Academic journal article English Education

Arts-Based Literacy Learning like "New School": (Re)Framing the Arts in and of Students' Lives as Story

Academic journal article English Education

Arts-Based Literacy Learning like "New School": (Re)Framing the Arts in and of Students' Lives as Story

Article excerpt

Renewed attention over the last decade to roles for the arts in learning, particularly in relation to an evolving multimodal communicative landscape, calls for a rethinking of both where the arts are located in the school curriculum and how they are engaged. However, while initiatives such as STEM to STEAM1 and the 21st Century Skills Arts Map2 advocate for the arts in a wide range of learning contexts, this attention circulates amid pervasive assumptions that have long cast art as nonessential and nonacademic (Davis, 2007). A climate of high-stakes testing and corporate models of schooling has heightened associations between measureable skills and "rigor" and between art and "soft" learning, further marginalizing art in favor of skills that can readily be tested. How, then, do research, policy, and practice square the demand for a more central role for art alongside a longstanding belief that art is nonessential? These tensions signal a critical moment and opportunity for research across a broad base of disciplines to examine and illuminate roles for art that are unique to those disciplines, to challenge assumptions that undergird a perceived art/academic binary, and to interrogate pedagogies that have historically kept art in the margins. The moment and opportunity call for imagining and theorizing new forms of praxis with attention to both how and why art should take a more central role.

This article is one attempt to consider a generative possibility at the intersections between literacy (which many deem to be essential) and art (which many deem to be nonessential). Alongside policy attention and theoretical arguments for why schools need the arts (Davis, 2007; Eisner, 2002), research at the intersections of art and literacy should be called on to (re) conceptualize and (re)frame praxis-to make visible how particular kinds of learning are made possible through the arts in literacy classrooms. As children's literature author and arts advocate Michael Rosen (2014) argues, "How we teach the arts is as important as the fact we're doing it."

Thus, in this article I examine arts-based literacy pedagogy with teachers and students in an arts-based high school as one avenue to explore the possibility of placing the arts centrally in learning writ large and in English classrooms specifically.3 First, I locate a line of inquiry for arts-based teaching and learning in relation to arts integration and multiliteracies. Then, I make an argument for art as story, one way of conceiving of arts-based literacy teaching and learning that is unique to the goals of the English classroom. By drawing on notions of story as lived ways of shaping, exploring, and reconstructing human experience that are embodied across all forms of representation (hooks, 1995; Irwin, de Cosson, & Pinar, 2004; Richardson, 1997; Springgay & Irwin, 2005), I make an argument for what learning through art as story makes possible in the English classroom and consider why these possibilities are critically important today.

Arts-Based Literacies: Locating a Line of Inquiry

Because this study construes the arts broadly (i.e., not one particular art form), I draw from recent theoretical shifts that consider the arts within an epistemology that relies on the aesthetic, the imagination, and the embodiment of meaning (Abbs, 2003). I use the term the arts or art to refer to the design and representation of meaning through the six traditional arts-visual arts, drama, dance, music, film, and literature-as well as a range of hybrid forms that combine digital modes and other forms of representation.

The argument in this article can be considered alongside a body of research that assumes the inherent value of the arts (Davis, 2007; Eisner, 2002), contending that there are identifiable habits of mind that the arts teach (Eisner, 2002) and thinking dispositions that they cultivate (Tishman, Jay, & Perkins, 1993). Building on Eisner's case for art's inherent value in cultivating habits of mind, Hetland, Winner, Veenema, and Sheridan (2007) argue that particular kinds of "studio thinking" or "cognitive and attitudinal dispositions" (p. …

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