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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Redefining Literacy: When the Arts and Core Curriculum Collide

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Perhaps it's the result of having just turned fifty. It may be owing to the fact that I am a fairly new dad. Whatever the reason, the textual world our young people occupy today seems to be much more complex and more highly constructed than when I was entering my own teenage years.

I'm certainly not the first to observe that the term literacy has new meaning for our students -- a meaning that calls both educators and parents to carefully consider all the places where our children need help "reading and writing the world."

It's a discussion we are beginning to engage in more earnestly as we continue to pursue our arts@newman initiative. (See my first post about it.) At the very heart of this work is the idea that we cannot consider our notion of literacy complete until we have embraced the power the language of the arts brings to our lives.

What sort of things would you expect to see and hear if you were to drop by an arts@newman classroom? During our first term, we engaged in a great deal of discussion about the language of design. We immersed students in the principles and elements of design in media, the visual arts, music, dance, and drama. As the weeks have gone on, students have become more confident in talking about balance, proportion, repetition, emphasis, contrast, line, value, levels, and color.

We have begun to introduce students to the language of the arts, and we have placed the acquisition of this language alongside the traditional forms of literacy and numeracy. Now I'm beginning to see some exciting things happen:

  • Students are beginning to use the language of the arts to critique their own work and the work of others. For instance, students have been watching segments from the television show So You Think You Can Dance and writing formal critiques in response.
  • Students are starting to use the elements and principles of the language of the arts to connect various forms of creative communication. For example, they are comparing balance in dance with balance in graphic design. They are making connections between melody in music and lines in dance and visual arts. These intertextual connections are powerful literacy moments for us all.
  • Generally speaking, students are turning to artistic forms of expression in other curriculum areas. Dance and the visual arts have become part of our geographical lexicon as we explore the theme of migration. Drama and music have found their way into our exploration of cells in science.

When I began my teaching career, art was a noun, something that we did on Fridays at the end of the day. Now, it is quickly becoming a verb, a way of talking about the world that is engaging, meaningful, and powerful.

How are you using the arts with the core curriculum in your school or classroom? What new thinking or ideas has this topic inspired in you? Please share your thoughts.

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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