Empowering Students throught the Arts

by Sharon A. Olguin

In some schools and some classrooms, the arts are viewed as a powerful tool for stimulating students to investigate many ways of knowing. However, the arts in many schools have experienced budget cuts because of funding constraints and have become marginalized in the curriculum. Yet there are some classroom teachers who maintain a commitment to the inclusion of the arts in their programs of instruction. These individuals see the integration of the arts as a vehicle for helping students develop a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the reality of their world.

In my role as a clinical supervisor, I had the opportunity to work with two new teachers who had made a career change; both had extensive backgrounds in the arts. This teaching team was also placed in a school that had a diverse multicultural student population. As the teachers began to plan for instruction in their classroom, it was decided that the arts would be emphasized. It was their belief that the arts could inform the study of other subject areas in the curriculum, could raise an individual's self esteem, and had the potential for developing the critical thinking and creative abilities of the students, as they explored and learned about their world.

The children of this classroom were engaged in activities that incorporated the arts as both an instructional strategy and a discipline. Instruction in the visual arts was integrated daily. The lessons the students experienced taught them about the varied techniques and mediums used by famous artists, about style and about art history. Ample time was also given to children to practice using the techniques they were learning. Instruction helped the children compare and contrast their own work to the works of the artists they were studying. As their confidence grew, the children began to view themselves as artists, and began referring to the artists they were studying as if they were personal friends. They began excitedly to anticipate the arts instruction. With their increased knowledge base, they also began to compare and contrast the techniques and style of the various artists studied. Arts instruction in this classroom quickly became a means by which the student began to see themselves and the world around them.

They began to think critically about the quality of their own work. They also began to take more risks, learning from their mistakes, resulting in higher expectations for themselves.

The arts allowed the students from this multicultural setting to come together in order to form a community of learners. They shared a common bond and interest and had many opportunities to observe and discuss their work and that of their peers. Their teachers learned about the students' interests and strengths and began to get a glimpse of how the students viewed themselves. As the teachers' understanding grew, they learned that inclusion of the arts as an area of study had a larger purpose. The arts had become the vehicle that enhanced the development of the self esteem of the students in their classroom. They had created the conditions that allowed the students to develop the skills necessary to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. The development of these skills was valuable because of their application to the classroom and to their lifetime experiences. The teachers discovered the magic of empowering their students.

As I think about my return to the classroom, I find that this experience demonstrated the unlimited potential a strong arts program has for instruction and personal growth. It also offers a rationale for increased funding to the arts withn our schools. No longer should the arts be marginalized. The arts are a powerful approach for learning and knowing.


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