I did not wind up quitting the afore-mentioned unprofessional development. It was a training on Arts in the Classroom, which was promised to me as a chance to improve my own (greatly lacking) skills as a visual artist, thus giving me the confidence to teach more art in the classroom. In actuality, the program was in fact 1-2 hours a day of wasted time, 1 hour a day of lunch and other breaks, 2 hours a day of supposedly NCLB-required training on standards and lesson-planning, and the remaining 3-4 hours was, finally, doing art.
It makes me a bit of traitor to the cause, I admit, but those 3-4 hours might actually have been worth it. I learned some great things and I've started planning how to use them already. I'm happy to share those learnings here, with some unprofessional development lowlights thrown in for your entertainment.
Learning: Arts might just be the best way to teach ELD, the one area where I don't really have a scripted curriculum. (SHHHH!) I'm planning on using the arts (visual, musical, theatrical) to give meaning to all of the ELD activities I generally have to make students focus on "because I said so." No more silly prompts about favorite this or that, students will respond to Dali, Ansel Adams, or Diego Rivera. No more heartless narratives about summers, students will write the story of Rhapsody in Blue or Beethoven's 5th. Instead of pointless dialogues, students role-play conversations by Shakespeare, Wilde, or Gary Soto. Obviously, lessons on grammar, vocabulary, etc. will be included too. If you're interested in doing this too, let me know and I'll send you my long-term plan.
Lowlight: Because credentialed, CA teachers are not familiar with standards, we had to be taught about them through something we are all more acquainted with: baking a cake. Not just a verbal analogy, used in the midst of a 5 minute lecture, mind you. No no. It was a 2 day, 2 hour lesson involving real cake making materials, real cake and, my personal anti-favorite, a real faux-singing of "Happy Birthday" to a poor, lost-looking cafeteria worker. At no point, I might add, were we given more than 5 minutes to actually look at the arts standards.
Learning: Teaching the arts is important. Too often I think we're led to believe that integrating the arts is sufficient, rather than actually teaching the arts as content in and of itself. We might read a story and have the students respond with drawings. We might listen to music from the historical era we're studying in history. That is simply using, not teaching, the arts. There are basic skills and essential concepts to art that it never occurs to us to teach. There is a simple vocabulary that enables the meaningful discussion of art that our students do not know. Just like reading, we cannot expect our students to understand, let alone enjoy, art, without a confident understanding of the subject and process.
Lowlight: Teachers were instructed to read a Charlie Brown cartoon (which was actually quite good and is now tacked to my inspiration wall.) and given about 5 minutes to complete the task. The cartoon was then very dramatically read to them by their instructors, taking a total of approximately 10 minutes. I cannot really tell you the point of the whole exercise.
Learning: The arts really will improve students overall performance. As I was learning how to do wood-block prints on styrofoam meat trays and thinking how easy it was and how great it would be to share it with my class, the little Red Back-to-Basics Devil on my shoulder was whispering, "But Mr. AB... Juan still can't read."
In respone to him, though, let's take an over-arching look at the plight of Mr. AB, at-risk Arts Student.
Mr. AB hated his first day of school. So much so that he thought about quitting. Except that he loved one part... Art Class. He was successful in art class, producing sketches better than he ever had before because someone finally taught him to draw figures beyond sticks and circles. So he came back and back again. He came back everyday that week, except for Wednesday. Why did he miss most of Wednesday? Because he knew that there was no art class on Wednesday.
I hereby swear, I will never disavow the import of arts in the classroom again. If I, who value my vacation nigh as much as life itself, am willing to sit through 3 hours a day of frustration and indignation for the chance to make a paper-mache ogre, surely we can see the value for 10 year olds. Likewise, if I, a professional, am willing to cut my professional classes to sleep-in because I know that the chance to paint said ogre has been put off until Thursday, how can I expect better behavior from my kids?
The Story of a Successful Learner
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