Teachers learn to integrate arts with content learning

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009

The sixth Alaska Basic Arts Institute concluded last Thursday with a gallery walk and performances by the 36 teachers from 11 districts statewide.

"It's a statewide professional development opportunity for teachers," said Annie Calkins, an advisor and evaluator of the program. "(It's) giving them knowledge and tools so they can integrate the arts across the curriculum. To better motivate students, to make themselves feel reinvigorated as teachers and to give them skills so they can use the arts across the curriculum to increase student learning not only in the arts, but also in literacy and math and social studies and health and P.E."

The teachers, all content teachers rather than arts teachers, spent two weeks at the University of Alaska Southeast spending ten hours a day in studying music and movement, visual arts, Native cultural arts and interactive lectures on the brain.

According to Calkins, the lectures focused on the brain are a critically important part of the Institute. It teaches the teachers "how the brain works, and multiple intelligences and how all that feeds into reasons why we need to include arts as part of basic skills," she said.

Traci Buckle, an instructional coach who works in Eek, Quinhagak, Goodnews Bay and Platinum in the Bethel area, said the brain research was one of the most important things she'll take away from the Institute.

"Actually being able to explain that to parents and administrators why it's so important to have arts and arts in the curriculum and integrating the arts into the curriculum," Buckle said. "It helps a lot of kids learn."

Amy Kesten, a special education teacher at Gastineau Elementary School, talked about the difficulties she has incorporating the arts.

"I'm working with behaviors a lot so I'm going in classrooms and working with kids on academic stuff," she said. "But when we have the opportunity, I want to teach a whole unit on something where I can incorporate it easily."

On the final day of the Institute, the teacher's filled two classrooms with their art: sketches and painting, handmade dolls from their Native arts sessions, workbooks detailing the techniques they learned and even a poem about the arts.

The teachers came from districts of Anchorage, lower Kuskokwim, lower Yukon, Wrangell, Sitka, North Slope, Kodiak, Southwest Region, Haines and Pribilof Islands. There were nine teachers from the Juneau school district.

The Alaska Arts Education Consortium was founded in 2001 with support from the Alaska State Council of the arts. It's funded by federal grants, membership fees and participant enrollment fees.

Together with the lower Kuskokwin school district, the Consortium puts on the Basic Arts Institute in Juneau as well as Invitational and Advanced Institutes. Anchorage had it's first Basic Institute this June.

"The number one thing that it's brought (to the statewide teaching of arts), and part of this is what teachers are telling me too, is confidence," Charlotte Fox, executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, said. "They're not afraid of integrating arts in the classroom curriculum anymore and it's particularly important for those teachers who are pretty much teaching everything, that are in these small village communities."

"We really believe that the more arts that are in the curriculum the better education is," Fox said.

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