Agents of Change

The new year arrives with new resolutions, and expectations of resolutions, born out of the notion that we want to do or be, better..… We walk on two legs, reach with two arms and have two halves of our brain so we ’re pretty well set up to have a binary approach to things. That approach often plays out in a  yes or no, this way or that manner.  While devising a workshop that I will present this week with teachers and administrators on ways to include dance and theater in teaching and learning (otherwise known as movement and ideas in action) I considered similarities and differences between the wide array of curricular approaches. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to administrators selecting curriculum frameworks, teachers teaching or learners learning. The educational world, based on good intention, research, and considered thought, tends to devise ‘new’ approaches, variations on approaches, and curriculum designs over and over and over again looking for effective frameworks to help students learn and understand. Each new variation is like a new years resolution.

Although school districts may decide to use one particular approach for the delivery of curriculum or the assessment of learning, not a one of us is so binary that we teach or learn in only one way or another. No one approach completely works or doesn’t. While there may be an attitude of  “all in” with a teaching approach or participants engagement with that approach, learning does not develop out of a single teaching style or educational framework. We may be binary in structure but we all have a bounty of individual quirks, interests, curiosities, and opinions evident as we develop our understanding about something. It’s not about finding the one way to deliver material to and with learners;  it’s about opening possibilities for learners to engage with ideas; to come at things from different entry points; to look for the why and how beneath the “what” of the material being taught. 

One of the reasons the arts provide such effective ways to teach and develop alert learners is because there are so many different ways to learn through, with, and about the arts. Even as individuals build particular techniques or skills they each build a repertoire of skills somewhat differently. We do tend to get better at the things we practice, but only when we pay attention to what we are learning through the practice and continue to make adjustments and revisions to our work. The arts are active, they offer variations to the usual ways topics are presented in schools (emphasizing lecture, drills, and seated work). In contrast, the arts encourage engagement, physical involvement, analysis, synthesis of ideas, and creative approaches to problem-solving. We are sensory beings who learn by engaging with ideas in sensory-based ways – seeing, hearing, forming, feeling the idea or material we are exploring.  Playing, viewing, listening, dancing, acting, drawing, making, creating are the verbs we DO as we think through the body as well as the brain. Learning with and through the arts help to form learners who have agency in their own lives and become agents of change in the larger world.

So how’s this for a resolution that you can try whenever it strikes your fancy, or you find it purposeful?  Engage with the arts. Make something. Look at something and ask yourself what you think of it. Move to an internal or musical rhythm as you walk the grocery store aisle or take your dog for a walk (the brain processes information differently when we move). What do you notice? Where does that thought lead you? What do you wonder about now? Yeah, that’s it. You’re engaged in artistic practice.

Alison Marshall

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