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Objective or Subjective? Can the arts be assessed? June 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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By Rachael Jacobs

 As with any subject area arts education must conform to curriculum policies and procedures, including those related to assessment. In subjects such as Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts, students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments. However, the assessment of artistic work presents unique challenges, as the processes used are highly dependent on a wide range of interrelated contributions. This leads to wide speculation that the arts cannot be assessed, as all judgements are merely subjective.

 Arts learning is multifaceted in that it connects to the human experience, engages learners in imaginative and aesthetic growth, accesses technical skills and allows for vocationally orientated experiences. It is also creative and dynamic, using assessment tasks to gauge artistic responses upon the learning trajectory. It is arguable that ongoing and regular assessments are critical components of the arts classroom. Students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments, including individual and group performances, journals and logbooks, design portfolios, director folios, script development, improvisation tasks, video production, self-reflection, theatre reviews and interviews. Performance assessments in particular can be complex because of the variations between performance sites, the requirement for ensemble or group work, the nature of the ensemble or group, the access to technical equipment and the composition and reactions of any audience that might be in attendance (Oreck et al. 2003).

But these problems can be addressed through effective assessment task design. The larger issue is the perception that the formal and widespread assessment of artistic creations can result in a stifling of individual expression, imagination, creativity and originality, while not allowing for the fresh pursuit of ideas (Hanley 2003). A wide range of responses are also plausible to a particular task. Despite these challenges, system-wide assessment in the arts is achievable and necessary to establish the credibility of the field and to provide systems for identifying student achievement within the formal school curricula.

One of the biggest challenges identified by Harris (2008) is that ‘creativity’ is not easily defined and is therefore difficult to assess. Assessment in aesthetic domains also utilises personal responses to stimuli, which can be unfamiliar to those more accustomed to assessment tasks with previously defined answers. This is where the duality of objective and subjective constructs comes into play. Haynes (2008) and Ross (1993) describe traditional assessment methods, as identified by Hyde (2013), as being focussed on objectivity, whereby assessors are expected to discard their own feelings in favour of strictly set criteria in which interpretations are not required.

A focus on objective judgments is contrary to arts education, and indeed, the broader aims of education. O’Toole et al. (2009) remind us, “Knowledge and learning are of course never objective nor value-neutral, much though ultraconservative groups and politicians might wish them to be seen as such” (p. 108). Jackson (2006) justifies the validity of creative assessment tasks, arguing that “it should be possible to separate subjective judgments of creativity from judgments of technical goodness and from judgments of aesthetic appeal” (p. 169). Tomlinson (2001) argues for a healthy balance between subjective and objective judgments in order to create informed judgments on performance assessment that provide the most ‘individually sensitive, accurate and comprehensive evidence’ (p. 15) of student learning. Misson (1996) goes so far as to identify arts education as a site for the construction of subjectivity, which he argues operates at the nexus of intelligence and emotion: “thought is charged with feeling, while feeling is refined and strengthened by thought” (p. 11). In this respect, it has long been argued that subjects such as Drama teach empathy (Holland 2009; Trinder 1977). Similarly, Bolton (1984) describes Drama as a process of ‘unselfing’, which makes subjective and alternative responses a valid part of the dramatic response.

The assessor is concurrently an arts consumer, but is more active than other audience members. The ability of the assessor to capture their thoughts on the quality of work as it occurs is vital to the integrity of the assessment process. For example, during a performance, the assessor is required to make judgments about the quality of the work and physically notate their thoughts in relation to given criteria. The assessor makes cognitive links between student choices based on the assessment criteria, balancing their judgements with their own implicit criteria, which are necessarily based on their personal experiences (Baptiste 2008). While an audience member is permitted to make purely subjective judgments, the assessor aims to make informed judgments, which may result in marks or grades being recorded. Teachers in the arts develop expertise in assessing the outcome of the aesthetic process or the manifestation of the individual aesthetic experience. The product is therefore viewed from a number of perspectives and informed judgments are made by the assessor based on set criteria and personal discretionary judgements in relation to, and the quality of, what is produced (Ross 1993).

