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December 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 4

Reader's Guide / Arts Education Today: Mission Critical

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I have a vivid memory from an art class when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. The teacher had brought in a visiting artist who was showing us a slideshow of photographs—probably her own, I now realize, but that was immaterial at the time. The photos blended realism and abstraction. They showed everyday objects—doorways, window frames, pieces of fruit—but from sideways or close-up angles, with surface shadows adding unexpected shapes and lines. The effect was that the objects looked strangely unfamiliar.
Toward the end of the presentation, the artist came to her main point. She said something to the effect of: "Seeing like an artist means seeing things in new and different ways."
This sentiment struck a chord with me, perhaps in part because my mom was (and still is) an artist. It seemed like important life information, something that could make a difference in the way you thought about and approached things. Significantly, I also remember thinking that it was strange to hear something like this in school, of all places. It seemed so different from the prevailing message conveyed in our regular classes, which was basically to follow the rules and get things right.
That visiting artist's statement has come back to me a number of times since. One time was during a lecture I attended a few years ago by Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo da Vinci. Isaacson's thesis was that great innovations often happen at the "intersection" of the arts and sciences. Honing an artistic imagination, he said, can give innovators a divergent, path-breaking perspective and add depth and meaning to the products of their thinking. It's no coincidence, to Isaacson's thinking, that Jobs' favorite class in college—one of the few he attended with regularity, apparently—was calligraphy, or that Einstein often played violin while working out his world-altering theories.
This immersion in the arts, you might say, enabled them to see things in "new and different ways."

Deeper Learning

The relevance of this to education today is clear, I think, though often overlooked or evaded. At a time when schools (unlike in my day) are expressly striving to produce students who can solve complex problems, think critically and imaginatively, make connections, and assimilate different perspectives, the arts and other creative-learning activities can no longer be seen as expendable or haphazard add-ons. In some form, on the contrary, they are mission-critical.
The authors featured in this issue of Educational Leadership certainly vouch for this. While their perspectives and focal points differ—there are pieces on painting, music, theater, sketchnoting, and even creative boredom—they all present compelling, often moving stories of how the arts and related practices in schools can deepen and humanize learning and give students new ways of thinking and processing information. The artist's "habits of mind," as Linda F. Nathan points out, "encompass many of the skills that young people need to thrive in today's complex world".
As a number of the articles show, the arts can also provide a sanctuary from academic or community pressures, giving students critical opportunities to express themselves and discover their potential. Such opportunities can be challenging to fit into today's school schedules (and budgets). But as our authors make clear, they are essential for transformative, whole child learning. "Establishing openings in our curriculum to foster creative expression is … a beautiful risk," Ronald A. Beghetto writes in his piece. By this, he explains, he means it has "the potential to make a positive and lasting contribution to the lives and learning of others."
We hope this issue gives you ideas and inspiration to do just that.

Guiding Questions for Select Articles in this Issue

"The Gift of Boredom" by John Spencer

When was the last time you found yourself bored? Did you try to immediately distract yourself? If so, what might you try differently next time? When was the last time you had a stroke of inspiration? Was it during or right after a moment of boredom? How could you incorporate strategic boredom in a classroom activity to spark student creativity?

"Taking Beautiful Risks in Education" by Ronald A. Beghetto

Consider Beghetto's definition of a "beautiful risk" and think of a time when you took such a risk. What were the results? How might this apply to curriculum and instruction?› Recall a time when a student met established criteria using an unexpected approach (Beghetto's formulation for creative expression). What happened? How did you respond? How might teaching and learning in your school or classroom change if you encouraged more "possibility thinking"? Can you identify places in your curriculum or class routines where this could be incorporated?

"Picture This" by Barbara Boroson

How might you use sketchnoting in your class or school as a "scaffolding strategy," as Boroson suggests?› What challenges might sketchnoting present for your students? How might Boroson's tips for introducing the method address those challenges? Have students experiment with sketchnoting concepts and content as you deliver a lesson. Are they more engaged? Check for understanding: Did this method help them retain what you said, or think about it in a different way?

"Arts Integration: A Creative Pathway for Teaching" by Amy L. Duma and Lynne B. Silverstein

How are you currently integrating the arts in your school or classroom? Given what you read, is there room to go deeper? Do the basic concepts about the arts presented by Duma and Silverstein reaffirm or conflict with your prior beliefs about the creative process? Could professional learning courses or any of the four supports—demonstration teaching, personalized arts coaching, study groups, or networking opportunities— be adapted and used in your school or district?

"Hitting the Right Note" by Linda F. Nathan

Do you play a musical instrument and compose music, or know someone who does? What life skills do these practices teach? How could they benefit your students?› Nathan says that training in music—and arts education in general—can help students recognize their own talent and vision. How can educators in other subjects leverage and build on this capacity? In what creative ways could your school or district expand its music education offerings? How might that change school climate?

 

End Notes

1 Isaacson, Walter. (2014). "Connecting the humanities and the sciences." 43rd Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. National Endowment for the Humanities.

Anthony Rebora is the chief content officer for ISTE+ASCD, overseeing publications and content development across all platforms.

Previously, he was the editor in chief of Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, and led content development for the association's fast-evolving digital outlets.

Under his leadership, Educational Leadership won numerous awards for editorial excellence, increased the breadth of its coverage and contributors, and greatly expanded its online reach.

He was formerly a managing editor at Education Week, where he oversaw coverage of teachers and teaching policy, and played a key role in online editorial strategy. He has written and developed impactful content on a wide range of key K-12 education topics, including professional learning, school leadership and equity.

As a content developer, his foremost goals are to empower diverse educator voices and raise awareness of critical issues and solutions in education.

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