Kids solve problems through artJAMESTOWN, N.D. - School Artist Learning Team members say a program that uses art to teach problem-solving skills is achieving what it set out to do as it enters its third year.
By: Toni Pirkl The Jamestown Sun, Worthington Daily Globe
JAMESTOWN, N.D. - School Artist Learning Team members say a program that uses art to teach problem-solving skills is achieving what it set out to do as it enters its third year.
Although there’s no definitive way to measure its success, Marlene Langbehn, fourth-grade teacher at Gussner Elementary School, said “it’s a fantastic program.”
“I wish we could incorporate more art in the classroom,” she said. “It’s such an enhancement to learning.”
Langbehn and fellow teacher Tricia Gaffaney have participated in the SALT program since it began at Gussner in 2006-2007 school year. Until this year, both taught fourth-grade classes. However, this year there’s only one fourth grade, so Gaffaney is teaching a third-grade class. Those students have been included the program.
The artist portion of the team is provided through the Arts Center, with staff member Bonnie Tressler acting as SALT coordinator. Bill and Mary Kay Kennedy spend eight weeks in the classroom teaching writing and communication skills. Put simply, students write a story that includes a problem and a solution.
But it’s much more than that.
“It gives kids a chance to use their imagination,” Langbehn said. “It takes them to a whole different place.”
Langbehn said her students bloom in the program, especially those who are reluctant, shy or uncomfortable in a group. They may start out that way, she said, but by the end of the program, they’re sharing stories, helping other students solve story problems and getting into their own.
“You see so much growth in them and it teaches so many things,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Once their stories are written, it’s time to make books to hold them. Tressler teaches the eight-week class and said bookmaking incorporates not just problem-solving skills, but math and engineering. This year, the book will include some pop-up pages that take even more math skills.
“There’s a lot of angle and precision work, mitering, measuring and following steps,” she said. “We’re trying to get as much math in there as we can.”
It’s a different way to apply math concepts. One student Tressler had, for example, had great difficulty sitting still until the class got into the bookmaking. She said he was focused and worked quietly on his book.
“The students see where math is used outside a math classroom and use the skills,” Langbehn said.
Gussner Principal Pete Carvell said the SALT program has a positive effect on student achievement, even if it’s not measurable. It does, however, address state standards.
“For one thing you have better and more organized writers,” Carvell said. “Plus, there’s the inter-relationships of different content areas — math and art, writing and art.”
There’s also a lot of reflection. Students reflect on what they’re doing, Tressler said, so they can improve and learn from their mistakes.
“We assume that every child can learn, that there’s a way for everyone to learn,” she said.
SALT isn’t just a one-way partnership. As well as integrating arts into all subject areas in the classroom, it’s enhanced the Arts Center’s artist-in-residence program, Tressler said. When the artist-in-residence program began in 1983, there was a one-week residency. Now, artists spend 32 weeks in schools and a committee of teachers, administrators and Arts Center staff called Local Education and Arts Partnership, coordinates the two areas. SALT has added another angle.
“The biggest change for us is that we’ve taken what we’ve learned in SALT and are implementing that in everything we do at the Arts Center,” Tressler said.
There are state standards in the visual arts for education and it’s those the Arts Center is applying to its in-school and on-site classes for children. In other words, the artist-in-residence and arts education programs are becoming standards based.
“SALT has been a learning experience for both artist and teacher,” Tressler said.