Friday, March 25, 2016

The Importance Of Integrating The Arts In Academic Classrooms

March is National Music In Our Schools month, and I haven't seen a single teacher celebrate it. So I will, and by the end of this post, I hope to see you celebrating it too. We've all heard the rumors about how music and other aspects of the performing arts make young children more intelligent, more talented, more social, and more well rounded. And those rumors are true, but no one seems to understand why. 

Raised in quite the artistic family, the importance of arts integration in the classroom has always been of personal importance to me. My dad was a band director and percussionist, so I began piano lessons at an early age. Then came the dance classes, acting instruction, color guard camps, and a genuine love for theatre. These activities didn't just keep me occupied, they engaged me in math concepts, scientific kinesthetics, and historical stories I would've never otherwise been interested in.

The effects of performing arts in the educational classroom are no different.

Yes, visual art is important. But it isn't something that's often neglected, especially in early childhood and elementary classrooms. It adds an extensive visual component to the curriculum, making it easier for students to grasp. For some reason, educators are quick to understand this for painting, coloring, gluing, and creating, but the performing arts (like visual arts), are a key ingredient to successful learning in the early stages of life. They should not be excluded from the lessons in our classroom.

There are eight learning styles recognized among students today; eight different "intelligences." These intelligences are used to help students understand and make sense of the world around them, influencing the way they approach and solve a problem. Most students use a combination of these eight learning styles, but one of the main problems in our education system is that these learning styles are not catered to equally. This means that a student whose learning style matches the teacher's lesson will be more successful than a student who learns a different way, and there is no quicker way to short a student of his/her own potential than refusing to teach the way that student learns.

8 Intelligences / Learning Styles 
Aka: Language. This student can utilize language and words effectively to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. These students usually love reading and class discussions. They will likely grow up to be writers, bloggers, journalists, or authors.

Aka: Mathematical and scientific. These students rely on sound reasoning, structure, proof, and inductive thinking to understand. These students require formulas and fool-proof instructions. They love lists, planning, and organized activities.

Aka: Visual. They have to see it to believe it. Spatial learners are generally very abstract. They learn fractions with pizza instead of with numbers. They probably still count on their fingers, even if they know the numerical value. A common misconception is that spatial learners are very good at visual art because it is visual and abstract. The truth is that spatial learners are successful in any subject, as long as they are able to visualize the concept in a physical and realistic scenario.

Aka: Experiential. Naturalistic learners have an overwhelming awareness and sensitivity towards the world around them, and all the people in it. The more real-life application you can give these students, the more likely they are to understand. If you want to teach percentages, teach them how to leave a tip. If you want to teach persuasive writing, have them construct a letter. They like to know that what they are learning is real, applicable, and valuable to their life outside the classroom.

Aka: Social. These students have the ability to interact effectively and successfully with others. Interpersonal learners thoroughly enjoy working in groups or with a partner.

Aka: Individualistic. Intrapersonal students have a firm grasp of their own interests, personality, and skill level. They are generally self-motivated, and prefer to work alone at their desk rather than with another student.

Aka: The I-Need-Movement squad. This one of the two majorly neglected learning styles. Kinesthetic learners like to move around the classroom, work with their hands, and involve all five senses. They like to be thoroughly involved. From the moment students enter academic schooling, they are told to sit down, be quiet, and listen to the teacher. Nothing frustrates these students faster because they physically can't. These are the students now labeled with ADHD. Some have been emotionally, medically, and realistically diagnosed, and teachers are prepared to help these students out. But many students who are told they are ADHD don't actually have it at all. They are simply denied their primary learning style in the classroom, fueling all kinds of behavior issues that students, parents, and doctors are left cleaning up after. And it's not their fault.

Aka: Music. This is the other majorly neglected learning style. The main misconception of this learning style is that these students are able to remember what the teacher said strictly because they heard it. Part of this is true. Auditory learners pick up cues to help them recognize and remember patterns in a lesson or lecture, but you have to meet them halfway. They won't remember every word unless you give them a reason to. Songs, poems, rhythmic rhymes, and acronyms will be this student's best friend. Ever wondered why you can't remember a single thing for your biology final but you can remember the words to every song on the radio? Music aids memory.

We tend to teach toward linguistic, logical, and spatial learners. We involve naturalistic learners by explaining how they might use the lesson in real life, and we differentiate activities for interpersonal and interpersonal learners. But auditory and kinesthetic learners are left out, labeled and misdiagnosed with behavioral problems and mental issues, while being inaccurately placed in remedial programs. They are not stupid. They are not a basket case. They are creative. 

We cannot deny these students of what they need to learn. And who knows? By integrating arts into the curriculum, the classroom will inevitably become more lively and fun for students and teachers alike. This is especially seen in early childhood classrooms.

