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Every Day is Arts Day (Professional Services)

Holly Ogden

As an elementary teacher, I have witnessed first­ hand the value of  an arts-rich education. Experiences in the arts offer many benefits to our students. The arts provide opportunities to  develop  creativity  and  imagination,  and to experience joy, beauty, and wonder.The arts also present everyday occasions to enrich the quality of  our lives, and to develop creative ways  of expressing thoughts, knowledge,  and feelings. There is ample evidence that learning in, about, and through the arts contributes to increased engagement  in learning  in  other subject areas, and to the development  of  students’  self-confidence, social skills, and metacognition.

My  experiences  in  working  with children attest to these findings.  My students solved problems and developed their ability to express ideas and feelings through role play and working collaboratively  on creative  projects. I have witnessed the development  of  self-esteem,  discipline, character, co-operative skills, and motivation in my students  as they acquired the diverse skills necessary to create a  musical  theatre produc­tion. I have also seen how the arts can foster a  greater sense  of  social responsibility  as my students  contributed to collaborative  works of  art, developed an increased   awareness  and appreciation  of diverse cultures, and shared  their talents with members  of the wider community.

In a newly released literature  review entitled  Arts Education for the Development of the Whole Child(2012),  commissioned  by ETFO,  Dr. Rena Upitis highlights ways to support  and advance arts  education  for elementary  students. The review document examines the effects of taking part in the fine and performing arts—painting, sculpting, writing poetry, playing an  instrument,  singing,  dancing,  acting,  creating  mixed media productions, and film making.

We all  have  a  contribution  to make  to arts education and, as Arts Education shows, there  are many ways to bring the arts into the classroom. Partnerships between generalist teachers, special­ist teachers,  and art-makers of all kinds can pro­vide rich arts education experiences for elementary students.  Ideally, the arts should  be both inte­grated  throughout the curriculum  and taught as separate curriculum subjects. And the arts should be part of children’s daily school experiences.

Make the arts relevant
Arts activities do not have to be extravagant to be relevant.  Do not be afraid  to include non­ traditional  arts  activities in your classes, such as puppetry, sewing, circus arts, improv, digital photography, or rap. Incorporate repertoire and forms from a variety of  contexts, especially  those that are important to your students outside of school. Create a class playlist of students’ favourite songs and  use the compilation to explore similarities and differences in form, theme,  and use of instruments. Write and perform a puppet shaw for students in other classes, or produce books and audio recordings to welcome new students to the school.

Incorporate technology
Web-based and other information technologies can enhance education in the arts. When given  the opportunity to use information and  communications technology  (ICT) in their creative work, elementary students  have demon­strated  increased motivation, self-regulation, pride, and inventiveness-par­ticularly in situations  involving creative expression or composition. There are many freeware programs that allow students to explore sounds and manipulate images  or texts  (e.g.,  Audacity, Wordle, Pinterest). These tools can enhance students’  artistic  explorations. For example, you could  use Audacity, a free audio editor and recorder, to make a radio advertisement, create podcasts, rec­ord compositions and class performances, or record soundtracks for animations.

Support generalists with more PD
In order to provide rich daily arts experiences for their students, teachers must directly experience the joy and value  of artistic  work for themselves—whether by involvement  in the arts in their non-teaching time or by enhanced  professional arts development and offerings. Substantial professional development is required for generalist elementary teachers in faculties of education, through the ministries of education, and through  school boards. Research suggests that the most effective way to develop teacher confidence in the arts is by providing opportunities  to teachers  for sustained, hands-on art-making. Once teachers see themselves as artists, the transition to bringing arts into the classroom  becomes much more fluid.

Hire more specialists
Ontario no longer has arts specialist teachers  in every elementary school, in fact, Ontario has the highest  proportion of elementary  schools  where music is taught by generalist classroom teachers with no music qualifications. Three regions of the country have a very large percentage of elementary schools  with a specialist  music teacher:  Quebec (87 percent), the Atlantic Provinces (86 percent),  and British Columbia (83 percent).In contrast, 58 percent  of Ontario  elementary schools  rely very strongly on generalist classroom teachers with no music background. Hiring specialist teachers  not only enhances the direct instruction to students, it provides opportunities for cross-curricular  collaborations among colleagues.

Concluding thoughts
The value of the Arts Educatiofor the Development of the Whole Child review is both  broad and profound. It extends  an invitation  to envision  a system  of education  where the learning that hap­pens in school feels more like the learning that happens in our adult lives, where we take part in informal learning or hobbies with dedication and passion. But the aim of arts education is not only to prepare students for later life. The aim is also to bring  moments  of  joy and beauty  into their lives at school.  By engaging  students wholly in the present moment — in forging relationships, making things, and using their bodies —the arts prepare students for the future by encouraging them to become  strong citizens with a  finely attuned  sense of social responsibility. These outcomes are all possible when the arts are a central part  of the education of the whole child.