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No Artistic Talent Necessary, “Arts Integration in the Classroom” BVEF Series Summary

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

One chilly afternoon in March, educators came together to explore arts integration across the curriculum, Blackstone Valley Education Foundation’s most recent professional development course. “Integrating the ARTS in Language Arts” was led by Dr. Lisa Donovan, Professor of Arts Management at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Co-Director of Berkshire Regional Arts Integration Network (BRAINWorks).

Before I delve into my positive experience with our March session, I would like to highlight the four remaining professional development courses we’ll be offering with Dr. Lisa Donovan this spring at our Whitinsville-based office (unless otherwise noted). All school staff are welcome to register:

Wednesday, April 26, 2023 from 12pm-4pm

Wednesday, May 3, 2023 from 12pm-4pm

Wednesday, May 17, 2023 from 12pm-4pm

Saturday, May 20, 2023 12pm-1:30pm at Sutton High School

Our description of the above courses include the disclaimer: “No artistic talent is necessary!!!” In fact, I find some students have an easier time exploring artistic tools with instructors who themselves may not have as much confidence in their artistic abilities, but are able to demonstrate an openness and an appreciation for the arts. Full disclosure, this blog is written by someone who has an undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre and Creative Writing from The Hartt School along with robust performing arts’ training as a child from very talented MA-based arts’ educators/organizations. So while artistic talent is not necessary for BVEF’s upcoming professional development classes, artists will be in good company!

Several arts based educators joined us at the BVEF offices for Dr. Lisa Donovan’s first class in March. We also had a variety of teachers from the special education sector along with BVEF staff members who were in attendance. Early in class Donovan shared the Kennedy Center's definition of arts integration:

Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form to another subject and meets evolving objectives in both.

Following a discussion of this quote, Donovan led us in a series of warmups including one called “This is Not a Stick”. It was a wonderful game to open our minds and get us to engage with one another in a fun, creative way. Afterwards, we found out there is also a complimentary text that can be paired with the game called This is Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis.

Donovan pointed out that engaging in classroom warmups promotes community building and encourages the translation of ideas in a non-traditional way. It’s also a great way to help your classmates notice how different brains work (pun intended).

Another major arts integration tool we explored was Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), described very digestibly in the following blog: Teaching Visual Thinking Strategies

The initial concept of visual thinking was developed in 1969 by German author, Rudolf Arnheim in his book by the same name. Since that time visual thinking has been explored and further developed into a strategy by a research-based education non-profit organization that “believes thoughtful, facilitated discussion of art activates transformational learning accessible to all” The key questions to ask when engaging in VTS are the following:

  1. What's going on in this picture?

  2. What do you see that makes you say that?

  3. What more can we find?

It’s important that the facilitator ONLY asks the above questions or repeats the comments made by participants. Dr. Lisa Donovan selected a powerful book to demonstrate the Visual Thinking Strategy. She projected a beautiful illustration onto the wall, by author and artist Yuyi Morales from Dreamers, a non-fiction book for children that centers on navigating an unfamiliar place. What was lovely about this rich book is that following our exercise in VTS, we were able to use it for other arts integration exercises.

Next up was “found poetry”. Participants were given a copy of the text of Dreamers and circled phrases of interest then reworked those phrases into a new poem. Donovan took this exercise a step further dividing us into groups to read our new poems and then asked us to create a group poem inspired by the text. Following this creation, we performed these poems for the other groups.

By the end of the class attendees had a wealth of thoughts to share about how they imagined these tools could be incorporated into their own curriculum. We received a lot of positive feedback following the session including one teacher who emailed to say "I really enjoyed the professional development yesterday. I feel a little more motivated and energized coming in this morning" (Heidi Lefebvre-McDonald). Another educator shared, “I was excited to hear you say that this programming may expand in the near future” (Amy Henderson). I just scratched the surface of our exploration that chilly March afternoon, but I hope you’ll be able to join us in April! I can’t wait to explore social and emotional learning through arts integration. In the meantime, I highly recommend exploring the wonderful resources on the BRAINWorks website.

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