A few weeks ago I read a New York Times article about the kerfuffle over Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland’s new study on art in the schools. They had concluded that art education does not result in improved academic test scores sending many advocates of arts education into a tizzy. These folks were understandably worried that the new study would support further erosion of arts in the school and continued to insist that the arts do help kids in their academic studies, that they do help them do better on the all-important tests.
But Winner and Hetland, while concluding that the arts do not help kids do better in the academics, are not arguing that there shouldn’t be arts in the schools. Not at all. Instead they are pointing out that the arts have their own skills, worthy of study all on their own — and that they need to be in schools because of this. In this Boston Globe article Winner and Hetland describe distinctive and worthy “studio habits of mind” that students learn in arts classes that are worthy all by themselves, not because they prop up academic studies (e.g. math, reading, writing, etc.). These include , “visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes.”
As I read the article I thought, “Well, I do a lot of this in my language arts teaching,” and so was glad to see toward the end of the article a note that there are teachers like me whose curriculum encourages this sort of thinking.
Despite the pressures to prepare students for high-stakes tests, some teachers and schools continue to use methods similar to those in the art studio. Ron Berger, a fifth-grade classroom teacher in a public school in Shutesbury, Mass., provides an inspiring example. He adopted an arts-like approach to all subjects, including math, language arts, science, and social studies. His students engage in long-term investigations rather than one-shot assignments or memorization. Their work is continually assessed publicly in critiques so students develop the ability to reflect and improve. Projects are “real work,” not “school work” – work that is original and makes a contribution to knowledge.
Yay, Ron! It is easy for me to argue for this sort of teaching because I’m in a private school and don’t have to deal with NCLB. But here is someone who does and can still create a thoughtful, creative, and thinking classroom.
Anyway, enough from me; go read the article: Art for our sake – The Boston Globe