Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

"You Wish It Could Speak for Itself": Examining the Use of Aesthetic Representation in an Elementary Teacher Preparation Program

Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

"You Wish It Could Speak for Itself": Examining the Use of Aesthetic Representation in an Elementary Teacher Preparation Program

Article excerpt

As I go over the syllabus on the first day of the semester, most undergraduate pre-service teachers listen quietly and occasionally take some notes. It seems business-as-usual until I get to the explanation of the final assignment-the aesthetic representation. I see a range of reactions on my university students' faces as I explain that the final project will be an aesthetic representation of literacy.

The incorporation of the arts into any classroom can be a valuable way to go beyond traditional, linguistic-based instruction and to create multiple connections across academic disciplines (Eisner, 1997; Folsom, 2005). Artistic endeavors used to be quite common-and, at times, are still seen-in the elementary classroom. Ideally, teachers ask students to respond to literature in a variety of forms (e.g., drawing or painting favorite parts of stories, creating shoebox dioramas, responding to literature through poetry, dramatizing literature through Readers Theater). When reading children's books such as Green Eggs and Ham (Suess, 1988) or Stone Soup (Brown, 1997), teachers may engage in the culinary arts with their students by preparing dishes related to the story. Unfortunately in today's educational climate, these opportunities involving the use of art in the classroom are increasingly seen as immaterial or as a luxury that schools can no longer afford in an ever-growing push for meeting academic standards.

These criticisms fail to recognize that the incorporation of the arts in the classroom not only feeds creative thinking, but also promotes academic rigor (Eisner, 1997). Artistic endeavors are critical for students to express learning and understandings of literacy. In that regard, it is essential that pre-service teachers engage in and comprehend how to incorporate the arts into their educational practices. As the current educational climate often does not support this integration of arts into the curriculum, pre-service teachers are often not provided with opportunities in their field work to experience arts-based means to express academic understandings, such as aesthetic representations (the focus of this article). The responsibility becomes that of the pre-service teacher preparation program to expose students to the process, thereby modeling the importance of fostering creative thinking and allowing students to use a variety of learning styles to express understanding. By emphasizing the role of the arts in elementary teacher preparation programs, future teachers are introduced to a critical avenue that allows students to acquire a more in-depth relationship to the academic content, to strengthen comprehension, and to experience the arts integrated into the curriculum (Eisner, 1997).

This article explores a group of six pre-service teachers' expressions of literacy through aesthetic representations. First, we provide a brief review of the most pertinent literature regarding how literacy and the arts have been linked in educational studies. Second, we provide an overview of our study. Next, we describe three themes that emerged from the data: (1) connections to literacy through aesthetic representations, (2) the process that pre-service teachers went through in order to create their aesthetic representations, and (3) how the aesthetic representations informed their own professional practice. Lastly, we discuss how using aesthetic representations in the classroom has enriched understandings and expressions of literacy while allowing us, as university professors, to differentiate for individual students' needs, strengths, and interests. Implications will be addressed in relation to both teacher education and elementary education practices.

Literature Review: Ways of Knowing and Understanding

In her study of four pre-service teachers and their reflection process, Ostorga (2006) concluded that critical, reflective thinking "cannot be taught through a few simple techniques but requires education that transforms the preservice teachers' ways of knowing" (p. …

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