The third-graders in Tiffany Hoke’s English language arts class bent their bodies forward in the shapes of little crescent moons, touching fingertips to create the arch of a house. Others crouched underneath. An unsure but animated voice narrated the story of a girl who runs away from home and forms an unlikely friendship with a donkey.
The students at Andrew H. Wilson Charter School were getting ready to perform their play in the Kids Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The students wrote, narrated and directed the play in collaboration with KID smART, an arts integration program that seeks to make arts education more sustainable in New Orleans, while also easing the transition to Common Core standards as schools prepare for possible testing changes next year.
“We sometimes talk about throwing cake at the wall and seeing what sticks; it’s not a clean process,” KID smART drama integration specialist Bonnie Gabel wrote in a blog about her interactions with Hoke’s students as a teaching artist. “It means stepping back and trusting that the group knows the right direction. It means letting the story come organically instead of trying to force it.”
The art of collaboration isn’t the only lesson Gabel and other KID smART instructors seek to instill in students. KID smART has long brought professional actors, dancers and visual artists into classrooms to teach principles of math, English or science through various art lessons.
This year, the program has partnered with 10 local charter schools.
Now, as the Common Core philosophy of teaching infiltrates Louisiana schools and teachers prepare for new kinds of assessments aligned with the program as soon as next year, educators say KID smART kids have a leg up in reaching the new nationwide goals.
KID smART teachers have long espoused the notion of integration — of using various teaching tools to supplement a core curriculum — just as is required in the new Common Core standards, said Aminisha Ferdinand, an arts integration instructional coach.
“The skills they are asking students to develop to be successful are the same skills that we are asking students to develop to be successful in an art form,” Ferdinand said. “Applying learning from one area to another area of education — especially with arts integration, that’s what we’re constantly asking our students to do.”
Ferdinand gave the example of a student learning the geometry of a mountain’s angles from art class.
In Hoke’s class, as another example, students learned from the teaching artist how to transition between shapes and deliver words clearly, while at the same time grasping the difference between action verbs and descriptive adjectives from the curriculum instructor.
There are other ways in which the two programs overlap, Ferdinand said — such as the way both ask students to draw evidence to support analysis and research.
“As an artist, people think you’re just making stuff. But there’s a reason that goes into the choices of what you make,” she added. “We’re constantly asking (children) to be more critical when they’re learning.”
Now, as teachers anticipate the implementation of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, KID smART may be able to help prepare then through professional development, arts coach Heather Muntzer said.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for the arts to come in through assessment and project-based learning,” she said.
KID smART has been focusing a lot on development recently, Muntzer added, as officials saw the need for training as interest grew in arts integration education.
The organization has implemented a new teaching artist track in other parts of Louisiana and even Mississippi, to help train artists who are interested in becoming teachers at charter schools around the Southeast. KID smART teaching artists will be holding workshops for them this summer.
KID smART has also increased its professional development program for teachers, called AXIS, so that they’re given lessons on how to better incorporate arts integration into everyday core curriculum, said Executive Director Echo Olander.
Such professional development is important, Olander added, so the arts integration can keep happening even after the teaching artist leaves for the day.
“We knew really great things were happening when the artist was in the classroom with the kids, but when the artist left the classroom, we weren’t sure that anything arts-focused was happening,” Olander said. “So what we wanted to do is transition the work from being solely delivered by Kid smART to being owned and delivered by the schools themselves.”
However, the KID smART model still faces plenty of challenges in terms of increasing the sustainability of arts integration, Ferdinand said. For example, she said, there’s an ongoing conflict between teachers’ desire to reach KID smART standards and the pace at which they feel they need to teach, in order to get good test results from students.
“It’s the systemic challenges of the schools and the school systems that’s outside of our control that really affects whether the work will be sustainable or not,” Ferdinand said. “If a teacher is not feeling like they’re teaching the way they teach best, they’re not going to keep teaching for long.”