Linking Literacy Lessons with Visual Arts: Preservice Teachers' Dilemmas and Accomplishments

Article excerpt

"I wonder if I am fooling myself? These students are significantly influenced by television, high tech films, and `hip-hop' and rock music.... How can I bring out their own creativity?"

(excerpt from a preservice teacher's case narrative)

"Boy, what am I doing wrong? I can't keep my students quiet during our art activities. They jump out of their seats. They won't share supplies and I'm the one who stays after class to clean up"

(excerpt from a preservice teacher's case narrative)

Our work in preservice teacher education involves assisting elementary education majors in becoming certified classroom teachers. We are specifically responsible for preparing preservice teachers in literacy education, or how to teach elementary students to become literate. We choose to do this through the use of children's literature in authentic field settings. That is, we hold all of our university classes in elementary schools, and prior to student teaching, with our guidance, preservice teachers actually teach elementary school students 2 hours each week over the course of a semester.

Over the years, we have noticed that engagements with the visual arts have created possibilities for elementary students who come from non-mainstream backgrounds and who speak variations of standard English to more effectively construct, extend, and share meaning from the texts they read. As a result of these observations and in keeping with our firm beliefs about the benefits of arts encounters for urban elementary students, we have integrated the visual arts as part of our literacy course requirements. That is, preservice teachers in our reading/language arts program must now combine literacy instruction with the visual arts at every opportunity. This article serves to share our preservice teachers' insights about the realities of linking literacy lessons and the visual arts with urban elementary students.

Preservice Teachers' linking literacy Lessons with the Visual Arts

Because of our solid beliefs about the advantages of arts encounters for urban, elementary students, as part of course requirements, preservice teachers in our reading/language arts field programs integrate literacy instruction with the visual arts at every opportunity. Following ideas from Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development" (1978), the preservice teachers collaborate with their students creating text based murals, story quilts, and puppets. They help their students author, illustrate, and publish fiction and informational texts, and as co-constructors of knowledge they join with their students making papier-mache story characters and scenery to accompany quality children's literature and poetry.

While some preservice teachers come to our courses with knowledge of visual arts media and techniques, most do not In other words, a visual arts education course is not a prerequisite for our literacy methods courses, although preservice teachers in our teacher education programs are required to complete a visual arts or music course at some point in their university program. The content of these courses may vary widely and it is rare for elementary education majors to experience situations where the arts are integrated with traditional subject areas (i.e., math, social studies, science, reading, language arts).

Preservice Teachers' Insights through Teaching Cases

In addition to offering literacy based arts lessons, our preservice teachers write teaching cases or narratives describing their reflective thinking, hopes, concerns, problems, and achievements as they address the complexities of devising and presenting integrated reading/language arts instruction (see Richards & Gipe, in press, for attributes of good cases and the benefits of case writing for education majors). Recently, we have become particularly drawn to the content of the cases, noting that they provide considerable insights about the realities of linking literacy lessons with aesthetic encounters. …