Reflections on Aesthetic Teaching

By Sotiropoulou-Zormpala, Marina | Art Education, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Aesthetic Teaching


Sotiropoulou-Zormpala, Marina, Art Education


This article examines how it is possible to use the aesthetic process to enrich teaching practices in preschool and elementary school education. What is under scrutiny is the aesthetic dimension of a core curricular subject, the ultimate goal being to achieve an understanding of curricular content through aesthetic learning processes. For this purpose, I am advocating an approach that I call aesthetic teaching (AT), a term mentioned in very recent relevant literature by three authors in particular. First, Pike (2004) presents ATasa"social enterprise"diametrically opposed to diagrammatic knowing achieved through traditional teaching methods, during which "the teacher takes part with the students in the creation of aesthetic response" (p. 31). Macintyre Latta (2004) has a broader approach to AT, focusing on the ways teachers can create experiences through which students can participate aesthetically in the world. The third author, Granger (2006), based on the pedagogical implications of Dewey's book, Artas Experience (1934), defines the term AT as the meaningful application of aesthetics in education.

Based on these perspectives, I became interested in how AT can be practiced in school. It is vital, because if the pedagogic community can understand new ways of combining teaching practices with aesthetic learning activities, then significant new approaches might begin to shape Preschool and Elementary Education. When I refer to applying AT in school, I mean it as a two-way process: the aesthetic media (mainly the arts) should consist of ways in which pupils can approach the core curricular subject through their senses, emotions, and intellect; at the same time, these subjects should become springboards for learners' aesthetic involvement. With this in mind, I am investigating the aesthetic practices that could be incorporated in the teaching process of any subject in school, in order to give students opportunities to use the aesthetic media as a framework to conceive of and represent knowledge.

I designed theatrical, musical, visual art, and movement activities that could be incorporated in the teaching of language arts, and tested them in a preschool and first grade classroom. I used aesthetic activities to teach children the letters of the alphabet. What interested me further was whether the AT activities designed to teach letters could activate new ways of thinking about this subject, such as ways that are not necessarily limited by the frontiers of logic and language.

Besides the studies mentioned above, the recent scholarship on arts integration provides another theoretical basis for this study. Broudy (1994) was among the first to note the cognitive significance of imagination, claiming that the aesthetic scanning of the environment has a positive impact on cognition. Eisner (1998, 2002) highlighted the importance of diversity in forms of representation. Indeed, he regarded the arts as processes by which one could gain a deeper understanding of the world. Gardner (1993) developed the theory of multiple intelligences and struck a blow against a rigid educational system mat teaches all students the "same stuif in the same way" (Gardner, 1999, p. 1). According to Gardner, teaching must not exclusively focus on logical (detection of patterns, understanding relations, and me production of rational thought) and linguistic (use of various aspects of language) perception. Rather, it should aim to cultivate other forms of thought, such as musical (related to sounds), spatial (related to mental images), bodily-kinesthetic (related to movement control), interpersonal (understanding other peoples feelings and intentions), and intrapersonal (self-knowledge, as well as understanding ones own feelings and motives).

Additional research (Bresler, 2007; Burton, Horowitz & Abeles, 1999; Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999; Rooney, 2004; Stevenson, 2006) reveals the relationship between the use of artistic activities and linguistic development - the topic investigated in Ulis study. …

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