The Arts form a vital function within cultural identities, ideologies and practices as an avenue of human expression, knowing and accomplishment (Ewing 2010, p. 1). This report will explore my insights and advocacy for arts education within primary education. I will further reflect on the role of arts educators in developing positive learning experiences and skills that enable students to appreciate and enhance their insights of their own creative domain and the world around them. I will also explore my own philosophy of arts education and what I believe is important about arts education for children.
What are ‘the arts’ and how are they conceptualised in the Australian/Victorian Curriculum or Early Years Frameworks?
Humans throughout history communicate concepts and ideas about the world and their position in it through the arts. Music, storytelling, enactments, dance and drawing are just some avenues of communication. The arts are believed to positively influence children’s development and roles as members of society, this is why arts in the curriculum has a central place (Dinham 2016, p. 3). According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2016, para. 1), the Arts can enrich, inspire and engage students by inspiring their imagination and creativity and building upon their significant potential.
John Dewey an educational philosopher advocated that Arts must be foundational in the curriculum as it assists in developing ‘strong self-expression, creativity and appreciation of expression of others’ (Heilig, Cole & Aguilar 2010, p. 136). Arts in the Australian Curriculum is a learning area that combines together ‘related but distinct art forms’ (ACARA 2016). The two distinct approaches utilise creative and critical thinking, mirroring distinctive bodies of knowledge, skills and understanding. The Arts area comprises of five distinct discipline based subject areas including, ‘dance, drama, visual arts, music and media arts’ (ACARA 2016). The Arts are represented in the curriculum through the interwoven elements of ‘Making’ and ‘Responding’. According to Dinham (2016, p. 25), children are actively engaged in making-arts experience (praxis) whilst ‘making’ and reflecting and learning to critique while ‘responding’. Both of these processes work in conjunction and both encapsulate arts learning (Dinham 2016, p. 26).
Children express themselves by using arts skills, knowledge and imagination and by embodying both roles of artists and audience (Dinham 2016, p. 33). Teachers use pedagogical strategies to create open-ended artistic challenges to promote skills of problem solving and to challenge students to develop responses that encourage imagination and ideas. Teachers also aid students in building skills using arts equipment, tools, materials and processes to be able to express their ideas and skills artistically. Moreover, teachers encourage reflection on students work so they can learn to critically reflect and be informed as not only artists but audience members. This is reflected as both ‘Making’ and ‘Responding’ in the Australian Curriculum’s arts area of learning. According to Dinham (2016, p. 34), by contextualising artist activities as cultural endeavours teachers remind students that art is important culturally and is part of the fabric of society.
Media arts in the curriculum includes developing representations and communicating narratives through tools like ‘television, film, video, newspapers, radio, video games, the internet and mobile media’ (ACARA 2016). Using creative materials and technologies students investigate concepts, ideas and views and connect audiences. Media arts empower students to develop skills with evolving technologies to study effects of text, imagery and sound to construct meaning by participating and experimenting with interpreting communications practices and diverse cultures (ACARA 2016). Students also develop critical understanding of how media is culturally conveyed, being both dynamic and fundamental in making sense of their worlds (ACARA 2016).
Why are the arts presented as an essential learning area in a child’s education? Why teach the arts to children?
John Dewey believed that children need opportunities to grow ‘physically, mentally and socially’ through authentic education and expression of creative and critical thinking (Heilig, Cole & Aguilar 2010, p. 137). It was Dewey’s belief that every child could enrich their world views and build understanding and appreciation of the world through the arts (Goldblatt 2006, p. 17). According to Wright (2012), children when exploring, representing and participating in experiences through art, are engaged in ‘meaning-making’ allowing them to construct knowledge and make sense of their world. Dinham (2016, p. 25), states that arts learning is enacted or personified through action and experiencing which is known as ‘forms of praxis’. In Arts learning there is no proxy learning, students learn by doing and repetition. According to Connelly and Clandinin (2000, p. 89), understanding comes from the endeavour in praxis-based activities.
