Art integration enhances student thinking

Shown is one image utilized in art integration at a recent PD I attended. The photo is entitled "The Gulf Stream" by Homer Winslow.

Shown is one image utilized in art integration at a recent PD I attended. The photo is entitled “The Gulf Stream” by Homer Winslow.

Everyone has something beautiful about them. Young children offer an innocence that is unique to their age and unfortunately outgrow as time goes on. It makes us laugh and cry tears of joy. It can even make us rekindle stories of our past that we share with greater audiences.

Then, there is the ugly side.

Everyone has one and I mean everyone. We know it exist. Sometimes it can be camouflaged at certain events, but it still lingers in you.

I admit, my ugliness comes with my over confidence…or wait…yes, arrogance. I have it, and I own it. At times in life, it has bitten me and I shake my head and wonder why I don’t know better by now.

Today, I felt the ugliness start to come out as I entered a professional development opportunity at a new teacher induction program. First, let me premise that I am not a new teacher, but I am new to my district. I feel pretty good about my craft and I am always trying to improve, but when I saw the title Arts Integration I sighed in despair. I could not stand art as a student, especially because I was not good at it. Therefore, I avoid utilizing it in classroom instruction.

Bates Middle School, Annapolis, MD — One amazing school that fully integrates art integration.

Artful Thinking

As I entered the room, the presenters immediately greeted the group and introduced the topic as well as the objectives. As a good student, I jotted down a few notes and they began to teach the teachers as they were students, which I love when presenters actually show me.

It started by closely looking at an image (shown above). An awkward 60 seconds of silence ended with a strategy or routine referred to as I See. I Think. I Wonder. In a large group we shared out what items we saw in the photo. Individuals initially sighted the major objects (i.e., sharks, broken boat, water), but as it went on the small details began to emerge. Even a “I did’t see that,” echoed from one of the participants.

As the group continued to list visuals, it began to turn creative and at that moment I was hook, line, and sinker into the session. Individuals commented on what they thought about the image. Some responses were expected “I think—sharks are hungry, he is too calm, who died (since there was speck of blood in the water—don’t worry, I didn’t notice it either at first). Some of the thoughts by the group were not in the ball park of my thinking.

Next, we brainstormed using the stem I wonder… . Again, the group continued to come up with ideas that triggered new ideas in my own mind.

Shown is the collaboration and brainstorming of the

Shown is the collaboration and brainstorming of the I See. I Think. I Wonder routine or strategy which enhances student thinking.

Close Read

Looking at the picture, was this similar to a close read? Some in the group thought deeply, but instantly I knew the answer. Of course it was a close read. Individuals were analyzing a digital or nonconventional text by analyzing what they saw (literally and figuratively), the group collaborated which brought up additional thoughts and questions, and we needed to cite what we observed (or evidence) to explain our response.

This activity was as close read as one could get.

Standards align?

Based on our activity, what essential question or standard could we hit with this activity?

Easy, a ton of them. Off the top of my head:

  • mood
  • how setting affects plot
  • point of view or perspective
  • details help understand the greater picture

Followup activity

In the new PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment, one of the writing components is narrative writing (MDCCR W.3). For example, based on the photo write the ending of the story. Easily, with the brainstorming of I See. I Think, I Wonder. students have a baseline of knowledge where they could expand on the photo. Each of the details observed can be useful in expanding it into a narrative story.

Not sold yet?

Attempt writing a personal experience from first person point of view of the man on the boat. His voice will shine through utilizing all the details discussed. Another option more towards the literary analysis side, explain how would this story be different is the setting were altered. I always tell students to change something in the setting and imagine it. For instance, change the sea to a river or make the water calm.


Teachers are the greatest thieves.

As amazing as my presenters were, they picked up this idea of art integration through a Harvard University program referred to as Project Zero. This group has sat down and developed routines which help students make connections to their regular curriculum through art. In addition, Bates Middle School (from the video above)  have created sample routines or strategies with various paintings to get teachers started in grades 4-8.

Reflective Practice

One of the greatest challenges in teaching is having students think.

Laugh, but it’s a challenge.

Repetition (which is needed at times) is very comfortable for students. The teacher says it, the students says it too, and regurgitates it for me on a test, done! This practice develops students to become thinkers as the teacher documents it (see above photos).

Gathering student minds together to collaborate is very beneficial to all students. Plus, the focus on the art allows for greater conversation to begin as students think more deeply about the task at hand (painting).

Drop the Ugly

It’s very difficult to drop preconceived notions about a topic. A person’s experience transforms their way of thinking, positively and negatively. As a teacher, I cannot turn away opportunities for student learning because I am uncomfortable with the procedure. It’s my duty to go above and beyond to do what’s right for my students.

Today, I was humbled by the expertise of my presenters and dropped that ugly face. As I continue to ripen in my education career, it’s imperative that I recall this incident of humbleness because who knows what learning opportunities I have missed for my students over the years.

Let’s not miss another one!


About briancookeducator

Husband, Daddy, teacher, #Mountaineer, coach, and aspiring school leader | Thoughts are my own.
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