Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng]

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OQ1gR21i-Qc]

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/jDpg_l5Y89w]

 

 

An Inside View from a Student Teacher: Starting the School Year

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How do new professionals learn a set of skills, routines, and knowledge necessary to success? 

Whether it’s the field of medicine, banking, automotive maintenance or teaching, students in those fields learn as much or more on the job in intern or residency experiences with experts as they do sitting in classrooms. The apprenticeship always has been a key way that expertise is transmitted forward from one generation to the next.

Student teachers learn on the job as apprentices with Albemarle’s top teachers. Here’s one example of many.

Yarden Batson, student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary with master teacher Anne Straume, shares her perspective on what she learned as she watched and assisted Mrs. Straume in the first week of school.

First Week of School

by Yarden Batson, University of Virginia student teacher

This week of school was one in which I learned how to set-up the classroom, h“>ow to become a part of a professional learning community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of   learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.

After almost a week of planning I was excited to meet the students. They walked in on the first day of school ready to learn. Many of the students were excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while as well as meet students who are new to the school.These first few days of school required a lot of planning and creativity. My teacher and I want to design authentic learning experiences for the students as well as create a community in which all students’ strengths are used. We want to motivate all of our students to work their hardest and learn that they have the power to achieve great things and make positive changes in the world around them.I taught my first few lessons this week as well as observed as the teacher encouraged struggling students, went over expectations, and modeled appropriate classroom behavior. I feel so lucky to have a teacher, who is so well-loved and so enthusiastic about her students, model and guide me through this experience.I am looking forward to a wonderful semester of student teaching!

Below are some pictures from “Open House” and a sneak peek into what we are planning for the semester.

Lessons from the Trenches: What Student Teachers Learn from the “Residency”

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This week, I am sharing a blog post written by University of Virginia Teaching Associate (AKA student teacher), Claire Cantrell. She offers insight into reading instruction in the third grade classroom where she is working this fall and how she is reinforcing good reading practice, including reading and singing music lyrics as a strategy. First, I’d like to share perspective on the student teaching experience.

An Introduction to the Student Teaching Experience

Prior to obtaining a teaching position, student teaching brings the greatest opportunity for “teachers-in-residency” to learn job skills at the side of master teachers. The student teaching experience offers the chance to practice and receive feedback from practitioners who have a wealth of expertise to share with student teachers. The relationship offers two-way learning opportunities since student teachers also bring from their studies knowledge of research-based pedagogy that can be applied in the classroom. In addition, student teachers often offer skills in using technologies as learning tools that add value to a partnership of learning between the experienced practitioner and a younger generation of student teachers.

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I’ve had the chance this year to observe both through social media and face-to-face observation such a relationship between UVA Teaching Associate Claire Cantrell and her supervising clinical instructor, Ann Straume. Claire is fortunate to not just be working with an outstanding career educator but also is learning to teach in a U.S. Blue Ribbon School, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, where she is surrounded by extraordinary educators who offer a school-wide environment of creativity as well as ongoing critical analysis of best practice learning. I also see this quality of experience offered to student teachers as the norm across Albemarle schools, regardless of where a student teacher is placed.

Claire’s Classroom Experience

Ms. Cantrell’s blog profile:

“Student teaching in a third grade classroom is an extraordinary blessing, privilege, and joy. I am loving every minute of it, constantly learning, and reflecting. This is a space for those reflections, challenges, and learning experiences. I studied Spanish and I am now finishing my Masters in Teaching at UVa. I aspire to be an excellent elementary classroom teacher who inspires students to love learning.”

Update: We Are Readers (Capital R)

claire3

Update on how the “We are Readers: Join the Movement” movement is going (see post with purple banner picture).

Teaching is all about making decisions and making use of the limited time that we have for instruction. For example, we have 45 minutes a day for reading instruction and 45 minutes per day for writing instruction. How do we use that time wisely? How do we create a balanced literacy program?

Is it possible to incorporate all of the skills, lessons, and elements of a “balanced” literacy diet?                                                                                                                    The short answer is- no. It’s impossible to incorporate every aspect of literacy instruction in a given day. Maybe it can be done over the long-term. But in the short-term I have 5 days and 45 minutes per day of reading instruction. So I am always coming back to basic questions:

What is best practice for reading instruction?
We value time spent reading above anything else. Research supports this. My Clinical Instructor and I are converts to the pleasure-reading, read-for-the-sake-of-enjoying-reading, read-good-fit-books, read-because-you-love-it, choose-books-you-love-to-read, spend-time-reading-independently reading program.

How do you organize instruction to give students time to read independently?
1) We set aside time every day for students to read for enjoyment.
2) We encourage students to “steal minutes” of reading time throughout the day.

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Kids love “stealing minutes” of reading. My students come up to me throughout the day and ask, “Ms. Cantrell, can I steal some minutes now?” And my answer is consistently “yes” (unless they are supposed to be engaged in a different instructional activity). This shows me that students are looking forward to curling up with a good book.

A donation of construction "tool belts" allows children to carry books with them anywhere they want to read

A biz donation of painters’ “tool belts” allows children to carry books with them anywhere they want to read

What else do we do?
Reading mini-lessons:
The students have a chart glued into their “Book of Books” composition notebook that is titled: “What do good readers do?” Each lesson I have the students copy down the example of what good readers do in their chart. Simple. Organized. Easy to review.

Shared reading: SongFest!!
One of my first reading mini-lessons was “Good readers reread (when they don’t understand something or when they zone out while reading)”

The way that I reinforced the importance of rereading was by having them listen to a song they enjoy and try to sing along. Most students did not know the lyrics. I posted the lyrics on the ActiveBoard and had them read them once. Then we reread the lyrics while we listened to the song. And most kids could sing along!

