Young Audiences/Arts for Learning
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!
smARTbeats returns to WTMD this Saturday, February 10 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, hostLisa Mathews sits down for a chat with the original “Drumcussionist,” Young Audiences teaching artist Uncle Devin. Tune in and you’ll hear why The Uncle Devin Show has been called “pure edutainment at its finest.”
Devin Walker has been playing percussion for more than 25 years with groups ranging from Fertile Ground to the Great Dizzie Gillespie, and has gained national acclaim as a leader in the children’s music industry with his unique musical style, real percussion instruments, and the latest in electronic drums.
“I realized I wasn’t just there to perform music, I was there to teach.”
In schools, the artist teaches children that percussion instruments are an essential part of history and the human experience. He uses different musical instruments, along with his award-winning book, “The ABC’s of Percussion with Music CD,” to help students understand how sounds made by percussion instruments were used to communicate. “If we never spoke a word, we could communicate through music,” said Devin.
The musician didn’t begin his career performing for children, but spending time with the young kids in his life certainly helped to steer him on that course. Devin’s niece loved his music so much that she once took recordings of her uncle reciting stories along with music to school so she could share them with her class. The children loved listening to their friend’s ‘Uncle Devin.’ “Soon enough, people began to refer to me with that title and that’s how the name came about.”
They weren’t the only kids that his music and stories stuck with. After performing in a school in Baltimore, he received a phone call from a friend. He suddenly heard his friend’s daughter on the line, reciting some of the same concepts he had shared with the school children earlier that day. She had been in the audience! “I thought, she’s got it! That was a wonderful moment because I realized I wasn’t just there to perform music, I was there to teach.”
Young At Heart airs weekly from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.
Listen to Uncle Devin online now!
In July 2014, Young Audiences adopted its new five-year strategic plan, “Transforming the Lives and Education of Our Youth.” In the coming weeks, we will profile our four strategic directions and our exciting plans related to each. To kick off this series, Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences executive director, wrote about how the plan was created and the exciting work that is to come.
More than 300 volunteers contributed to Young Audiences’ strategic planning process, spanning May 2013 to July 2014, to build an ambitious new strategic plan that sets the organization’s course for the next five years to significantly grow its reach–ultimately impacting the education of 50,000 more young people across this state every year.
During the development of the plan, Young Audiences worked with two consultants to conduct an external and internal review of the organization; more than 50 board members, staff members, artists, teachers, organizational funders, and school administrators gathered for a day-long strategic planning retreat; and smaller working groups composed of artists and educators spent two months exploring six strategic areas that came out of the retreat’s discussions and developed goals for the plan. It was an honor to co-lead this work with Bill Buckner, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee and Young Audiences’ immediate past board president. Our new plan was adopted by our board in July 2014 and since then our staff and board have been laying the foundation necessary to take on the challenges laid out in our plan.
Some of you may not be aware that Young Audiences is the nation’s largest arts education network and it began in Baltimore in 1950. During our 64-year history, the Maryland affiliate of Young Audiences has continually expanded its services to Maryland students, teachers, and artists to give more students the opportunity to experience and learn through the arts. We are proud of our rich history and roots as an organization focused on exposing young people to the arts. Yet, we are increasingly excited by our evolving role as an education organization that is transforming the lives and education of young people by building communities of educators, professional artists, and parents and enabling them to help our children realize their full potential through the arts.
The Next Five Years
Our vision remains the same as it did five years ago: “One day, every student in Maryland will have the opportunity to imagine, to create, and to realize their full potential through the arts.” Our mission also remains unchanged: “To transform the lives and education of youth through the arts by connecting educators, professional artists, and communities.”
What has changed is that now, more than any other time in our history, Young Audiences is poised to realize this vision and achieve this mission for all Maryland children.
During the next five years we plan to significantly increase Young Audiences’ transformative impact on students and on education, and to accomplish this by:
- Expanding our school district arts integration partnerships
- Investing in and growing our teaching artist community
- Building and sharing evidence of our impact
- Strengthening and expanding our programs
Through a series of blog posts, I will dive deeper into each aspect of this plan and share updates on our progress. I welcome your feedback and participation in our work.
We are excited about the power of the arts to improve educational and life outcomes for students, and we are proud of our plans and the community we are building to leverage the arts to have the greatest impact possible on our students. We hope you will join us in this work!
– Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences Executive Director
To learn more Young Audiences’ mission and our work, we invite you to join us at one of our upcoming On the Bright Side Tours. Learn more and sign up online.