Research shows that integrating arts-based teaching strategies can help foster creativity and improve students’ ability to problem solve. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU’s Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas about how educators can integrate the arts, whether teaching in-person or online. Learn how all teachers, even those without an arts background, can integrate the arts into their curriculum.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re here with Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas talking today about arts-based teaching across disciplines. Welcome, Kathleen and Greg.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, thank you for having us, I’m so excited about this topic.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Thanks. We appreciate being here again.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. I’m curious, what can you tell our listeners today to help them get ready for this subject of arts-based teaching across disciplines? What does that mean?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: That’s a good question. First, a lot of people think, “Why use arts-based approaches?” Well, first, let me share that research shows by fourth grade, if creativity isn’t cultivated, it drops off and we do not want that to happen. We want creative lawyers, we want creative engineers, creative doctors. We want everyone to be creative problem-solvers in society. So, arts are very important and an area where students of all ages can be very creative.
It’s also more interesting to learn with, about, and through the arts. For example, instead of just reading about westward expansion, it’s much more interesting to create murals based on research. It’s more interesting and engaging to act out scenarios, whether it’s through improv, pantomime, or scripted puppet shows, or things like that. These are things that can be done face to face or online.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah, I agree. I have a background in the arts. I taught music and band for many, many years, 18 years before becoming a principal, and then later working in the online world of higher ed, so I already have an interest in this to begin with. But for somebody from a non-arts background, I think it’s important to realize that arts equals emotion.
When we can tie emotion into our lessons any way, I believe it sticks better with students, I believe that we own information quicker when we can tie some sort of an emotion to it, and we’re going to talk about lots of different types of ways to integrate the various types of arts into the classroom. But, I think it’s an important topic. When I was doing my undergrad work, I remember all of this research into arts and how it makes you smarter. That research really hasn’t gone away, it just keeps on building upon itself, so I think it would be silly of us to ignore the power that the arts have.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Greg, I think that’s great that you brought up the emotional aspect of it. I know when children, teens, adults look at certain artwork or photographs, or hear a poem or a song representing people or an era or a historical event or current event, it can be very emotional and moving, and that’s very engaging and it can just draw students in so much better into learning and wanting to research and read and discuss whatever the focus is.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: That’s right. I get questions sometimes, though, from teachers when I speak to them about integrating the arts. The first art that they think of is music. Then they ask me, “Well, I’m not musically inclined. How am I going to incorporate music into my classroom? What considerations should I make?” The great news is, you can incorporate music without being a musician yourself, especially with the technology that’s available today.
A lot of this is available, obviously, online, and face to face as well, but anytime you can get music involved in your classroom, I think it does create that emotion we talked about earlier. It can be as simple as playing a song in the background during your lesson that evokes the emotion that your lesson is aimed at. For example, maybe you are talking about a historical lesson and you’re talking about something tragic, like, maybe World War II, something terrible that happened, and maybe you do want that music in the background that is evoking that particular emotion that you want the kids to connect with.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yes, music can really help set the tone and draw students in, but it’s also a creative outlet. For example, maybe in fifth grade, students are studying landforms. Landforms may not sound like the most exciting topic, but what if they take a familiar song like “Three Blind Mice” and have to change the words and make the song about some aspect of landforms?
That requires a lot of synthesis, synthesizing, critical thinking, analyzing, comparing, contrasting, and, of course, creativity. They can even set music to it, play a little keyboard. It’s a very simple song with only a few notes. If a teacher doesn’t have a keyboard, well, the music teacher might. And, if it’s at a distance, there are programs. I know the San Francisco Symphony website has a great website for children, for example, and older kids could use that, even adults, where you can play a virtual keyboard. There are a lot of websites like that. A lot of people have keyboards on their phones or their tablets, so it’s very doable to even do at a distance.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Okay, what about this idea of creating a music video? We could have the children or the young people in the class we’re teaching online take a YouTube video and just play the video while making a video of themselves. If you have the background track or something, there’s often an instrumental version, making up those new lyrics, or even creating a lip-sync video as a project, that might be kind of a fun way to include the performance aspect. What do you think?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Absolutely. Also, students can even just do voiceovers on PowerPoints, so they can select the images or art or historical photographs, science, pictures of science—things like landforms or volcanoes—and create music that way, so, yes, I mean, there are so many possibilities, Bethanie.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. How about visual arts? What would be a good way to integrate the visual arts, especially online?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Well, this is becoming easier and easier, to be honest, because of so many museums and Google, Google Art. There are thousands of visual art pieces, sculptures, murals. There are so many things online to easily integrate, whether you’re teaching face-to-face or virtually. So, it’s very easy to find art that goes along with stories or characters, or even in language arts, if you’re looking at parts of speech, adjectives, why not use art or pictures to pair up and think about what’s dark, darker, darkest, or what’s happy, what’s sad?
