Facing the big questions in teaching: purpose, power and learning

Reference: O'Connor, P., & Aitken, V. (2014). Arts education: Being awake in the world. In A. St.George, S. Brown & J. O'Neill (Eds.), Facing the big questions in teaching: Purpose, power and learning (2nd ed., pp. 11-18). Cengage Learning.

Arts education: Being awake in the world

Why might the Arts be important?

  • add value to our lives - capture our thoughts, feelings, desires in words, image and sound

  • evoke a response from us

  • explore content that matters and enables us to explore it in ways that matter

  • Music - (tactile & kinaesthetic, oral and aural) Visual Arts (priority is visual) Dance (foregrounds bodily movement) Drama (incorporates all of the above - mostly verbal).

  • can be audience or participant

What might the Arts teach?

Elliot Eisner (2002) proposes a list of '10 lessons the Arts teach'

  1. The Arts teach children to make good judgements about qualitative relationships

  2. The Arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution

  3. The Arts celebrate multiple perspectives

  4. The Arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstances and opportunity

  5. The Arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know

  6. The Arts teach students that small differences can have large effects

  7. The Arts teach students to think through and within material

  8. The Arts help children learn to say what cannot be said

  9. The Arts enable us to have experience we can have from non other source

  10. The Arts' position in the school curriculum symbolises to the young what adults believe is important

(pp. 72-92).

Power sharing

Co-artistry - both teacher and student are engaged in genuine exploration and discovery together (Ako).

Setting up opportunities for experimentation and mistake making

All forms of Art offer the challenge of how to explore and convey ideas, cultural stories or human experiences in new ways. Arts making allows risk taking to be completely safe. Within the students' own creative journey in the Arts, there is often a feeling of liberation from rules and consequences.

Embodied experiential learning and affective-to-cognitive understanding

Robinson advocates for Arts education as being the prime way to bridge the inner and the outer worlds of the mind, to provide not simply knowledge about the world, but rather, intensely felt and necessarily personal 'explanations' of it.

What does good Arts teaching look like?

The classroom should involve student direction, where students influence the specific activities or tasks they will do in a lesson, or how they will undertake them. There should be social support, an atmosphere of mutual respect and support between teacher and students, and among students, to make them feel free to take risks and try hard challenges, and that all students can succeed. There must be academic engagement where they are attentive and on task, showing enthusiasm for their work by raising questions, contributing to group activities and helping peers. There should be evidence of self-regulation - where direction of student behaviour is implicit and self-regulatory - and there should be explicit quality performance criteria: frequent, detailed and specific statements about what the students are to do and to achieve (O'Toole, 2006, p. 4).

True learning in the Arts depends on quality teaching.

Flexible purposing

Flexible purposing is about refusing to be rigidly attached to predefined aims when the possibilities of better ones emerge. The adopting of 'flexible purposing' in the Arts classroom allows the teacher to work in pursuit of surprise rather than the pursuit of predetermined learning intentions, in order to create experiences that are highly structured yet also leave openings for the freedom of genuine discovery. To successfully teach this way teachers need to give considerable time to the Arts in their classrooms to engender a sense that learning is open-ended and involves risk-taking and exploration, in a culture of trust and safety.

What might the place of the Arts in education tell us about NZ society?

The idea that the Arts exist as an essential learning area within our curriculum, yet continue to be marginalised in schools, cannot be simply an accident or an oversight. If we don't use Arts as a way of learning it is because we choose to ignore them. Ironically, in a period where there is such a clear focus on literacy and language skills, by neglecting the Arts we turn our backs on the most powerful of language and literacy tools we have.

Tagore (2009, p. 142, cited in Nussbaum, 2010, p. 142) suggests without the Arts we end up with "nations of technically trained people who do not know how to criticise authority, useful profit makers with obtuse imaginations ... a suicide of the soul".

Yellow Brick Road

Refernce: Metcalf, S., & Smith-Shank, D. L. (2001). The yellow brick road of art education. Journal of Art Education, 54(5), 45.

The yellow brick road

Good Art education practices facilitate growth through experience in art in much the same ways that Dorothy and her companions grew in courage, kindness, wisdom and tenacity as they experienced on their journey to Oz.

Wonderment is an essential ingredient - and nightmares and heartache are the result of poor judgement made by teachers.

The analogy of the characters in the book can be linked to perspectives I will be aware of as a teacher:

  • Tin Man wanting a heart - students need to be given opportunities to discover their love for Art

  • The Scarecrow wants a brain - provide resources and experiences for students to grow their skill, knowledge and wisdom in the Arts

  • Lion lacks courage - create a learning environment where students can take risks and are open to challenging themselves and take up challenges.