ArtsConnect: An Approach to Teaching and Learning through the Arts
Clayton, DeKalb, Douglas, and Forsyth Counties joined Gwinnett in forming the ArtsConnect Consortium in the summer of 1999 under the fiscal administration of the Metro Regional Education Support Agency (MRESA). A $200,000 grant from the Georgia Challenge Program has enabled ArtsConnect to empower thirteen schools with knowledge, opportunities and support for systemic change through innovative instructional practices designed to maximize student academic achievement. This is being accomplished through the following program components.
Providing comprehensive staff development and follow-up support for teachers and artists in the ArtsConnect Consortium has been essential. Attendance at a week long Summer Institute and training at Norton ES in Gwinnett, Lighthouse school for the Project, prepared teachers for using a conceptual approach to teaching using the cognitive processing skills of inferring, sequencing, predicting, comparing and contrasting, etc. Units were creatively titled as “More Than Meets the Eye” and “One Thing Leads to Another” among others. This focus on creative and critical thinking skills encouraged cross-curricular connections that were natural, abundant and more relevant to students. Dr. Fritz Mengert of Brain-Based Learning, Ltd., has been instrumental in presenting and interpreting current neurobiological research for practical classroom applications of the brain-compatible learning fundamentals used in the ArtsConnect process.
Collaborative planning time has also been crucial in designing arts-integrated, interdisciplinary instruction. K-5 special education, classroom, visual art, music, physical education and technology teachers joined theatre and dance/movement teaching artists in choosing a particular thinking skill based on an area of identified student need. The selection may be determined in a variety of ways including ITBS scores and each school’s plan for improvement. Connections were then made across the curriculum by using the common language of the arts as a vehicle for teaching local, state and national mandated objectives in all core curricula.
Theatre and dance/movement teaching artists led eight sessions per team which promoted active purposeful learning by students and teachers through the use of skills and strategies inherent to each art form. All lessons serve as a point of entry to knowledge for students with different learning styles and generate multiple connections that reinforce learning. This approach develops a joy of discovery, problem solving techniques and the confidence to take risks in communicating and expressing ideas visually, aurally and kinesthetically.
Additional opportunities for student, parent and community involvement included school and family field trips to the Alliance Children’s Theatre, the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, the Gwinnett Fine Arts Center and the High Museum. Grant funding also provided for in-school performances by artists from the Alliance, Young Audiences of Atlanta and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. During Family Nights at each school, students celebrated their successes through “informances” for parents.
Results from a comprehensive program evaluation conducted by Dr. Kathy O’Neill, Georgia State University, showed that administrators, teachers and students enthusiastically support ArtsConnect. A collaborative and challenging, yet stress free environment is created where each student enjoys the opportunity to shine and to develop the self-reliance and intrinsic motivation necessary for a life long love of learning.