The Arts Integration Institute, a professional development program held June 20-24 at the Cary Arts Center, provided 41 classroom and arts teachers from 13 Wake County elementary schools with tools, lesson plans and inspiration to integrate the arts into the curriculum in order to create a richer and more lasting learning experience for their students. Energy, excitement, creativity, laughter and connections filled the week as teachers learned and practiced ways to use movement, song, poetry and puppetry to teach science, math, literacy and social studies.
The Institute is unique in the hands-on approach it takes to lead teachers toward integrating the arts into all subject areas. Workshop presenters (teaching artists) for this year included: Martha Connerton, dance; Hobey Ford, storytelling; Mimi Herman, poetry; Kim Silbaugh, visual art; and Faye Stanley, music. Teaching artists at the Institute model the same types of lessons that the participant teachers can take back to their classrooms. For example, in his session Telling Folktales and Shadow Puppetry, Teaching Artist Hobey Ford presented a puppet show, teachers crafted their own shadow puppets and presented their own retellings of traditional stories. Then teachers learned practical ways to incorporate traditional world tales through puppetry into curriculum. And as an added bonus, at the end of the week teachers were given the supplies they needed to use the puppetry lessons in their classrooms (thank you NEA grant).
Ford presented a shadow puppet show based on an African folktale involving Anansi the spider, filled with natural imagery, action and life lessons. After his show, he explained to the teachers that a shadow puppet show can be simple enough for a Kindergartener to create one in a short amount of time or sophisticated enough for an older student or adult to spend hours creating intricate puppets.
Throughout the week, teaching artists leading sessions focusing on singing, dance, visual art and poetry also emphasized the fact that a particular art form and method of teaching could be adapted for a variety of skill and development levels and applied to any number of curriculum standards. In her session on Singing to Learn, Faye Stanley asked teachers to brainstorm ways that a tune she taught them could be used in their particular school day. Among the many suggestions, one teacher, sitting in the large group circle, responded with an idea to use the singing as a way to transition smoothly between activities in the classroom.
With respect to his session, Ford also said, “Puppets are like verbs. It’s all about the action.” That focus on action, at the forefront of each session, propelled the week forward toward the Friday afternoon informances (informal informative performances), at which teachers showcased their new knowledge. As one past participant said, “Arts integration can take our students from a world of doing worksheets to a world of applying concepts.” By using arts integration techniques during their informances, teachers applied the new knowledge and concepts they had learned during the week.
Each team of four teachers presented a sample lesson, which included some combination of techniques presented during the week. For example, teachers from Bugg Elementary sang about Arts Integration, using the tune of Shoo-Lie Shoo, which had been presented by Faye Stanley during the Singing to Learn session. As well, attendees at the informances watched the claymation movies that the teachers created with Kim Silbaugh during her session, Claymation: The Life and Story of a Plant, Animal or Ecosystem. Guests at the Friday afternoon informances included school principals, magnet coordinators, WCPSS administrators and United Arts Council board members.
As amazing as the week was, the most amazing part is what happens next—when the 41 teachers who participated in the Institute take their new lessons and inspiration back to their schools, to their colleagues, and most importantly, to their students.
As part of the Institute, teachers receive individualized coaching and participate in periodic meetings during the school year to share best practices and brainstorm ways to deepen arts integration within their schools. United Arts Council also offers Saturday “refresher” arts integration workshops throughout the school year.
Ultimately, when teachers get excited about arts integration, everyone benefits. They find a renewed passion for teaching, schools flourish, and students learn and grow in an environment focused on their multiple intelligences. For many students in Wake County, school is out for the summer. But, some of those students don’t know that at least one week of their teachers’ summer vacation may benefit them immensely in the fall—and for many years to come.
by Karla Heinen, communications coordinator