Teaching a subject through a new art form feels less daunting after not only seeing a successful idea modeled in a classroom setting, but actually participating in the learning as a student. At Community Arts: Connecting Neighborhoods and Classrooms, the 13th Annual Arts Integration Conference at UMBC, academic teachers were given the opportunity to see and do in a number of classrooms on campus.
Workshop participants learned, for example, the art storytelling with Laura Wexler of The Stoop Storytelling Series, how to connect ELA and STEAM with designing and building kinetic sculptures with FutureMakers, and ways to integrate theatre standards with language arts standards.
Participants in one class learned how to teach mathematics through wring poetry. Teachers of grade levels ranging from Pre-K through adult learners convened to learn from North County High School (NCHS) Algebra teacher Ashley Russell and Young Audiences roster artist and spoken word poet Femi the Drifish. Their workshop Right On, Then Say Word: Poetic Mathematics was developed through a lesson they have been successfully co-teaching since the 2017-18 school year.
The pair shared their collective experience working with students and showed examples of student work and performances. Femi (his students address him as Mr. Fish) gave the teachers a small taste of his signature style and shared other arts-integrated lessons he’s taught over the years, encouraging them to think about the intersection of language and math in word problems and popular mnemonic devices like PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally).
At the end of the hour, the teachers had not only enjoyed their time, they learned to create, revise, and perform their own spoken word poetry using mathematical terms. They felt confident that they could use poetry to teach material in their own classrooms. And their students will most certainly enjoy the challenge, pride, creative thinking, and accomplishment that comes from learning through this art form.
You can read more about their partnership in the classroom and how students learn Algebra through the practice of writing and performing slam poetry here.
In 2017, North County High School Math Department Chair Amy Goodman began working to bring arts integration to all of the school’s 9th grade Algebra 1 classes. Thanks to the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, these students have studied with a variety of professional teaching artists. In addition to Femi the DriFish, Algebra 1 students have worked with TAHIRA, Skher Brown, and Kevin Martin. Since beginning this effort, the school’s Algebra I PARCC scores have shown double-digit gains (not to mention, students nurtured their creative sides exploring storytelling, learning to play steel drums, expressing themselves through poetry, and practicing the art of Capoeira Angola).
Skher Brown teaches world cultural awareness, body coordination and interpersonal skills through the basics of Capoeira Angola, an African-Brazilian martial art form that is a blend between a dance, game, and self-defense. In his new residency, Capoeira Speaks: Dancing for Social Intelligence and Life Success Skills, students develop non-verbal communication skills through body language and kinesthetic movement. This residency is well-suited for inclusive learning settings and those with behavioral, social, emotional, and/or physical disabilities.
“Over 90% of all communication is nonverbal, yet far too little focus is placed on teaching our children how to empathize with others and build relationships. Capoeira Angola is a non-verbal language that uses our bodies to speak instead of our mouths.”
Social intelligence affects how students manage their own behavior, their decision-making process, and how well they are able to navigate social situations. It is, along with academic achievement, one of the greatest predictors of success. Learning to read and respond to body language helps students learn to communicate more effectively, strengthening their social intelligence, thus increasing their chances of success.
apoeira Angola creates a culture of being more aware of one another. It’s communicating all at once with everyone in the room,” Skher explains. “I will say with my movement, ‘I’m about to ask you a question, I need an answer,’ and the student will respond with his or her choice of movement–the ‘answer’. Over 90% of all communication is nonverbal, yet far too little focus is placed on teaching our children how to empathize with others and build relationships. Capoeira Angola is a non-verbal language that uses our bodies to speak instead of our mouths. Once students learn the movements, they come together and begin to have a conversation.”
Capoeira requires students to be very expressive with their entire bodies, including their faces. Participants smile, open their eyes wide, and use animated gestures. These movements help students connect with their own emotions, which translates into being able to recognize and connect to the emotions of others.
“Students take ownership of the new community culture and protect it.”
In Skher’s residency, students take turns observing one another performing the dance movements of Capoeira. “After the dance routine, we form a large circle for participants to look at one another using eye contact. Here, students express what positive observations they noticed about their partners. Then, students share how it felt to give and receive positive reflections. Invariably, though the expressions might start out a little stiff, the mood and classroom environment always turns into a welcoming and connected space. Students take ownership of this new community culture and protect it.”
Skher Brown is one of nine selected roster artists who received training in a variety of inclusion tactics to utilize in the classroom through the Inclusive Allies program in partnership with Disability Rights Maryland. Learn more about our programs for students with special needs and the work we are doing to ensure that all students receive the many benefits of engaging and inclusive arts-integrated classroom experiences.
Arts integration is a valuable tool for reaching multiple learning styles across the curriculum and is linked to enhanced academic outcomes as well as positive social and emotional development for children. While this is true for all students, studies have found that the impact of the arts on language development and core subject learning is particularly beneficial for students with disabilities or those with special learning needs.
As an inclusive organization, Young Audiences’ goal is to bring high-quality, arts-integrated instruction that is accessible, supportive, and welcoming to children of all backgrounds and abilities into the classroom.
Reality is a social definition. Disability is the social process that turns impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access. Difference should be accommodated and celebrated. You can create new ways to create together by taking into account universal access to creativity.
We are diligently laying the foundation for inclusive practice to be incorporated into arts-integrated curriculum, increasing the opportunities for youth of all abilities to participate in artistically-excellent programs. To help us achieve this goal, our staff received specialized inclusion training through the Inclusive Allies program in partnership with Disability Rights Maryland.
Nine selected roster artists also received training, participating in a comprehensive workshop covering a variety of inclusion tactics to utilize in the classroom. YA Roster Artist and FutureMakers founder Matt Barinholtz observed, “Reality is a social definition. Disability is the social process that turns impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access. Difference should be accommodated and celebrated. You can create new ways to create together by taking into account universal access to creativity.”
YA artists approach this “universal access to creativity” by rethinking the norms behind the ways we allow people to communicate, socialize and behave. We create a culture where all students receive the many benefits of engaging and inclusive arts-integrated classroom experiences, adapting lessons with audio/visual cues and different levels of kinesthetic movement, and applying inclusion tactics.
The following Young Audiences Roster Artists have completed the training as of 2016:
- Future Makers/Matt Barinholtz
- Tori Bertocci (Synetic Theater)
- Skher Brown and the Capoeira is Culture Performers
- Anna Menendez
- Jamaal Collier
- Valerie Branch
- Sue Trainor
- Alden Phelps
- Pam Negrin
In the coming months, we will proudly share artists’, teachers’ and coordinators’ stories about their roles in this important work.