Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Using the Visual and Performing Arts to Complement Young Adolescents' "Close Reading" of Texts

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Using the Visual and Performing Arts to Complement Young Adolescents' "Close Reading" of Texts

Article excerpt

This We Believe characteristics:

* Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant

* Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches

* Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships

With the recent focus on accountability to ensure that teachers improve the academic achievement of young adolescents, the visual and performing arts are increasingly neglected in classroom teaching. More often than not, the classroom time that was once allocated for such relevant and essential practices as the visual and performing arts is tragically being replaced with more test preparation and practice for statewide assessments (Berliner, 2011). In this article, the authors explain how the visual (paintings) and performing arts (music videos) can engage and focus young adolescents' attention toward "close reading" and thus improve their literacy performance in more authentic and engaging ways than simply "teaching to the test."

Ample research findings indicate that the creative arts improve students' school performance. The arts stimulate students' imaginations (Csikszentmihalyi & Schiefele, 1992; Hartse, 2014), foster critical thinking (Burton, Horowitz & Abeles, 1999), develop language skills (Chappell & Faltis, 2013), and increase reading comprehension (Shanahan etal., 2010). Importantly, the arts provide students with opportunities for using culturally-based sign systems for understanding their worlds (Burton et al., 1999; Harste, 2014), and evidence suggests that arts integration improves students' overall academic achievement (Caterall & Waldorf, 1999; Greene, 1995; Heath & Wolf, 2005; Lee, Patel, Cawthon, & Steingut, 2014; Walker, Tabone & Weltske, 2011).

Although improving student achievement and test performance are important goals, excessive focus on testing outcomes can create barriers to young adolescents' engagement and motivation to learn in school. According to the Association for Middle Level Education (formerly National Middle School Association [NMSA]), middle school students require curricula that represent more expanded and integrative approaches to learning that are "challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant" (NMSA, 2010). Additionally, although a small minority of states have not adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010), the CCSS standards provide clarity in aspects of instruction and assessment and can be readily aligned with visual and performing arts "texts."

A theoretical framework to support creative arts instruction

Three areas of research studies inform the authors' recommendation for integrating the visual and performing arts into middle school teaches' classroom lessons: balance, engagement, and strategy transfer. Research findings indicate that the connections between conventional literacy and the creative arts can complement and balance students' learning and development. Many well-known and respected educational theorists, such as Gardner (2006), Eisner (1998b), Greene (1995), and Goodlad (2004), among others, view the arts as fundamental to children's development. Moreover, for those who hold doubt about the importance of the arts in children's education and development, Eisner (1998a) explained that the arts should be studied for their own sake because by learning the arts, children discover more about themselves, about others, and about the world.

An expanded review of research offers abundant support for the importance of the arts for improving students' classroom engagement. Today's youth are acculturated to multiple ways of learning and expressing their knowledge about the world when they are outside of school. This is so regardless of whether they are viewing YouTube videos and webpages, reading online texts and e-books, or when they are texting or composing screencasts and podcasts on their digital devices. …

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