ArtSmart: Using Art to Make Poetry Happen

Lisa Galvan

Two years ago Lisa Galvan and colleague Kevin Alles, members of the Greater Essex County Teacher Local, created a visual arts resource for Intermediate teachers in their board. This was made possible through a grant from the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). The pair developed a series of Web-based lessons that supported generalist teachers with video tutorials, slide shows, extension lessons, and assessment techniques.

Feedback from the TLLP research project led Galvan to create cross-curricular video lessons for all divisions and post these on the ArtSMart website. Galvan and her team (Sherry Doherty, a member of the Greater Essex County Teacher Local; Vicki Papanastassiou, a faculty of education graduate; and Nancy Johns, a Windsor art gallery owner) continue to build the ArtSMart website.

The TLLP has been operating since 2007-08. Teachers funded by the program were featured in “A Big Idea Comes to Life” in the June 2009 issue of Voice (available at etfovoice.ca >backissues>June 2009).

In this article Galvan shows how one teacher effectively used an ArtSMart lesson in a literacy class.

As teachers we accept the challenge of captivating every one of our students. We question engagement, document it, measure it, and we continue to tweak lessons to pique it. As educators, engagement is our test of success. We know that when students are engaged they learn. We see engagement when they are involved in their work, and when they persist in the face of challenges and are visibly happy with their accomplishments.1 However, not every subject, strand, or lesson can meet twenty-first-century demands for engagement and motivational push.

Consider poetry. I have seen first-hand that it can certainly take on a life of its own: lots of students thrive on the metaphoric wonders of the poetic medium. However, I’ve also seen the reverse. What can we do to engage those who struggle with a subject like poetry?

Recently in my role as instructional coach, I had the opportunity to work in a grade 8 classroom at Davis Public School in the Greater Essex County District School Board. The teacher, Nadine Draper, a new long-term occasional teacher, was going to be studying poetry with her students. Together she and I discussed students’ learning styles, needs, interests, and multiple intelligences. As we talked through some of her plans, I wondered how students would react. Full of hope and optimism, Draper felt that the students would be thrilled with the lesson she had prepared.

True enough, several students had a thirst for poetry and were engaged immediately. However, a tension built among those who didn’t share the zeal. As Draper puts it, “Just mentioning the word poetry seemed to send my students into a brick wall.”

“We started brainstorming a typical quatrain


three musicians performing in front of classroom of elementary students

In the summer of 2012, Dana Campbell, a grade 2/3 teacher at Churchill Alternative School in Ottawa, heard a song that resonated so much fo

Feature headline represented graphically

Ontario politicians, through the Common Sense Revolution, are attempting to restructure and revise education and curriculum with the release of a so-called "more rigorous" curriculum.