Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here.
Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Isiah Wright, a teacher in California specializing in arts and creativity.
Tell me more about the arts and creativity initiative? What does it entail?
“Every year the department of education gives out grants for arts in education. These grants are meant to supply teachers with the knowledge and supplies necessary to integrate art into classrooms. I don’t mean like a single subject teacher that teaches art either. I mean multiple subjects K-8 and getting creativity to stay with our children and even fostering it. In the grant program that I’m a part of they have taught us many things but one of the first things is about increasing engagement and asking the right questions. We go through training employing VTS or visual thinking strategy, which turned my classroom from 5 or 6 of the same kids answering everything to building the confidence of every single child in the room so that they might try to answer also. Seriously since I started using this strategy, I can get in the ’90s for student participation and engagement. That’s %, it truly is a thing to behold. They teach us great skills in hands-on art as well. Something that I had never used was oil pastels, they taught me the proper way to use and teach their use. We went through training on collaboration in school. Believe it or not, most students don’t know how to work together. Teaching them to look past their short-sighted need to get what they want every time is difficult but essential to making well-rounded adults and it is one of my favorite things to teach them. My class in general is centered around this overarching statement: Contradictory elements can and should co-exist.”
Why do you feel like arts are so important to the education of our students?
“Teaching art appreciation does more than just look at pretty pictures. Observational skills, thinking critically, attention to detail, and respectful discussion are all elements of appreciating art. Guess what? Those are all also the key elements to Common Core. I am drawing a blank on who said it but at one of my training, someone was quoted saying “If you’re not teaching art you’re not teaching the whole kid ” I think this statement is dead-on, and the age I teach it makes teaching them easier if I integrate art into every lesson I can. I have even taken up sketchnoting science and social studies because of this training. Sketch noting is an amazing way for students to remember what they are being taught. Some studies I have seen put students being able to remember 6x more information when they are just writing traditional notes instead of blending words with pictures”
How do you incorporate art into your core curriculum?
“Art is everywhere and in every subject. If you think of how an NGSS (next generation science standards) lesson starts with an anchoring phenomenon, I teach every lesson I can with that basic format but usually using art in its place. We hold class talks, starting with art but eventually branching out to math, ELA, science, social studies, and everything else. Let me tell you how a lesson I just finished looks.”
“We look at a few pieces of art from a book, this book I’m talking about is called Blockhead, which is the life of Fibonacci. as we look at some of the pages of art we hold an art talk on 5 or so pictures from all over the book. This helps because everyone wants to participate in the art talk. This will also help when I go back and read the book because students will be looking for the pages they spoke on earlier. As I stop to discuss the reading periodically students remain engaged because they bought in at the beginning. We move into a fun patterns lesson using some kids ciphers that I loved as a child. Which could go on for multiple lessons and I love to end patterns with art from nature. That is a wonderful lesson where students create art from anything and everything, depending on what lesson I employ this, kids can make a paintbrush from random things, or collect and place colorful rocks or leaves. Art from nature truly is a universal assignment that I can end many units with. My goal is always increasing student engagement and understanding of core content through arts integration and I feel like I get that every time I integrate art into my lessons”
If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?
“It really depends on the age. My kids in the upper elementary school range The Blue Witch by Alane Adams never disappoints. She is such an amazing advocate of literacy and does tons for kids in need. Most important though is it is a book that students actually want to read. I read the introduction of Odin riding Slipnir to collect a young witching and they are instantly hooked and relate to the female lead or her brainy male sidekick. If we are talking about my personal children’s age, say 5 and under The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith. I have read it well over 200 times to thousands of kids. I have it down to a science you could say, refining my abilities over the last 8 years or so.”
How has Twitter helped and influenced you as a teacher?
“Teacher twitter is beyond the most helpful thing ever. Thousands of teachers on standby to help at a moment’s notice. Even if that help is just as simple as liking a “rough day” post. I have taken some of the best ideas in my classroom from a Twitter teacher’s bragging posts. You know what? My classroom is better because of Twitter.”
How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen come from it?
“I’m an elected official so student’s voices and civics are very often at the forefront of my class. My kids’ collective wisdom is greater than my own and I recognize that. It is my belief that students have tons to teach us. I may be the most educated person in the room but their collective years of individual experience are powerful. I use that to my advantage as often as I possibly can. Every now and then we way in on current political problems and generate multiple answers to questions that adults can’t seem to figure out. Last year we had our writing prompt about solving the homeless issue in our community put in the newspaper. The kids were so excited and loved seeing their words published for all to see.”
Thanks, Isiah for your insight! He had some great thoughts on creativity and using art in the classroom.