfiction, when discussing art history and the great artists of the past as well as art movements. She also selects famous, award winning books to initiate projects. One of her favorites is using Where the Wild Things Are as an instruction tool (and great read) for second graders to create a 3-dimensional paper mache “wild things.” It uses both the arts standards and the English Language Arts Common Core standards: Using anchor standard #10, synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art, which comes from the Connecting process which defines connecting as “relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.” What an excellent way to describe this particular project. Second graders readily relate to the idea of wild things and the book. Allowing them to create their very own wild thing and thus adding their personal touches builds engagement and desire to create, while at the same time getting your hands dirty with papermache, a win-win project! This creates an ideal opportunity to collaborate with that second grade teacher to reinforce the English Language Arts standard, collaboration standard, which states “participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Finally, we talked about the reason and power of collaborating with her school librarian. Gaye is a firm believer that working together helps with National Core Arts Standards #11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding. Through collaboration, Gaye has a librarian with her finger on the pulse of new, award winning books and trending topics, as well as an understanding of everyone’s standards, which helps Gaye integrate her art learning with the classroom teachers in her building. Who wins when this occurs? Her students, of course!