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Stepping Stones / January 2015 | Arts & Activities
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Jan 2015

Stepping Stones / January 2015

Stepping Stones / January 2015

Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.


For a well-rounded curriculum, the arts should play an important role in a child’s education along with other core subjects. Unfortunately, we are the first to get cut from schools due to common core push and funding shortfalls. Even with the arts being an essential part of a school, we’re always asked to “integrate” with other core subjects and use the Math and ELA standards when creating lessons, even though we have the core arts standards that connect with common core. Art teachers have the super power of adapting without losing the integrity of the visual arts. We include science, mathematics, literacy, history, and cultural awareness because we’re ingrained to show how everything links together. 

 But when it comes to classroom teachers, I always hear that they “don’t know how to bring art into their own classroom,” or that they’re afraid to tie in art standards because they “can’t draw.” Many times, teachers include elements of art into their lesson, but do not label the standards or process because they don’t know the vocabulary.

 As the advocate for the arts in your schools, sometimes you are the one to break the mold. Teaching classroom teachers the vocabulary they would need or the process to use will not negate your position in any way, but encourage a more even cross-integration with other subjects.

 I’ve listed just a few of the ways classroom teachers can integrate artistic practice within their own classes. Many times teachers are using these ideas already without even knowing it. Sometimes it just needs to be pointed out to them.

1. Have students draw what they hear while listening to music. Putting sound to pictures is a great way to encourage imagination and outside of the box thinking.

2. Create projects they could interact with, such as instruments or Rube Goldberg style demonstrations. Although tied more in with music and science, students learn 3-dimensional skills and enhances their creative thinking.

3. Instead of writing out our answers in graphic organizers, why not draw what we are saying? Many times when I walk down the hallways, I see Venn diagrams posted with many words, but we don’t have time to stop and read them. Encouraging students to draw images on their diagrams will not only exercise their craftsmanship, but also encourage visual thinking.

4. Writing IS more than just sentences on paper! Instead of coloring in artworks, have students fill the images in with words. It teaches different ways to create art, it and encourages practice with spelling and writing skills.

5. Create a visual demonstration of the math problem. Sometimes when I walk down the hallways, I see collages of artworks that demonstrate a fraction or an adding/subtracting problem. My favorite was a bowl of ice cream designed with different flavor colors, and the fraction problem was displayed next to it! A great combination of math and art!

6. Use grids to encourage measurements and proportions. As art teachers, we know the importance of proportion when it comes to drawing human bodies and still life. Math teachers can also piggyback by using grids to draw larger images in their own classes.

7. Are your students presenting in class? Have the students be the presentation. Encourage costumes, props, or even creating an oval in the presentation board for the student to wear as a visual.

8. When teaching any subject, pick an artist that reflects the time or theme. I love hearing from teachers that they include Da Vinci in their history unit, or Seurat in their color spectrum project!

9. Encourage creative practice through technology. Computer classes are now becoming the “special” along with art, music, and physical education, and starting to overtake the arts in some school districts. Art and technology can blend very easily, and can help students know the programs even better, especially with beginning graphic design and Power Point presentations.

10. Encourage visual literacy! When students are extended responses or journals in class, have them illustrate their stories and sentences. In kindergarten, my daughter would come home with book summaries all the time. She was always asked to illustrate the stories with the characters, place, and plot. It was a great start, but in class, if the teacher could reinforce the elements of art (space, line, shape), it would help students practice their craftsmanship and creative skills all around, not just in your art class!

Most of the time, general education teachers include art and don’t even know it. As advocates for the arts in your schools, you can encourage creative thinking with your staff, and even teach them the vocabulary needed to reinforce artistic practices in their own lessons. After all, we do the same thing in our own art curriculum!

Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT) teaches elementary art for Indian Springs School District #109, in the Greater Chicago Area. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com



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