Young Audiences of Northeast Texas brought in a Kennedy Center teaching artist, Karen Erickson, to teach teachers at Caldwell Fine Arts Academy and some other Tyler ISD teachers strategies for integrating the arts — drama and writing — in classrooms.

The results of using the arts with students are myriad, substantiated by huge bodies of research, said Amy W. Baskin, executive director of Young Audiences.

Students who have high exposure to the arts, Ms. Baskin said, are five times less likely to drop out of school, two times more likely to be able to go to college, have improved academics and communication, are better problem solvers and creative.

Young Audiences was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support arts integration professional development. Young Audiences sponsored several teacher-training sessions last week led by Ms. Erickson at Caldwell and also a session at the former Gary School for Tyler ISD teachers in general.

The main focus was on Caldwell teachers with the objective of making Caldwell into a model demonstration school in arts integration, Ms. Baskin said.

“Our purpose in bringing (Ms. Erickson) is to partner with the schools to increase the capacity of the teachers to use art as a teaching strategy,” she added.

Ms. Erickson travels across the country and Europe promoting the integration of the arts — drama and writing — into the regular elementary school curriculum. She is a playwright, actress and director as well as a creative drama educator.

“Young Audiences’ goal is arts for all kids. We help the schools by adding this extra piece (teacher training in arts integration) to help schools enrich the arts,” Ms. Baskin said.

Caldwell Principal Tamara Colston said the training “just gives the teachers a bigger tool kit to work with whenever they are thinking of reaching their children.”

Young Audiences’ partnering with Caldwell to bring artists in facilitates the school making the arts “a common thread through our school.” Ms. Colston said. “We have to teach the teachers first (about arts integration) in order to teach the children.”

Arts education gives students the well-rounded piece that they need to ultimately become productive citizens in the community, Ms. Baskin said.

Ms. Erickson said she already was thinking deeply about integrating drama into her language arts classes when a movement or push developed in the 1980s to integrate the curriculum.

A Kennedy Center representative was on hand when she gave a presentation on integrating the arts with other content areas during a conference of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development in the early 1990s. That led to her going out on behalf of the Kennedy Center to work with school districts on integrating drama into the curriculum.

She has degrees in theater, drama, language arts and communication.

At Caldwell, Ms. Erickson taught teachers strategies for using drama and writing in the classroom.

“A lot of it is showing them some simple activities to begin with to set classroom management,” Ms. Erickson said.

For instance, she encourages teachers to get their students to identify and think about main ideas and supporting details in a story to be able to write with details about main ideas.

Integration of drama and writing means the two subjects are comingled and integrated into the regular curriculum.

“You see that the learning in drama has improved the writing and the writing has improved the drama,” Ms. Erickson said. “You don’t teach them separately; you interlock them so that the students don’t even think about them as being separate subjects.”

Another strategy for arts integration, Ms. Erickson said, is teaching sequencing. How to sequence writing and how to understand the sequencing of a piece of literature.

All teachers teach sequencing, sometimes called cause and effect, Ms. Erickson said, noting as an example that teachers talk about historical events that led to the Revolutionary War.

Students learn sequencing in drama, as they are learning sequencing in social studies, as they are learning sequencing in writing and that is all pulled together where you can’t tell the difference between the subjects, Ms. Erickson said.

“One of the things I say to teachers is we work on creative thinking and collaborative thinking. We want people in the professions to be creative in how they are going to solve a problem. I’m thinking about the man who landed the plane in the Hudson River and how he had to think creatively.”

“We aim at students being creative, collaborators and good communicators and I think if we ignore the arts, we’ve ignored a piece to reach that end.”

Students won’t remember tests or papers they wrote in school but do remember the stories they got to act out, Ms. Erickson said.

She said she hoped teachers who attended her sessions will be risk-takers and will try the arts strategies she introduced and be motivated to find other strategies.

“I want to change a teacher’s life because a teacher can change the lives of 25 or 30 students a year,” she said.

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