Leach et al. (2000) argue that assessors are consciously and unconsciously biased by their own values, preferences and dispositions. In this respect, personal responses from both the assessor and the student can widen the possibilities for interpretation (Ross 1993). Rather than command that assessors discard these personal responses, it is preferable for students to be taught to use individuals’ insights to reflect upon, and if necessary, make adjustments to their performances (Soep 2005). Students do not create art solely for the purpose of being assessed; rather they engage in arts education to pursue their own artistic expression. Therefore, students should be encouraged to assess feedback and apply their own artistic decisions to their work. Both students and teacher-assessors should be aware that subjective responses are natural, as they are rooted in “culturally authorised criteria” for judgment of the level of achievement (Ross 1993, p. 164). However, the assessor’s judgement is recorded in quantifiable terms such as grades or marks; therefore, the student has a heightened awareness of the assessor’s responses in the high-stakes assessment environment.

The literature suggests that subjective judgements are endemic in the arts assessment environment and can never be divorced from the process. At the same time, the ‘healthy balance’ (Tomlinson 2001, p. 15) between subjective and objective judgments are ideally what the teacher-assessor should deliver. Subjective and objective perspectives combine to create informed judgements that broaden interpretations on the students’ art. This can be somewhat challenging to those not accustomed to assessment in affective domains, using aesthetically charged mediums. Academic work is traditionally associated with rational and quantifiable modes of thinking, therefore arts educators should take care to make their language accessible and their assessment processes transparent. Arts educators’ challenge to traditional learning and assessment paradigms is also important because it broadens the educational community’s understanding of the nature of learning. Discussing the merits of creative assessment tasks is also important as it allows for the rigour and complexities of the tasks to become visible to those outside of artistic fields.

The challenges associated with arts assessment, like the arts themselves, are heavily nuanced. Teachers and students do not engage in arts assessment to have a complete and full understanding of all its nuances. They engage in the arts to experience the joy of creative expression and artistic creation, to play ‘pretend’ in a range of roles and to build a more comprehensive understanding of the human experience through an array of lenses. There is also joy within challenge; Arts performance assessment contains areas of ambiguity and subtleties that lack definitive answers. The subtleties add to the richness of the field, challenging educators to engage in meaningful discussions in order to find ways to enhance fairness and equity amid the ambiguity.

References:

Baptiste, L. (2007). Managing subjectivity in arts assessments. In: L. Quamina-Aiyejina, ed., Reconceptualising the Agenda for Education in the Caribbean, 1st ed. [online] St. Augustine: School of Education, UWI., pp.503-509. Available at: http://uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/bitstream/ handle/2139/6714/Cross-Campus%20Conference%20Proceedings%202007. pdf?sequence=1. [Accessed 17 Jul. 2012].

Bolton, G. (1984). Drama as education. Harlow, England: Longman.

Hanley, B. (2003). Policy issues in arts assessment in Canada: “Let’s get real”. Arts Education Policy Review, 105(1), pp.33-38.

Harris, J. (2008). Developing a language for assessing creativity: A taxonomy to support student learning and assessment. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 5(1), pp.http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/ fms/MRSite/psd/hr/capd/investigations/vol5/INV%205_013%20-%20Harris.pdf.

Haynes, F. (2008). What counts as a competency in the arts?. In: Australian Association for Research in Education Conference. [online] Brisbane. Available at: http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/1993/haynf93103.pdf [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016].

Holland, C. (2009). Reading and acting in the world: conversations about empathy. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(4), pp.529-544.

Hyde, D. (2013). What makes a good secondary assessment? On achieving the aims of assessment. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(13), pp.188-197.

Jackson, N. (2006). Developing creativity in higher education. London: Routledge.

Leach, L., Neutze, G. and Zepke, N. (2015). Learners’ perceptions of assessment: Tensions between philosophy and practice. Studies in the Education of Adults, 32(1), pp.107-119.

Misson, R. (1996). Dangerous lessons: sexuality issues in the drama classroom. NADIE Journal, 20, pp.11-21.

Oreck, B., Baum, S. and Owen, S. (2004). Assessment of potential theater arts talent in young people: The Development of a New Research-Based Assessment Process. Youth Theatre Journal, 18(1), pp.146-163.

O’Toole, J., Stinson, M. and Moore, T. (2009). Drama and curriculum. Dordrecht: Springer.

Ross, M. (1993). Assessing achievement in the arts. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Soep, E. (2005). Critique: Where art meets assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), pp.38-63.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). Grading for success. Educational Leadership, 58(6), pp.12-15.

Trinder, J. (1977). Drama and social development. NADIE Journal, June, pp.33-43.

 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in arts education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.  She is a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist.

