Arts Integration, Creativity, and Effective Learning

There are times when something crosses our desks (or, in this case, our computer monitors) and absolutely makes us sit up straight, amazed that what we so strongly believe has been supported so eloquently—which is what happened when I saw the “School Transformation Through Arts Integration at Bates Middle School in Maryland” video produced by Edutopia.

This is an absolutely and stunningly beautiful example of what so many of us have been proposing for years: learning where subjects are seamlessly integrated with each other is spectacularly rewarding, and the arts have an undeniably important place in this process.

The six minutes it will take you to watch that video may be among the most transformative you’re going to have for quite a while if you’re as moved as I am by what it provides: an incredibly intimate view into a learning environment that was hemorrhaging faculty and was rife with disciplinary problems. A vision that learning could somehow be better than it was in that setting. And the wonderfully touching imagery of learners engaged in learning at levels many of us only dream of fostering.

It’s all there for anyone who cares to see it. But that’s not enough. What the ongoing experiment at that middle school suggests is that when we stop looking upon learning in terms of the chunks of time stolen from our “real” jobs or obligations rather than in terms of how we can bring meaning to what is learned, we’re already on a life-changing road to creative approaches to effective learning.

“We gotta find a way to reach all kids,” John Ceschini, executive director for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance says early in this all-too-brief video. I would suggest that trainer-teacher-learners need to broaden that heartfelt manifesto to “We gotta find a way to reach all learners regardless of age, background, and setting.”

It’s not that I believe I’m going to completely incorporate painting or sculpture or ballet into my next social media basics course. But I do know that the underlying commitment to draw what we already know and love into what we are beginning or continuing to learn is a well-established educational precept (think about Robert Gagné’s nine events of instruction) and one well worth considering every time we sit down to design a learning opportunity, deliver it, and then look back to see how effective we were in providing something meaningful. Whether it is onsite or online learning that we’re pursuing, it needs to include the playful, the challenging, and the potentially discouraging possibility of failure that so often comes when we are experimenting with something that is not completely familiar to us or comfortable for us.

And that idea, in itself, helps us understand one of the larger ramifications of “School Transformation Through Arts Integration.” By allowing us to see those young learners tackling subjects that can just as easily produce failures as they can produce success, the producers of the video have reminded us that learning always involves risk. It’s an inherent part of the learning process that we unsuccessfully try to ignore when we focus on the quizzes, exams, and certifications that sometimes make us want to pursue easier learning opportunities rather than running the risk of failing at something more challenging.

So while you may not see the arts incorporated into every learning opportunity I help design and facilitate, what you can expect to see is even more of a commitment to draw upon creative endeavors when I’m working with the learners who depend on me as they struggle to acquire the skills and knowledge that help them succeed in an increasingly competitive world. And I hope that by watching that video, you too will be inspired to promote and pursue a better integration of the arts and creativity into all you do.

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