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Teaching Through Art & Activities in the K–5 Classroom |®

Teaching Through Art & Activities in the K–5 Classroom

With increased pressure to “teach to the test,” art and other creative pursuits are often removed from the instructional day. But before you consign the crayons and construction paper to the before- or after-school activities bin, consider this: “On the most basic level, making art reinforces the lessons of the traditional subjects,” says Suzanne Fierston, a painter and teaching artist in Maryland.

Working with your school or district’s art teacher, or a teaching artist, you can identify ways to use art and activities to support your lessons and state standards, including the Common Core. “If I know what material a teacher needs to cover, I can propose several arts-integration projects that they can choose from,” Fierston says.

Here are some ways to use art and activities to increase student achievement:

  • Writing: You spend a lot of time teaching about the writing process, but it’s also the art process! “In art, you make a draft, refine it, stick with improving it — problem solving — until it is complete,” Fierston explains. This reinforces the creative process and shows kids how concepts and skills can transfer from one subject area to another.
  • Science: Add art supplies to your science kits. Ask students to draw chemical reactions and illustrate concepts like photosynthesis, including labels explaining each step and a caption providing a summary. The same can be done with directions or processes. Adding drawings to the standard scientific method reinforces comprehension and provides another outlet for showing understanding.
  • Reading: There’s more than one way to encourage reading response. How about creating a picture book or magazine (on paper or on the computer) to illustrate key concepts from fiction or non-fiction reading assignments? “Students still need to research and understand the subject, yet they can choose another way to express that knowledge,” says Melissa Smith, a teaching artist with Arts for All in New York.
  • Social Studies: Enrich culture, geography and history lessons by studying and making art. Include information about and examples of arts and crafts from the people and eras you’re focusing on. “Learning about the art and music of different periods of time and different parts of the world helps us understand more deeply,” says Lisha Lercari, founder of Music and the Brain. Then engage students in creating their own art — either reproductions of actual works studied or their own original works, like portraits of important figures, photo albums, landscapes or collages, to accompany written reports.

“Children can only spend so much time focused on one thing,” adds teaching artist Lena Moy-Borgen. “Art helps them stay on subject while giving their brains a chance to absorb the information in a new way.”

Teaching about and making art has other benefits, too. “Because public schools depend on federal and state funding, students are taught to perform on federal and state tests,” Fierston says. “This emphasis on immediate, measurable results leaves no room for the development of creativity or creative problem-solving, though the complexities of today's world certainly demand unique thinkers. Our youngest students are willing to take creative risks. They will carry this mindset forward if we allow and make room for it.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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