“Their Grades Shot Up!” – Because of an Art Lesson | Shaqe Kalaj

Last spring, a week after I gave an art lesson to a third-grade class, the teacher told me: “Their grades shot up!” I had been integrating reading and comprehension with a directed art lesson that contributed to creating this grade effect

I think it is important to understand how grades are affected when art/reading integration is implemented. It is through analyzing how information is presented to the students, how visual art is integrated with the material, and how students are engaged that will give us a better view of “the how” vs. “the what” – that is, the process for achieving goals rather than a product outcome.

Before I gave this lesson, the teacher I collaborated with gave me a list of books that the students would be reading. The book that I used for this lesson was A Story A Story by Gail E. Haley. The story had a few main characters, but I focused on the leopard captured in the story in my lesson. By focusing on one character, the students became more acquainted with the story through his viewpoint. I read the story only up to the point where the leopard got captured. I wanted to leave the students wondering what happened, and I wanted them to enter their drawing with that feeling.

It was important at this point that the students were engaged in the story and experiencing the perspective of the leopard. During the class they verbalized their responses about the leopard. As they communicated they looked at a giant drawing of the leopard that I drew the night before.  As they looked at the life-size drawing they described the features of the leopard. The image, the story, the talking, and the students’ engagement helped them assimilate the story.

I then explained that they were to draw the leopard and to do that by playing “follow the leader.” I told them that when I draw a line, they were to follow exactly what I did and put that line on their paper. Here, I was using Betty Edwards’ method from her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I slowly drew the leopard part by part until it became the whole leopard. Throughout this time the students were engaged and paying close attention to the slow construction of this animal. As they slowly “built” their own leopards, so did they synthesize their memories of the story. (This was proven later when the teacher tested them about the story.)

Despite following me step by step, they all brought a unique viewpoint of the leopard, with an end result unique to each student. Some of the students commented that this was difficult. I knew it would be because I was stretching their abilities and I knew that they did not experience this training on a regular basis. The teacher I collaborated with agreed that the artwork was wonderful. So their product was successful, but it was the process that I think contributed greatly to the grade effect.

Using the Betty Edwards method utilizes spatial thinking. By having students focus in small steps using line, shape, and spacing, they are utilizing a part of their brain that can retain the information that was supplied to them prior to the drawing that we did together. It is the combination of the information in the story, the students’ engagement in the material, and this drawing method that greatly influenced the effects that were created in the test results.

To conclude, in the arts we have many stories of how kids and adults have benefited from creating. To me these stories are valuable, but I think there is a need for quantitative results, like test scores. I am interested in an education that is highly integrated and utilizes art simultaneously with social studies, history, math, science, reading or another art medium. By focusing on process and integration, I think the kinds of effects we will get from students will be high scholastic results but also huge smiles on children’s faces because they know they are reaching their potential. This is what I work toward.

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