The Artistic and Professional Development of Teachers: A Study of Teachers' Attitudes toward and Use of the Arts in Teaching

By Oreck, Barry | Journal of Teacher Education, January-February 2004 | Go to article overview

The Artistic and Professional Development of Teachers: A Study of Teachers' Attitudes toward and Use of the Arts in Teaching


Oreck, Barry, Journal of Teacher Education


The arts have played a role in general teacher education since Dewey and the beginning of the progressive education movement. During the past 80 years, the status of the arts in the curriculum has ebbed and flowed, increasing in eras of progressive reform and decreasing during back-to-basics movements and when funding is tight (Goodlad, 1992). In the past decade, national school reform efforts based on educational research (Gardner, 1983, 1993; Renzulli, 1994; Sizer, 1984), public/private partnerships between schools and cultural institutions (Remer, 1996), and new national standards in the arts (Consortium of National Arts Education Organizations, 1994) have fueled a significant increase in the arts as part of in-service professional development programs for classroom and academic subject-area teachers (Fowler, 1996). In addition to courses specifically focused on the arts, artistic processes and related teaching methods are often included in pre- and in-service programs on multiple intelligences theory (Gardner, 1993), literacy education (Calkins, 1994; Crafton, 1996), and performance-based assessment (Wiggins, 1998; Wolf & Reardon, 1996). The primary purpose of most arts-based teacher education programs is not to transform academic classroom teachers into arts specialists. Rather, the general aims are to increase teachers' understanding of and efficacy in using the arts as part of an expanded repertoire of teaching techniques and to promote active, creative, teaching and learning (Fowler, 1996; Torrance & Myers, 1970).

Despite the presence of the arts in professional development initiatives across the country, little data exists about the use of the arts by regular classroom teachers. One obstacle to such a study is the sheer breadth of the subject. The arts exist as distinct subjects and disciplines and as intrinsic parts of culture, history, and literature, with potent links to math and science. Students may be exposed to works of art through field trips, visiting artists, or media including videotape, computers, or books. They may create their own works of art or participate in exploratory activities using movement, dramatic play, music, or art materials. Discussion, reflection, and analyses may be part of any of these activities. In the continuum of arts activities in the classroom--from playing background music, to discussing a painting or a play, to mounting a full-fledged student-created opera complete with costumes and sets--there is no absolute way to classify what is and what is not "art." We cannot simply look at how often students sing a song or draw a picture to gauge the frequency of students" arts experiences. Dewey (1934) placed art in the realm of experience rather than product. In this view, almost any classroom activity can potentially provide an artistic experience if it involves attention to aesthetic qualities and the intentional application of artistic skills interacting with a symbolic object or idea (Eisner, 1985; Gardner, 1973; May, 1993). When teachers are aware of and can engage their students in appreciation and exploration of the aesthetic characteristics of experience in the world around us--the form and shape, dynamics and color, feelings and communication in many symbol systems--they can find artistic experiences in virtually any topic or subject area.

To design effective professional development programs using the arts, it is essential to understand the personal and institutional factors that enhance or undermine teachers' efforts to use the arts in their own practice and to look at the characteristics and attitudes of teachers who have been able to successfully implement the arts in various ways in their classrooms. Does one need a strong arts background to learn to employ the arts in the classroom? What attitudes seem to promote creative and artistic methods in teaching, and can those attitudes be developed through professional development? How can teachers be encouraged to attend professional development workshops and make use of the methods they learn there in a time of increased pressure for test score results and standardized curriculum?

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