By Lisa Cadigan
I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Harrison, principal at James Gettys Elementary School in Gettysburg, and I asked her how she thinks studying the arts in school enhances learning.
She had a twinkle in her eye and a warm smile as she recounted tales of children who are able to “shine” when given an opportunity to express themselves creatively, particularly in the annual Fine Arts Night at James Gettys Elementary, which showcases student performances of songs and dance choreography learned in music and physical education classes. She noted similar observations in the music program for older students, “I see kids in orchestra who may struggle academically, but who thrive on an instrument.” Students involved in music and the arts are able to set and meet goals through the practice of creative expression in ways that translate to success in other areas as well.
Mrs. Harrison shared stories of artists-in-residence who have spent time at James Gettys, like Ellen Ehlenbeck, whose program last year resulted in an installation of student-produced “self-portrait” mobiles that adorn the school’s lobby, and the National Circus Project (http://www.nationalcircusproject.com/) that visits every other year, teaching students to master a brand new performance skill over the course of just one week. The students love these opportunities, and look forward to them each year.
But it’s not just visiting artists who are bursting with creativity in the halls of James Gettys. Mrs. Harrison commended an imaginative staff who often incorporate the arts into classroom teaching. The Action Based Learning (ABL) program uses a multi-sensory approach to help kindergartners learn letters and their sounds with whole-body movement. Art projects directly related to science, social studies and reading ensure that new concepts and ideas are being fully absorbed. Many teachers use songs regularly in class to instill good habits with lining up, washing hands, math facts, etc. Mrs. Harrison shared a story of one student who passed his test on the preamble of the Constitution by singing it—it was the only way he could remember all of the words.
Mrs. Harrison’s anecdotal observations are supported by multiple research studies, including the ideas presented in the article cited in our earlier ABC campaign blog post (https://adamsarts.org/support-the-arts-for-our-sake-its-as-easy-as-abc/) referencing Dr. Lois Hetland, professor and graduate coordinator in the art education department at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and senior research affiliate at Project Zero in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In that interview, while Dr. Hetland says using art as a “vehicle to teach other academic content” is often “appropriate and useful,” she also warns that this should not be seen as a substitute for arts instruction, which places a unique emphasis on the “Eight Studio Habits of Mind.” Her research on this topic suggests that art instruction impacts students’ abilities to think meta-cognitively, even at early ages. This further reinforces the idea that arts education is key in helping to develop not just a student, but a human being. Dr. Hetland says, “The real product of art education is not the works of art, but the child.” The eight steps include these tangible skills:
- Developing Craft
- Engage And Persist
- Stretch And Explore
- Understand Art World
My conversation with Mrs. Harrison supported these ideas. We discussed the importance of creative expression and instruction in an academic setting, and how it allows students to set goals and reach their own great expectations in ways that may not always be possible in other areas. “We can’t just focus on test scores. We need to keep the whole child in mind,” says Mrs. Harrison.
You can help a child develop important skills like practicing a craft, engaging and persisting, expression, observation and reflection by making a donation to our ABC campaign. Every three $50 donations sends one child to a summer arts camp.
Thank you for your support!
“A Look at Lois Hetland’s Eight Studio Habits.” Every Art, Every Child | Studio Habits. Northeastern Illinois University, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. <http://www.everyarteverychild.org/assessment/studiohabits.html>.
Cadigan, Lisa C. “Support the Arts for OUR Sake: It’s as Easy as ABC.” Adams County Arts Council. Adams County Arts Council, 22 Apr. 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. <https://adamsarts.org/support-the-arts-for-our-sake-its-as-easy-as-abc/>.
Heller, Rafael. “On the Goals and Outcomes of Arts Education: An Interview with Lois Hetland.” Phi Beta Kappan 98.7 (2017): 15-20. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.