It’s so easy to integrate the arts and also have students create art projects and use different medium, like construction paper, paint, cotton, whatever, home objects, and they can do this at home if they’re virtual, they can do it in the classroom. If teachers do not feel especially knowledgeable in this area, it’s easy to research or just get with the art teacher or the music teacher, like in the last examples, and get some ideas and make sure that the art component is taught and addressed appropriately along with the language arts or social studies or science or math content.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah, I think those are good points. As someone who is very musically inclined, but can’t draw a stick figure, I can tell you that I am still moved by visual arts. Back to my undergrad work, I remember taking a class on art appreciation, and I certainly can appreciate art and it certainly does move me, so I think it’s another real opportunity for us to evoke emotion when we can incorporate visual arts as well.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: There are also so many programs on our computers and phones where we can use our finger and draw and create things maybe more elaborately than we could if we can only draw stick figures. There are programs online, I think it’s called PicassoHead, where you can create figures similar to how Picasso did. You can select different noses and mouths and things, so it’s really neat. Students can learn about different artists and even create art in that same way.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Okay, Kathleen, I’m going to throw a tough one at you. Dance integration. So, dance is a form of art and we know that movement can be powerful with our students. When we’re teaching online, how do we do that? What tech can assist us with incorporating dance?
When I was considering this question, I thought about those cameras that follow the action. I think they’re called “Owl cameras” and they move wherever the person’s at, so I think in the online world, if we did want to incorporate dance, I still think we can do it. I think we just have to have the right technology to do it. The good news is, students, especially our younger students, they’re good at this already. They know how to record themselves making different videos, so I think it’s important that we come up with ways to incorporate dance as well. What do you think, Kathleen?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Absolutely. Of course, it’s easier in the traditional classroom than online. Some dances require partners and moving and changing partners, so that can be a challenge. But I think students can still watch dances, especially those that are culturally attached to different regions or time periods, they can try to replicate some of them and film themselves, maybe just for the teacher. They can maybe compare and contrast more historical or cultural dances to more modern dances.
Also, when they’re creating music about a topic like volcanoes or something, why not add a dance element to it? It’s very easy to look at the national or state standards, look at what the students need to be learning at their grade level, and incorporate that one thing. Teach the students about it, show them a video, and then say, “You need to incorporate this dance step into your dance and musical piece about volcanoes,” or whatever. I think that can be very exciting and engaging for students.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: We’re back with Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas, talking about arts-based approaches. We’ve covered so far music, dance, visual arts. What more can we do to integrate the arts online and live in our teaching?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Well, theater arts is the fourth category of the arts. There is a world of possibility. A lot of teachers are already doing things like reader’s theater, and they may have little puppets or something to go hand-in-hand with that. Of course, you can do puppet shows and write the scripts.
It’s important to do a variety of things, though. There’s a progression with theater arts with no talking, for example, and just body movement. In math, you can do shapes, like have students get together and create a trapezoid or a triangle, hexagon. Now, that is a challenge virtually, but they could definitely draw these things, and that gets in the visual art.
But, there’s a progression with pantomiming. They can do that at a distance or face to face. It often helps to do that in pairs or with a puppet so they don’t feel so much like they’re on the spot. And then progressing into improv, practicing off-the-cuff speech after warming up with pantomime activities and theater games, and then progressing to skits and role-playing.
Role-playing, skits, pantomime, all of these things can be done with stories, in literature, before reading, during reading, after reading. It can be done with events, historical figures, science things: show how a seed becomes a flower. You can pantomime and act that out. There are no limits with theater arts integration.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: This reminds me of earlier podcasts we had on social-emotional learning. I know I keep going back to this emotional tie to things. We spoke about social stories and how powerful that can be to teach students about social aspects. I think that is an excellent way to integrate theater arts, especially if the students themselves are acting out the stories. Great ideas.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yeah. There are interesting things we can do that are very creative. For example, listen to Martin Luther King’s speech and then have the students pretend they’re reporters, either preparing questions for him after the speech, or maybe they have a panel, a talk show, and they’re discussing his speech, ways to really extend the learning and go deeper through fun activities.
There are no right or wrong ways, necessarily, to pantomime or improv or write skits, or do these things, so there’s some leeway, there’s a lot of room for all students to engage and participate at their level. Without there being one right or wrong answer, what I mean is, it’s not like true, false, or multiple-choice, there’s such a range of possibilities. It really builds self-esteem and gets students even more engaged, ultimately.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: How would we plan some of these things that can address the standards, or develop more of your abilities if you’re feeling really not prepared in this area as an educator? What would be some resources that our listeners could go to?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yeah, that’s a good point, Bethanie. Even in my own research, I found those that tended to participate in arts-type activities when they were younger, felt more comfortable as educators when they’re older. And if they didn’t have those experiences when they’re younger, they are less likely to do these kinds of things in their teaching. I want to encourage anyone who’s listening to please do these things. It’s worth it. There’s more and more research, as Greg mentioned, about how the arts are very empowering for learning and achievement across the curriculum.