Macdonald (2018, p. 1) believes that learning the arts is fundamental in nurturing creativity. Research also shows that in every measure of achievement student’s that participated in arts outperformed their peers (Fiske 1999). Moreover, a correlation between low and high socio-economic students’ arts participation indicated that low socio-economic students benefited far more then high socio-economic students. According to Fiske (1999), continued participation in arts of any form is interrelated with high success in both reading and numeracy. Furthermore, arts learning also has substantial beneficial effects on learning in other subjects.’ Accordingly, arts participation invites development of student ‘sense of self’ and also assists by validating beliefs and values by giving them a sense of belonging and value to society (Dinham 2016, p. 13).
Arts is becoming essential to social cohesion and wellbeing. Culture and creativity are now endorsed as a fundamental human right for each person (Warwick Commission 2015). Cultural vitality as the new ideology is now being supported as integral in supporting and sustaining healthy society (Hawkes 2002). As a measure of society’s progress ‘wellbeing’ is now considered a prominent factor influencing policy decision making (Smithies & Fujiwara 2015, p. 41). In education, research reveals strong evidence that children’s ‘sense of wellbeing’ is supported by a healthy arts education and that it fulfils a critical role in their development (Thomson et al. 2015; Winner, Goldstein & Vincent-Lancrin 2013). According to Fiske (1999) and Catterall, Dumais and Hampden-Thompson (2012) research suggests beneficial outcomes for Indigenous, disadvantaged, refugee students and students with special needs with arts participation.
Arts education is also effective for building intercultural understanding and inclusion as represented in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA 2016). Hajisoteriou and Angelides (2017, p. 361) found that collaborative art building gave a ‘voice’ to diverse students, allowing the interexchange of cultural stories, values and ideas in regard to diversity. Moreover, implementing arts activities in the classroom enabled students to develop ‘civic efficacy and democratic agency’ and friendships (Hajisoteriou & Angelides 2017, pp. 361). Access to arts learning also provides opportunities for children that have disabilities to aspire to careers in artistic fields and to develop the necessary skills to be successful in life (Crockett, Berry & Anderson 2014, p. 179). Studies show arts integration, even at a basic level have positive effects on students with special needs (Fuss 2015, p. 1). Participation in arts has produced gains in academic, emotional and social skills for both typically developing students and children with special needs (Kempe & Tissot 2012, p. 97). Special education and arts education share dual objectives to educate students by promoting independence, participation, determination and development of artistic competencies and motivation to succeed in life (Crockett & Blakeslee 2017).
To what extent, if any, were the arts included in your own education both within and beyond your school context, and how do you think your arts experiences (or lack of) influence your attitudes towards teaching the arts in education?
The arts in my own career and education, have formed a significant role in influencing my choices. From my early years of learning music and drama in primary school to my high school years with media and visual arts I have been enmeshed in the arts for a significant period of my life. After my school years I was deeply involved in the Arts through my study at University in Interactive Multimedia and Teaching and for the past decade have been running a concert venue with a variety of artistic performances and events. I have lived and breathed the different forms of Art and have developed an appreciation and fixation for writing, storytelling and music.
My arts experience throughout my life has positively influenced by attitudes towards teaching Arts in Primary schools. The experiences and skills I have developed over the years I believe are beneficial in a teaching context as I have real life experience to convey to students as well as a fine appreciation of all forms of the Arts. In understanding motivation, likes and interests play an important role in learning as a fundamental driver for engagement (Kahu, Nelson & Picton 2017, p. 55). Because I enjoy the Arts in all its forms, I am intrinsically motivated to teach them. Robinson (2011) believes that from a young age, children involved in arts learning develop strong creative, innovative and imaginative thinking skills and I believe this is true as my own experience has reflected this.
My interest in the arts is that knowledge comes from action or ‘praxis-based endeavour’. I believe the best learning comes from being thrown in the deep end and doing. Moreover, arts learning is also reflected in my developing pedagogy of an autonomy-supportive classroom that is evidence based with self-regulation theory and inquiry-based learning. Furthermore, as a new teacher I have strong self-efficacy for arts education. Self-efficacy can be described as ‘beliefs in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments’ (Bandura 1997, p. 3). Teachers use efficacy by being proactive, self-regulating and organising as well as being reflective (Bandura 2006, p. 1).
