LAFAYETTE — Crystol Hale’s students should prepare to hone their drama skills when they study literature this upcoming school year.
Hale plans to ask her students to re-enact scenes from books they read by performing a tableau: a freeze-frame of a scene.
“Everyone else in the class will have to guess which scene they’ve re-enacted,” Hale said.
The fun exercise is just one activity Hale and 40 other teachers learned during a three-day arts integration workshop taught by Smithsonian Associates, professionals affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
The training was the final in a three-year, $1.5 million “Art Smart” professional development grant the Lafayette Parish School System received from the U.S. Department of Education.
In the past three years, Smithsonian Associates and the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education presented six workshops to at least 120 teachers from 25 low-performing and high poverty schools.
Because of budget cuts and stricter accountability standards, “art is a dying area in schools,” said Rodricka Wilson, a second-grade teacher at L. Leo Judice Montessori School.
Wilson has attended all six training sessions offered through the Art Smart grant and said she’s incorporated several ideas through the past three years into her classroom.
“It’s thinking out of the box,” Wilson said. “It’s a different way of teaching kids.”
The training focuses on teaching ways to use art as a “tool” to create “meaningful learning experiences” in core content areas of math, science, social studies and English, said Jenna Lachney, Art Smart project director.
Prior trainings focused arts integration into math, science and social studies, while this week’s three-day training focused on English language arts instruction.
Earlier in the week, teachers learned techniques that can help students build skills in writing and reading through activities like bookmaking and drama exercises.
Thursday’s lesson centered on objects and the meaning and stories attached to them.
Thursday’s sessions were led by Tia Powell Harris, dean of arts at Duke Ellington Performing Arts High School in Washington, D.C., and former assistant director of education at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; and Tim Winkle, associate curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Winkle shared images from the Smithsonian’s collections and at times withheld the story behind the object to lead teachers through questions to uncover its significance.
A brown construction hard hat covered in stickers took on a different meaning when Winkle revealed it was worn by a recovery worker at ground zero. As did a mailbox when Winkle showed an image of where it was taken from in front of a house in the Lower Ninth Ward in September 2005.
Teachers could lead their students through the same exercises to decipher an object’s meaning, he told them.
“Objects don’t have any meaning whatsoever,” Winkle said. “It’s all from us.”
Our perspective gives the object a voice, a story, he told them.
Evangeline Elementary second-grade teacher Donna Lormand was inspired by prior Art Smart training to devise a lesson on famous inventors. She received a grant from the Acadiana Center for the Arts to pay for the supplies and technology for the lesson.
Through portraits of each inventor and the stories told of their inventions through “discovery boxes” filled with objects associated with each inventor, students easily retained the lessons, she said.
“We never used a textbook,” she said.
Teachers also recognize that the lessons touch their students in other ways, said Dana Bernard, a Burke Elementary second-grade teacher.
“I like these workshops because a lot of the kids we teach don’t have a lot of exposure to museums and theater,” she said. “It’s exposure for them and it’s helping them to learn the curriculum by broadening their knowledge.”