First of all, collaboration is important. There’s nothing wrong with collaborating with the art, music, PE teacher for movement at the school, and also trying to engage with local artists. I find that they are usually very willing to give their time, and give ideas, and share, and even be guests in the classroom, and they can help plan. You’ve got to look at the standards. There are usually state standards, definitely national arts standards. They’re very simple. Just make sure that lessons are really addressing those things.
And then read some articles, read some books, and start with one activity at a time. Do a lesson maybe you’ve done before that you’re familiar with in the past year and integrate one art aspect and see how it goes. If it’s successful, that’s great. Maybe move to a next step. Or if it’s not successful, regroup, reflect, and see how it might be tweaked to be a bit better.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: I agree with all that. I would say that the first thing you want to do is start small, like Kathleen said. Don’t jump in with both feet if you’re not completely comfortable yet. A great way to do that is through differentiated assessments. I like the idea of having several options to assess students on what they know or can show what they can do.
One of those options would be great if it was some sort of an arts option. It’ll show you which students naturally gravitate towards that, and it’ll give you some assessment data that you can build on for your future lessons once you know what students enjoy learning and how they enjoy learning best. But start small.
Any bit that you can add to your lesson is helpful. And I think you’re going to find as a teacher, it makes you a better teacher and a more engaged teacher, and it’ll also add a little bit of spice to your lessons yourself. I remember teaching the same lesson over and over and over again. That’s not great. We should grow as teachers, and change our lessons as we go, and push ourselves. If you’re not somebody who’s real familiar with the arts right now, I think it’s a great opportunity for you, and I think it’s a growth opportunity.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: I will say even older students, adult students, when I’ve taught grad students, either face to face or online, they enjoy even making posters. Maybe for the week, they’re the illustrator in the group discussion, and they come, and they could show a poster online, or use something like Glog or another interactive poster-making website, and they seem to get really into it and really engaged to try to show sophisticated concepts about what they’re studying through visuals. They also dramatize things.
So these things are helpful for all ages, and even if the students are hesitant—I remember when I taught fifth grade, we would sing songs about the planets before we got into more in-depth study of fifth-grade-type concepts with astrology. I mean “astronomy,” not “astrology.” But some of the students didn’t really want to sing, but they would. And because we were all singing together, and I know that hearing the sing-song-y rhymes and patterns really helps some of the factoids become better internalized in their schema and their brains. So, it’s important to set a comfortable environment and just keep trying and encouraging yourself and the students to participate.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: All right, so we’re going to enter our wrap-up here. I would like to thank you, Dr. Kathleen Tate, and Dr. Greg Mandalas, for being with us today speaking about the arts-integration ideas. Any final words you’d like our listeners to leave with today? Let’s start with you, Greg.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: I’m going back to starting small and pushing yourself as a teacher. I think that in my own career, the times when I’ve pushed myself to try something different, I feel that that’s when I grew, and sometimes I fell on my face and had to start over and that’s okay.
If you’re not completely comfortable with the arts, it’s perfectly fine, but I just encourage you to get out there and give it a shot, start integrating some of this. It’s worth it. The research says it’s worth it, and I think you’re doing what’s best for your students when you try this.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: I agree with what Greg has said, and I think beyond the research, too, when you do arts-based approaches in your classes, you see the students’ reactions and you see how their engagement in the content, whatever it is—science, social studies, math, language arts—increases, and it’s a win-win for everyone.
It’s important to collaborate. It’s not a sign of weakness. I think sometimes when teachers have an issue in the classroom, or they want to know more about a teaching method, they think it’s a sign of weakness to seek out help or collaboration, and it’s not, it’s the opposite. A strong teacher will do whatever it takes to have the best learning experience for the students and that includes talking to colleagues and mentors.
I think those are the main things, and to just remember to research, just like you would if you were teaching about the American Revolution. You’re going to research and make sure you’re prepared to teach that content. It’s the same thing with the arts. Just do a little research about what you want to integrate, look at that standard, look up some information, and it’s that simple.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, both of you, for being here today. I’d like to encourage our listeners to look back and visit some of our previous episodes with Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas for some additional areas mentioned today. We have Episode 80, about social-emotional learning, and Episode 89, about classroom management. Again, thank you for being with us today and best wishes to all of our listeners in your online teaching.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.