Teaching Through the Arts is a program
designed to provide a standards-based arts curriculum, professional development
opportunities for local teachers who mentor student teachers, classroom
training and immersion in the arts for student teachers, resource materials,
and learning experiences in the arts for area elementary students.
MiddArts utilizes a teacher-training
model, and serves a core of 15-17 ACSU elementary level teachers who are
paired with 15 Middlebury College student teachers. The teachers serve
as mentors for the student teachers, and both participate in the college
Winter Term/January course entitled 'Children and the Arts'. From September
through June, teacher workshops, artist performances, and museum visits
are continued for the core MiddArts teachers, plus additional teachers
from ACSU and surrounding towns. MiddArts serves approximately
600-700 K-6 students annually in Addison County.
Support for MiddArts is made possible in part by funding from the Vermont Arts Council.
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AT MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE
A quarterly arts
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Enter the Middlebury College Museum of Art these days and you may stumble over a gang of third graders staring up at a terra cotta vase (circa 530-520 B.C.), and then down again, at their own sketches of the work.
You will not hear a tour guide spouting information on the artistic significance of the piece. You won't hear a teacher quizzing students on its relevant history. In fact, the only experts in the museum today are the students. "At this age," says the museum's curator of education, Sandi Olivo, "the goal is not to train students as artists or art historians; it's to help them see, and tell the story of what they see."
Seeing and storytelling is what students and teachers from around Addison County have been practicing all year as part of MiddArts: Teaching Through The Arts. Funded in part by a grant from the Vermont Arts Council, the three-year project is the result of a partnership between Middlebury College and the local school district, Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU). Additional funding has been provided by the Baer Foundation, the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, Title VI Funds from ACSU, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
One only has to look at the planning committee for MiddArts to see the scope of the project and the commitment of its members to creating a truly integrated approach to arts education. Susan Stockton and Allison Coyne from the Center for the Arts, along with Sandi Olivo from the Middlebury College Museum of Art, were joined by ACSU associate superintendent, Jan Willey, and Cornwall Elementary School teacher, Lisa Beck, who also works as a visiting instructor in the teacher education program here at Middlebury. Joan Robinson, director of education for the Flynn Theatre, provided expertise in performing arts education.
Together, the group designed and implemented a plan that brought 20 local teachers into a yearlong, interdisciplinary pilot project. The theme, they decided, would be storytelling, and the group created an ambitious calendar of workshops, performances, and museum visits designed to help teachers incorporate aspects of storytelling into their curricula. They even assembled a special exhibit, called Stories in Art, featuring works from the College's permanent collection and from nearby Shelburne Museum.
The centerpiece of this pilot year was Children and the Arts, a winter term course that paired each of the participating teachers with a student teacher from Middlebury College. Team taught by Lisa Beck and Sandi Olivo, Children and the Arts was both a theoretical and a practical exploration of teaching through the arts. The pace, according to sophomore Lindsey Haynes, was something of a shock.
"The first day, a woman from Frog Hollow came and showed us a slide of St. George slaying the dragon. We got into small groups and started brainstorming ideas about castles. Who lived there? What are the spaces? Describe a scene that might take place there.
"Then she got out the clay and showed us a few techniques for making basic shapes. Our assignment was to create the scene we'd imagined out of clay. Then the teachers arrived, and we were introduced to the person we'd be working with. It was our job to describe our scenes to them, to tell the story. It was a sort of arranged marriage ceremony.
"The next day, I was standing in front of a classroom of kids for the first time in my life, teaching the lesson I'd been taught the day before."
The Castle lesson, developed by Kathy Clarke, children's potter at Frog Hollow Crafts Center, is like many of those developed for MiddArts and compiled in the teacher resource packet, Storytelling. It begins by citing which of Vermont's Framework of Standards it will teach; it combines looking at art with making art, and telling the story of that art. The lesson relies on carefully worded, open-ended questions, with no wrong answers. It allows for play. It can be done by anyone, at any level of proficiency in the art form, and, as Lindsey Haynes discovered, it is replicable.
Chances are this is not the kind of arts education you remember from elementary school. Student teacher Cassidy Christensen '02 writes that she has very clear memories of art class in fourth grade. "We would be shown a finished product and then attempt to copy it exactly, as the teacher went through it with us step by step. That may explain why I feel completely panicked whenever I'm in a situation that requires me to be the least bit artistic. I avoided art classes in high school even more ardently than I avoided physics."
Clearly, the teachers who are volunteering their time to participate in MiddArts are unlikely to be perpetrators of cookie cutter art. Nor is MiddArts their sole introduction to experiential education or inquiry-based learning. Storytelling is full of lesson plans developed by the participating teachers and the visiting artists and consultants.
But if MiddArts did not invent the concept of integrating the arts, it certainly is creating a local culture of students, teachers, artists, and administrators who speak a common language, who are invested in developing the links between art and education. Along the way, MiddArts may have been the turning point for at least a couple of college students.
"One student had a rough time in the fall course," said instructor Lisa Beck. "Teaching Math and Science nearly did her in, and she was ready to drop out of the teacher education program altogether. Then came Children and the Arts. It was a complete turnaround. Now she's back, enrolled in my spring course and ready to get her license."
Children and the Arts was the first teacher education course for Amanda Maxwell '02. Her only complaint is that the semester was too short. The remedy? Amanda is thinking hard about entering the teacher education program.
How does a one-year grant from the arts council of a tiny state make a big difference? Let them tell you a story…
Consider Joey: A shy, sweet boy, with an imagination three times his size and big brown eyes always searching for approval. In a class of 12 third and fourth graders, his reading, writing, and math skills are the lowest-those of the average first grader. Every day he has class meeting with the rest of the children, then he works with the teacher aide for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, separate from the rest of classroom.
On January 11, I put a grapefruit-size ball of clay into his eager hands, and those eyes of his lit up with excitement. Throughout the hour and a half that the children spent with the malleable material, his disposition clearly changed. He made suggestions, created solutions, and articulated his opinions with such confidence, I wondered if I were looking at the same kid. His group had the task of creating a dungeon scene, and Joey certainly made his contribution. He was the first to grab the plastic fork and create texture on the surface of the prison. Next he used the same tool to poke at the dragon's skin, giving the fire-breathing jail guard scales. As the other boys stressed over how to fix the collapsing roof, he suggested they let it fall a little, because it is a very old dungeon, and it was attacked in the last battle, so naturally it's a little out of shape.