By: Laurie Wolke
Arts education has always been an integral part of Laurence's curriculum. What I love about the arts is that they provide children with cultural experiences and outlets for their creativity, while also serving as a vehicle for teaching public speaking, perseverance, and resilience.
Central to teaching the arts is a process that encourages risk-taking, and teaches students to positively accept constructive feedback. The process looks like this: Students study a great songwriter, they interpret and adapt their own version of a song, teachers work with students to reflect on their technique and provide constructive critique, and students then apply the feedback to their performance and see improvement or growth. Familiarity and comfort with this process enables our children to develop and progress, not only in the arts, but also in math, science, and athletics.
Moreover, this process takes place in a safe environment, where trying something new and expressing creativity is encouraged. There is no negative consequence for singing off key; rather, the mistake is treated as a learning opportunity to improve technique. By experiencing this process repeatedly within the nurturing elementary school atmosphere, our students learn at an early age to try tasks and activities outside their comfort zones and to accept and appreciate feedback. Also, because they see the link between applying feedback and improved performance, they are able to learn that the process of working through challenges can be enjoyable. As a result, our students begin to develop resilience and perseverance, as well as intrinsic motivation as they learn the satisfaction that comes with an accomplishment or performance achieved through hard work.
I have watched this process play out firsthand, time and time again. Not every child is a naturally talented artist, but through practice, hard work, and motivation, they can obtain these skills. It is so heartwarming to watch a 2nd Grader who cannot carry a tune continue to work hard, and through taking risks and being encouraged and nurtured, they become the 6th Grader with a lead role in the musical. It's a remarkable process to witness!
The benefits of this process through the arts can be seen throughout the school, starting with our youngest students. For example, our 1st Graders studied the works of the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, this year. Our visual art specialists led a discussion with the children about Gaudí's architectural style and what made it interesting. Then, students each made their own version of a Gaudí building using clay, painting and decorating it in the same style. Along the way, the teachers helped them work through challenges in their projects, and eventually, these six and seven-year-old students created finished pieces that did, in fact, reflect Gaudí's architectural style. When the children saw their works on display in the school's front office, they were delightedly proud to show their works to their parents.
If you'd like to learn more about how the arts help students develop important life skills such risk-taking, you might enjoy this video from Edutopia about how the New Mexico School for the Arts is teaching students to embrace failure and build a growth mindset.