Michigan schools considering a fully integrated and aligned fine arts curriculum now have a new resource at their disposal. School leaders at Concord Academy Petoskey are assisting other Michigan charter schools in the alignment and mapping of fully integrated fine arts curricula, development of a high-quality, comprehensive Internet resource, and implementation of professional development programs for new and aspiring teachers.
History and Arts Integration Technique
Each year, my students participate in a Fair, focusing on a unit which they are studying in history. Since Concord Academy uses thematic study based on the given year?s history curriculum, previous Fairs have included a Latin American Fiesta for World History, an Industrial Revolution Fair for European History, and a Greek Fair for Ancient History. These Fairs have provided students with a wonderful opportunity to learn through the integration of arts and academics.
Prior to assigning a Fair project to the students, I discuss the activity with the rest of the staff since on the day of the Fair the entire high school spends half the day participating and visiting the "booths." In addition, other teachers are then prepared for students seeking resources and information in their area of expertise. Half days prior to vacations are perfect for a Fair because it almost guarantees student attendance and most teachers are comfortable with missing students that day. Teachers for different grades are also invited to bring their students to visit the Fair.
Students are given a scenario of the time-period and/or the geographic area. For the Industrial Revolution the class focused on the 1893 World's Fair, incorporating both inventions and cultural aspects from various countries. The students were provided with names of countries that participated in the 1893 World's Fair and then given a list: significant architectural achievements, like Big Ben; philosophers, such as Freud; cultural ideas, for example creating a Turkish Village (cultural food is always popular -- but I require more than just a food booth); or inventions, e.g. the hot-air balloon. Students are then directed that for the Fair they must reproduce a model, presentation, pamphlet or physical representation of their research. For the Greek Fair some students choreographed dances based on movements depicted on Greek vases, others made a lute, lye and pan pipes (which could be played), and a group prepared theatrical presentations among other projects. This allows students who are interested in a specific art form to learn more about that form in relation to history.
Over three weeks students will work in groups to research and prepare for the Fair. Periodically, some students wish to work alone, and depending on the student's capabilities and social needs (never for a freshman, maybe for a senior), I might allow that. However, in general, I have found groups of three to five students are the most successful, with each group having at least one strong student; I also try to avoid having a group comprised of only strong students, as that is a de-incentive for less capable students. Students are expected to provide a bibliography of their research and a typed outline of the content using MLA format, which is part of the assessment.
On the day of the Fair, either several rooms or a large room is devoted to the booths. Students set up tables to display their presentations, or schedule performances for live activities. In order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to visit each event, I will post a schedule of performances, most of which are repeated three times during the course of the Fair. Each group is required to have a member man the booth throughout the Fair, and all students are expected to sign in at each booth to verify attendance. Because grading presentations and performances may be subjective, I usually ask for assistance from other faculty, especially in their area of expertise; hence, the Physics teacher helps grade science inventions, and the dance teacher assesses choreography and technique.
The students love the Fairs. After one, they ask when we are going to have another. The Fairs provide an opportunity for students to learn about art, architecture, dance, music, theatre, science, mathematics, philosophy, history and culture in a hands-on way. The learning that the students do, at least on their own project, stays with them; I have talked with alumni who still remember building a scale model of the Parthenon, choreographing a Mayan myth, or re-creating a hot-air balloon for a Fair. The performance/presentation aspects also improve students? ability to communicate with others about their learning, so it makes an excellent assessment activity.
Integrating arts into the academic instruction has tremendous benefit for individual students.
By using the arts as a vehicle, disaffected students can become engaged in their education.
N. was more interested in chatting, music, and boys than anything offered in the classroom. She had already been demoted back to middle school the previous year for failing all her academic subjects first semester freshman year. Her second freshman year was looking only marginally better: she was again failing my class although not all of her academic classes. N's ability level is probably low-to-average; much of her lack of achievement was due to a lack of effort. She is, however, talented in vocal music and dance.
In order to help the students understand the culture of Southeast Asia, I assigned group projects requiring a presentation of art, architecture, music, dance, or a traditional Southeast Asian puppet show. For my class a project assignment always requires a bibliography and outline, detailing the content learned, in MLA format. N. elected to do dance and worked with a very competent partner. Over the next three weeks, on workdays, N. and her partner researched and choreographed a dance to a Southeast Asian folk tale. One of their main resources was cultural dance video. They also focused on the specific aspects of Southeast Asian dance to create the outline.
Southeast Asian dance is completely unlike popular American dance. It focuses on subtle, intricate movements of hands, feet, neck, and eyes; hence, N. was forced to explore beyond MTV moves that were more typically her style. However, with the support of a peer and the specific assignment, she did a superb job on the project. Our high school dance teacher, who viewed the presentation, was impressed by her effort, focus on technique, and willingness to abandon her traditional "sexy" style to authentically represent Southeast Asian dance.
This was a turning point for her in my class. She realized that she could be successful and that others recognized her ability to be so. The accomplishment motivated her to try on more traditional assignments, and she started being successful with those also. Her mother called me to thank me for working with her and helping her learn to try. This is not a miracle story, though. N. still struggles at times learning to prioritize work over her social life; however, the opportunity to use arts to achieve academic success made a vast improvement in her schooling.
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