Integrating Music
Music is the learning strategy that develops the earliest: in the womb. Before an infant is even born, they have moved and developed accustomed to the steady beat of their mother's heart. As they grow, music knowledge expands into larger creative realms, as they learn to move, listen, sing, and create. By denying music early on, we also deny creative students the opportunity to use their skills. By my own personal experience, nothing will make them feel more inadequate than being treated as though they are stupid when they are simply more complex than their teacher.

Music is so effective in early childhood education because it is directly related to primal instincts. Human bodies automatically react physically to musical stimuli (foot-tapping, swaying, head nodding, etc.), proving that young children respond more quickly and effectively to musical practices. Singing, clapping, and rhythmic imitation keeps children engaged and supplies a natural and comfortable transition to learning basic concepts.

Music is, in its rawest form, an artistic version of math. Keeping a steady beat, rhythm, melody, and tempo teach patterns, sequencing, counting, one-to-one correspondence, and even fractions. Music also aids in literacy development by teaching rhyme, syllabic structure, and comprehensive strategies through memory, concentration, and abstract concepts. It can also be found in word recognition, sentence structure, context clues, and phonemic awareness activities. Music is an exceptional vehicle of learning, allowing teachers to meet the needs of students with various interests, learning styles, and skill levels, if they would simply choose to do so.

Music brings order to disorder. It allows an instructor to teach so many concept with little/no materials. Just as an infant is often calmed by the musical voice of their caregiver, music is instinctively familiar to young children, proving it effective as a primary learning tool. Of course, music should not be used exclusively, but when incorporated with symbolic play and instructional input, music can enhance lessons in unexpected ways. Music instruction should not be left solely to the music teacher.

Integrating Creative Dramatics
Children process the world differently than adults do, and need academic material to be presented in familiar ways. Creative dramatics is another useful (and neglected) strategy for teaching pedagogical concepts. Young children rely on play, emotion, and imagination to explore and understand their world. Dramatic play allows exactly that. Not only does it allow students to grasp concepts in a way they can understand, but also provides them a kinesthetic and emotional outlet to literally interact with a concept, character, or idea. It can enhance students' comprehension of a text, promote language development and vocabulary growth, stimulate critical thinking, and foster high level cognitive processes. By utilizing multiple forms of intelligence, creative dramatics enables students to think out loud through movement, organize information, interpret ideas, create new thoughts/opinions, and interact cooperatively with others. It gives them a sense of ownership over their learning. This is especially useful for language arts and literacy lessons, though public speaking skills and creative brainstorming are also used frequently.

This doesn't just have to be a dramatic play center. This can be readers theatre, acting out mathematical word problems, or presenting a story to the class using mime or a short script. Drama can be incorporated into almost any lesson, providing structure, open-mindedness, conceptual and social feed back, and an environment where students feel free and safe to construct their own ideas (no matter how basic or irrational they might be). It also allows students a medium to express themselves and their lives outside of the classroom when they might not have another way to do so. Students will learn the importance and power of their own voice, body, imagination, and the ability to work with others, generating self-confidence and classroom community. Creative dramatics in the academic classroom fully engages students of all interests, learning styles, and skill levels by supplying logical, visual, kinesthetic, and creative components to foster learning.

Integrating Movement
No, I don't mean for you to assign an interpretive dance project after reading a story aloud. I don't even mean dance, specifically. Creative movement is a very broad, very general category, and it's hardly even mentioned in classrooms anymore. In daycare classes, you see kids marching, stomping, hopping, skipping, and galloping. You see nothing of the sort in academic classrooms unless you're on duty for their 15-minute recess they get once a day.

Kinesthetic learners need a lot more than 15 minutes per day of maximum learning.

I'd like to think that kinesthetic students learn more in the classroom than they do at recess, but I'm not really sure that's the case. After all, in class we just tell them to sit down and be quiet when movement can be an incredibly useful tool in classroom education.

Perhaps the most obvious skill developed through movement is self-control, as students learn the boundaries of their own bodies and actions. They are able to experiment with energy, time, space, and flexibility. There are obstacles to teaching with movement, of course: like finding adequate space in the classroom, accommodating students with special needs, etc., but once the obstacles have been hurdled, it proves to be worth the struggle. Nothing will involve young students like letting them work freely and constructively.

Creative movement gives children the opportunity to expend that extra energy while helping them learn that there can be more than one solution to a problem or task. I can't count the number of studies that have proven kinesthetically involved students were more likely to remember information than those who were idle. And yet, we still refuse to acknowledge the statistics. Movement isn't simply to promote exercise and healthy lifestyles. It is crucial in developing social, emotional, physical, and creative components necessary to further learning.

Music should not be left to the music teacher. Drama should not be left to the drama teacher. Movement should not be left to the P.E. teacher, especially when it is all so valuable for complete and conclusive learning. It is up to every teacher in the building to provide these crucial components. It is up to us.

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