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Ode to Self: Whimsical Plaster figures inspired by figure drawings and Niki de St. Phalle

A primary focus for my 8th grade curriculum is self.  I like to give my students opportunities to explore a variety of materials and to create two and three dimensional work in the process of self discovery.  This project meets all the criteria.

We begin the project with figure drawing.  Students who feel comfortable posing for the class hold a 1, 2  or 5 minute pose.  We also do some drawing in small groups with one group member posing while the other group members draw.  With the short drawing time frames the students focus on gestures.

Next, I share images of sculptures by artist Niki de St. Phalle.  Her large scale figures are fun and flamboyant.  My students enjoy seeing her whimsical forms.

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Next, the students use wire to create armatures which are inspired by their favorite gestures.  They consider favorite activities and other important aspects of self which they may choose to incorporate into their sculptures.  Then the students add tin foil to give volume and form to the figures.  When the figures are structurally sound the students cover the figures with plaster wrap and paint them.

   Plaster figures 004  Plaster figures 001  Plaster figures 002 Plaster figures 003

My students really enjoy the process and the end products are great!

Indicators of Quality Arts Integration

In speaking with another educator today, our conversation turned to how we would know that a quality arts integration program was being implemented in schools. Some of the indicators of quality are the level of professional expertise used in the training of teachers to integrate the arts in their classrooms and the purpose of the integration. The following example in Georgia caught my blogging eye as on track to provide a quality professional development experience based on these indicators:

Teachers will be given the tools to thoroughly integrate the fine arts (namely dance/movement, theater/drama, visual arts, and music) into their "everyday" classroom teaching as a creative, imaginative way to help students master (as a method for conveying the important concepts contained in the GPS for math, science, social studies and English language arts) the Georgia Performance Standards, in turn raising standardized test scores. (Read the whole story in the Barrow County News )

Using the arts by integrating them into and across the curriculum as a means to improve test scores may be important, but not essential. What is an essential indicator is the purpose of helping students master the Georgia Performance Standards. Arts integration can do this well, but not without some really good professional development teachers:

ArtsNow/Creating Pride, Inc., based in Atlanta, through funding provided by the Harrison Foundation, will import a staff of world-class professionals to provide the teacher training. ArtsNow, in a partnership established with the Auburn and Bethlehem schools in the summer of 2008, will have widely renowned staff teacher-trainers at the January event from a variety of professional and collegiate-level fine arts organizations, including: the Atlanta Ballet, the High Museum Atlanta, Synchronicity Theater’s Playmaking for Girls Program and nationally-recognized music consultant Maribeth Yoder-White.

So the chance that arts integration will be successful rests squarely on the quality of those who are delivering that professional development, their expertise in their art and the instructional leadership of arts integration examples, such as:

Teachers will explore how various fine and performing arts can convey the GPS content to their young students of varying learning styles. Break-out sessions will focus on arts media like printmaking and additive sculpture as a process not unlike creative writing, or addition/subtraction in math; dramatic engagement and non-verbal communication in theater as a way to demonstrate social studies concepts related to culture; music composition and found-sound instrument making that parallels mathematic process and discovering patterns.

It should be easier to tell or predict the outcome of these activities by the indicators of purpose and leadership in professional developmen. There is lots of research to say why this is so important and the key is to get it done right in order to prepare students for the 21st Century:

Research has confirmed time and again that the arts teach children the skills necessary and valuable for the 21st century workforce: collaboration, creativity, imagination and communication.

Cutting the Arts? Why Cut a Critical Link?

P1010004_1 One of the first things that goes, in a down economy, is sports and the arts. Both of these are vital to children and both ride on the economic health of the school and its system. The arts, I have argued, are vital because they kick off higher engagement, higher cognitive functioning and spill over into other subjects in terms of supporting student thinking. We should not be cutting the arts, or sports, because they are critical links in children's educational lives.

Don't get me wrong, ELA and Math are very important too. But our educational accountability is currently organized around testing student knowledge of ELA and Math so they will be the last thing cut in downsizing schools. The arts engage children in ways that are hard to measure and that makes it difficult to argue for their inclusion in a fully funded budget.

P1010178Does that mean that we should not make the argument? We should. Does that mean the arts are less important than other types of learning? No it does not. Will the world come to an end if the arts are cut? Not really, I mean, not because of the arts anyway. Parents with resources will always look to supplement their child's education by investing in arts lessons, piano instruction, dance, theatre games, and such.

What is important to remember is that humans love art because it helps them live a more meaningful life, it helps humans get in touch with their creative side, and it forces humans to have fun as they struggle to create something new and worthy of attention. If you are interested in speaking up, approach the big organizations who do advocacy everyday. Some names to get started with are...Arts Education Partnerships and Alliance for the Arts.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Arts Integration are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.