Research supports middle school work
“The arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds students will go on to graduate from college. As First Lady Michelle Obama sums up, both she and the President believe ‘strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders for tomorrow.’”
-Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
The total school experience is vital to the overall education of all children. Students go to school to learn; they do not go to school to merely take “math class” or to simply go to “language arts class.” And, if we, as educators, are going to ask our students to work cooperatively and collaboratively, than it would stand to reason we (teachers) should model that behavior. So, Mrs. Jacobs and I set out with an idea in mind- we wanted to combine the arts to demonstrate that there is no doubt that language arts can enhance art class just as art class can invigorate a piece of writing from language arts class.
Originally, I asked for Mrs. Jacobs help with illustrating our picture books. But, that project had to be put on hold due to logistical issues beyond our control. From our dialogue about that project, we set our sights on another idea. For the year end project, I ask my language arts students to create an autobiography that I keep and give back to them upon completing 8th grade. This is a lengthy assignment that includes approximately twenty tasks. So, the prospect of connecting the art class curriculum to the autobiography project while utilizing literacy skills to create a more robust project seemed like a natural opportunity to combine the arts.
I have seen the main entrance come alive with 6th graders’ collages for the last two years, so that piqued my thought process. If the collages are all about the student’s interests, then what if I have my LA students write an “I Am” poem that could be their first assignment for the autobiography project? The brainstorming they do in art class can be a precursor to their brainstorming in LA. The collage they created in art could have the entire poem, parts of the poem or just a few lines of the poem on it. Dual purposes that serve the needs of both curricula! Yes!! Perfect. So, as the “hand collage/ I am poem” process unfolded, I mentioned the need for a cover for the autobiography. Mrs. Jacobs suggested they use the self-portrait that they’ll create later in the quarter for their cover. Beautiful idea! Again, one class complimenting the other without the feeling of one being more important than the other.
The glaringly important piece to this project is that it is truly a collaboration. It is not merely a unified art assisting with a project in language arts class or a “special” helping to meet the needs of a classroom teacher. Mrs. Jacobs and I are both very passionate about our respective classes; however, we realized through our professional dialogue that needs of both of our classes could be met through communication, clear expectations and and an openly passionate desire to see students create the best products possible. The process of creating this project was not easy, but it was fulfilling. Our willingness to take a risk, to try to model the concepts of collegiality and collaboration and to instill in our students that what they create matters in two different classes is what made this venture so successful. Opportunities like this project are out there, but it’s up to us, as teachers, to make it happen!
This post is provided by art teacher Abby Jacobs, Westbrook Middle School and Mike Burke, 6th grade language arts and social studies.