Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
When I was studying for exams in college, I would often create a strong visual image to help me remember test items. For example – the 6 C’s of credit? Character, capacity, capital, condition, collateral, cash flow. And while these concepts didn’t flow naturally through my brain, the image I created did. There was a guy (character) leaning on a crutch (condition) with a cap on (capacity) standing in front of the Capitol Dome (capital) with a briefcase (collateral) full of dollar bills (cash flow).
At the time I didn’t have a name for my study method – I just knew it worked for me. Years later I can now identify this as arts integration with an emphasis on a visual learning style.
And so I felt very at home as I toured Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) at Lyndhurst Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. That’s because each classroom was filled with young students learning in a variety of arts-integrated formats. I witnessed drama, rap songs, textile art, drawings, and writing—all used in conjunction with classwork such as a math problem or a reading assignment.
And while I knew, and the teachers knew, that these children were involved in thoughtful, hard work here—the serious business of arresting summer learning loss—the kids were focused on how much fun learning was. For example, in the PreK classroom, YA roster artist Mama Rashida of WombWork Productions and her teacher partner, Samantha Amey, worked with the students on a basic math problem: 1 + 2 = 3. Now, of course, you can force your brain to learn this by sheer rote repetition, but let’s face it. How exciting is that?
But if you illustrate it with a story about the marketplace where you must buy one fruit (fruit sellers stand here to the right!) and then move on to the vegetable stalls where you need a tomato and a carrot (veggie vendors over here, please!), you set the stage for a fun learning experience.
As the kids moved excitedly from place to place to “fill” their baskets or “sell” their wares, the teacher illustrated what they were doing on the whiteboard. With their “shopping” completed, the children returned to their seats and began to answer questions about the math problem. At this point, the teacher pretended to be confused and wrote wrong answers on the board. As the children rushed to correct her, she had them explain what was wrong, until everyone agreed that the proper answer was three.
No, this wasn’t bored voices droning “1 + 1 = 2,” “2 + 2 = 4.” Instead, these were kids excited about math, happy to supply the correct answer to a befuddled teacher and eager to learn more!
But what about English? A little later I stepped into a first-grade classroom where students were studying Charlotte’s Web. Here, I found a mix of visual art and drama being used to tell the story. Several children took turns at the front of the classroom with a drawing they had made. After displaying it, they then acted out that portion in mime. Initially, the teacher set the scene, reminding the kids what was happening in the story at this point. After the child was done, the teacher asked the other students what they had observed as their classmate portrayed the scene.
Later, I noticed a bulletin board filled with tiny spiders made using a modified papier mache technique, with pipe cleaner legs. As I looked at this, one young girl came up to me and proudly told me about the paper collages they had made to illustrate what the barnyard looked like. “They’re displayed outside the classroom. You have to see them!” Indeed, I did, and when I left, I enjoyed all the bright, cheery artwork that surrounded the door frame.
My next stop was a mixed class of second, third, and fourth graders who were working on both how to solve for an unknown number in a math problem and the nine’s in the multiplication table. And here is where I definitely appreciated the arts-integrated approach. I remember learning the nine’s and, oh, how I despised them.
But nobody seemed to hate nine’s here. Maybe that’s because as they chanted this portion of the multiplication table, not only did they give it a fun rap slant, but other classmates accompanied the song with percussion instruments. Why couldn’t they have done that when I was in school?
My final stop was to a fourth-grade classroom where the lesson was to reinforce the basic math operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Here, too, I felt very at home, but this time it was because not only did I recognize the teaching artist, YA roster artist Femi the DriFish, who I’ve witnessed teaching on several occasions, but I actually recognized kids whom I had seen before. This heightened my sense of how compelling arts-integrated learning is in capturing kids’ imaginations, so much so that they return for another summer of learning!
They rapped their way through a popular song remixed to describe math operations terms in word problems (equals to, divided by, times, added to, subtracted from, etc.) in preparation to shoot their own music video. As they practiced, I wondered what they would take away with them after this summer. Would they remember these lyrics and hum them in their head as they take a math quiz next year? Will they think about a marketplace full of vegetables and fruits and how math filled their baskets? Perhaps they’ll draw a picture that will help them recall the story they’re reading in class.
But most of all, will they remember the fun that accompanied all these math and English concepts? And that 1 + 2 = 3? I think so. And this funny little guy, leaning on his crutch with his cap, briefcase and dollar bills, standing in front of the Capitol agrees with me!
Learn more about our mission, our methods, and our future plans during a one-hour Meet Young Audiences event. In addition to hearing from the organization’s leaders and getting an inside look into the amazing work we are doing around the state, one of our roster artists will share their amazing work with you and speak about how the arts complements and enriches classroom learning. Please reach out to Ingrid Murray, Individual Giving Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or call (410) 837-7577 x. 107. Interested in hosting your own Meet Young Audiences event? Find out more here!