How do you believe the arts should be implemented in primary learning contexts?
As a new teacher, it is my responsibility to be acquainted with present-day thinking and foster capacities to provide appropriate arts education to children (Dinham 2016, p. 17). With entrenched practices and attitudes there are still classrooms that fail to reflect the current values and needs of contemporary students (DEST 2005; Klopper & Power 2011). These classrooms give less attention to the arts with a focus instead on literacy and numeracy as per current educational policy. As a new teacher it is my belief that arts should be implemented cross curricula with planned strategies to integrate the curriculum, allowing students to apply and transfer learning and view relationships and make associations between learning areas (Burnaford, Aprill & Weiss 2001).
In advocating arts, according to Dinham (2016, p. 27), arts literacy is becoming as increasingly significant as language and numeracy to assist students to function effectively in the modern world (Deleuze 1990; Livermore 1998; Huber, Dinham & Chalk 2015). To be arts literate is to be able to communicate meaning and be knowledgeable and is communicated through the various forms of art. Moreover, research has also established as a consensus that arts education producing creative and flexible thinkers are an important requirement for the future (Dinham 2016, p. 28).
Promoting an inquiry-based and experiential learning model is the best way to teach arts and foster construction of meaning. Kolb (1984) experiential learning theory has a focus on reflection and experience which is central to arts learning. Inquiry learning offers opportunities to explore the world of beliefs, values, emotions and ideas (Dinham 2016, p. 25). Inquiry learning which has its roots in constructivism enables children to build knowledge through processes of experimentation, creative design, creative thinking and reflection on experiences. Inquiry helps nurture student’s curiosity about the world around them, driving a sense of wonder and imagination. In inquiry classrooms, students create and investigate which helps refine skills of critical analysis, reflective thinking and engagement. According to Kraehe and Brown (2011, p. 488), ‘whether visual, performance-based, literary, digital, or a combination of these, arts-based inquiry is a process one undertakes to transform prior understandings and misunderstandings through the manipulation of material and symbolic tools and the reconstruction of social and cultural meaning.’
Open-ended challenges should be implemented in arts education as they are facilitated by the inquiry-based nature of arts learning. These challenges can involve problems that need solving or investigations into art or an invitation for creative inquiry and interpretation (Szyba 1999; Bates 2000; Hetland et al. 2007). An arts-based learning environment with inquiry-based learning can be implemented by allowing students to deconstruct or construct a piece of art familiar to them which can be in the form and context of Media Arts. Learning is then linked to the artwork and advanced during inquiry. Students are asked to explore a concept with collaborative learning, so the perspectives of others are heard. Concepts are viewed in context as cultural, political or social and ethics and social justice is also incorporated. Students then investigate using technology tools and compare experiences to their own lives. These experiences or feelings become fuel to create their own art to demonstrate their understanding or position. Lastly, students present their art to an audience who are asked to respond. Through discussion of choices students justify why they used something in their art piece to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of concepts. Arts-based pedagogies are a very powerful tool, properly utilised it can be transformative by inclusively engaging students’ in learning and inspiring powerful imagination and creativity (Eisner 2005; Greene 1995).
Assisting students develop creative dispositions is also fundamental in evaluating and advocating arts education. The consistently recognised keystone function of arts education is the development of creativity (UNESCO 1996). Creative individuals with confidence show ‘high self-worth, cognizance and personal identity,’ and can use their initiative and creative abilities to solve complex problems (MCEETYA 2008, p. 9). Creative dispositions should be fostered in the classroom as they promote students that are curious, observant, good at problem solving and persistent in quests for understanding and are intrinsically motivated to learn (Dinham 2016, p. 30).
It is fundamentally clear the Arts forms a crucial role in developing the necessary skills to be an effective citizen in contemporary society. The Arts provides a means to develop these critical skills with an outlet in a variety of forms which means that all students can participate including both typically developing and special needs. The arts encompass a meaningful role in my own emerging pedagogy with a synergy of critical skills, creativity, motivation and engagement.
Ken Robinson created a great talk on need for creativity and divergent thinking that I found very insightful when exploring this topic.
(Robinson, K 2011, RSA Animate (online video) vimeo.com/29485820).