So now we use read, reread, and reread and sing technique with LOTS of songs. I have a special folder where I keep multiple copies of the lyrics to the songs we are learning so students can choose to read song lyrics during “Be a Reader” time. This practice of rereading also supports fluency. On Fridays we have a Songfest where students practice rereading and singing the songs we have practiced.

 

 

Teachers Matter: Relationships, Relevance and Rigor

What does passion for learning look like? As I visit schools, the high quality of teaching I observe provides opportunities for students to experience a passion for learning in our classrooms, libraries, gyms, art rooms, and performing arts spaces.

I recently observed middle school students in a Civics class energetically discussing personal perspectives on the difference between rights and privileges as they applied the concept to school dress codes. They found out about Supreme Court cases, law, and policy as they talked with each other and the teacher. Kindergarteners in another school bubbled with excitement as they learned together to read each others’ names sitting on a rug with the teacher. In both cases, teachers recognized that active learners are enthusiastic learners and that such enthusiasm results in contagion for further learning.

experimenting

When students work individually or together in project- and problem-based work, the level of active learning is high. While daily instruction represents a balance of activities including direct teaching, active learning brings to life our Vision that learners will “embrace learning, excel, and own their future.” Working together, students also acquire competencies they will need for adult citizenship, post-secondary education, and, ultimately, the work world.

From our own experience as students, we also know that great teaching makes learning irresistible. It’s no surprise to educators that quality teaching is the most important reason inside a school for a child’s success. (Of all factors inside and outside of school that affect achievement, family income makes the biggest difference.) Irresistible learning draws young people to others who share common interests and they dig deeper into content that otherwise might not be explored.

What leads to irresistible learning? A child’s relationship with teachers – and parents – influences his or her desire to learn. Teachers who create challenging activities provoke both a student’s curiosity and further thinking about problems, ideas, and knowledge. When learning becomes relevant to students, they’re better able to make real world sense of Virginia’s required Standards of Learning. Teachers who ground their work with young people through relationships, relevancy, and rigor create communities of learners in which young people acquire the competencies they need to be successful graduates of our high schools.

using data

Recently, I listened to a group of Cale Elementary children describe how they figured out the percentage of land mass and water on Earth by tossing a soft globe to each other and recording how many times a hand landed on land versus water. This activity supported a different kind of thinking than would occur from simply reading a textbook to find the answer. The students practiced data collection skills, estimation competency, and analytical thinking individually and as a team. The class percolated with enthusiasm as they applied geography, math, and science concepts and knowledge to figure out the earth’s land and water percentages. They took on the role of “experts” to teach me how they accomplished this performance task while the teacher smiled at their capability to make sense out of fractions and percentages as a function of the data they had collected. Their passion was evident.

What kinds of experiences kindle passion in our young people?

Third graders at Meriwether Lewis Elementary have already Skyped this year with schools in Australia and Egypt to ask questions and learn about those countries. A third grader said, “I don’t just like hearing and reading about a place, I love going to it using Skype.”

The School Board opened its regular meeting on September 8 with a beautiful and passionate rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Burley Bearettes – in remembrance of the tenth anniversary of “9/11.”

Walton Middle School students connected virtually with students in Godfrey-Lee School District in Michigan to share project work related to learning about the history of “9/11.”

"9/11" parent/student project

Parents and students at Jack Jouett Middle School participated in the “I will” campaign to make service pledges at 911day.org in memory of those who perished on that day or who were first responders.

Burley students also just finished a Constitutional Convention re-enactment as part of a Constitution unit underway as we approach national Constitution Week.

Irresistible learning occurs within all extracurricular and curricular areas, not just English, science, history, mathematics, and world languages. It’s in the art on display in hallways as students show what they “see”. It’s in the laughter of Henley’s choral students practicing rhythm as they learned each other’s names. It’s in the student-athletes, male and female, hard at work in fall sports competitions. It’s in young people creating and performing a variety of fall programs – band, strings, choral, and drama productions.

Passion also resides in the new Broadus Wood music teacher working with an expert mentor teacher to plan the first few weeks of school. Passion for learning is not just about our young people. It’s found within our entire community of professionals who also learn from each other and together.

New teacher academy

Education is a people business. When the Board, school staff, or I speak to the importance of student and teacher access to technology tools and other resources, it’s critical to remember that challenging and interesting learning comes from its planning and facilitation by teachers. As I have often said, technology cannot greet a child in the morning, listen, make eye contact, or offer advice. While all forms of technology – books, pencils, paper, and netbooks – have a place in our schools, technologies cannot replace the teacher. It’s teachers who make our Division’s core values come alive; expecting excellence in all we do, offering young people our very best, ensuring respect for self and others, and valuing our diverse school communities.

Every school community needs creative and thoughtful professionals with the expertise to choose from a “tool kit” of available instructional strategies, technologies, resources, and room arrangements to support learners to access what they need to accomplish the learning work they need to do. Every teacher needs contemporary resources and technologies to ensure children have access to the tools they need to accomplish contemporary learning work that prepares them for life after high school.

We’re fortunate in Albemarle County to employ teachers who know how to create contemporary learning opportunities for young people. They are committed to their own continuous development to extend and enhance their professional skills across their careers just as their counterparts in medicine, law, engineering, and other professions do. Our educators know that learning is about far more than scores on a multiple-choice test. They know they make a difference in whether young people will find learning irresistible.

Teachers matter.