 

 

 

The formulation of possible selves through music and singing April 21, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Sarah Powell

There is a range of research now surrounding the connections between music and the brain and the effect of music on learning. For example, in Australia the work of Anita Collins focuses on what happens in the brain when a person plays a musical instrument. From the UK Sounds of Intent is a project that investigated musical development in children with learning difficulties and subsequently produced resources to support educators.

The work of Kate Stevens, Peter Keller and Barbara Tillman from UWS, and Gary McPherson from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, demonstrates the significant research being undertaken in the area of music and neuroscience. In addition, the recent contribution to this blog from Associate Professor Sue Roffey highlights the reduced emphasis on creativity, critical thinking skills and well being in the new curriculum. Research demonstrates that music (and other arts) has a definite impact on the brain, on learning, on memory, on well being and in the case of my research, identity.

I came from a different perspective in my doctoral research. Rather than using numbers to justify the impact of music and singing, I asked individuals to share their personal stories and because of other research themes (masculinity, success) I focused on males who sang in choirs. So I set out with a different agenda to that of the neuroscience underpinning the research identified above and despite my different angle, it became abundantly clear that music and singing has a profound effect on the identity of an individual.

With this is mind I considered the role of identity from the perspective of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Possible selves are the formulations or descriptions of a future self or selves. They represent desired, expected, or feared future selves, and sometimes a combination of these. The theory argues that a person’s present or current self is not simply defined by their past, but by their perceptions of the future as well.

Possible selves have been described as what a person wants to become, what they expect to become, or what they want to avoid or fear becoming (Cross & Markus, 1994; Freer, 2009, 2010; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Sica, 2009). The past is remembered as positive or negative experiences and whilst these experiences shape the future they do not determine or restrict it. Whilst past experiences cannot be revisited in a physical sense, the associations that are retained as memories remain potent and regulate a person’s desire to pursue or avoid a perceived end point. Strahan and Wilson (2006) suggest that it is not simply the memory of an event or circumstance that has influence. Rather, it is “how the past was recalled” (p.4).

Amongst other things, participants in my research were asked about their past experience of music, particularly during their school years. All were currently involved in music in various capacities and planned to continue in this way or develop their involvement further, and they all described positive school experiences. They identified music and singing as a normal part of their life at home. They had parents and grandparents who enjoyed singing, playing musical instruments or listening to music.

Participants reported enjoying classroom music at school and having numerous opportunities to be in the band or the choir, and many received instrumental tuition at school. Interestingly many participants attributed their present path to their past and their subsequent aspirations for the future. The sense of music and singing being part of the individual was strong:

Singing is quite an intimate thing. You’re revealing a lot about who you are in a sense (Secondary School Choir, Year 12 student).

This attitude was coupled with a very strong enjoyment of singing, communicated by all participants in some way:

I love singing, it’s my favourite thing to do, anywhere any time (Junior School Choir, Year 5 student).

Without question, the ability to produce some beautiful sounds in performance is rewarding, emotionally satisfying (Community Choir, male aged 50+).

The research demonstrated that the identity of these participants was built on family background and traditions, grounding them in something bigger than themselves but still intimately connected. It contributed to self-confidence and healthy self-perception in the here-and-now and it provided an outlet for personal expression and spirituality. It provided purpose and direction for the future, offering choices and opportunities for career and pleasure. It also gave them meaningful spaces to work collaboratively and creatively and to develop deep friendships.

Not only is neuroscience proving that music impacts the brain and learning in positive ways, but people are revealing that music and singing is an integral part of how they define themselves. It has significant ramifications for the formation of identity as well as personal well being and must be part of a child’s education. I will conclude by mentioning the work of Sir Richard Gill who continues to advocate the necessity of providing quality music education to every child, arguing that the impact of arts education is broader than simply teaching music:

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition (Richard Gill’s Blog, 2011).

References:

Cross, S. E. & Markus, H. R. (1994). Self-schemas, possible selves, and competent performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 423-438. DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.86.3.423

Freer, P. K. (2009). ‘I’ll sing with my buddies’ – Fostering the possible selves of male choral singers. International Journal of Music Education, 27(4), 341-355. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409345918

Freer, P. K. (2010). Two decades of research on possible selves and the ‘missing males’ problem in choral music. International Journal of Music Education, 28(1), 17-30. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409351341

Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.41.9.954

Sica, L. S. (2009). Adolescents in different contexts: The exploration of identity through possible selves. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(3), 221-252.

Strahan, E. J. & Wilson, E. (2006). Temporal comparisons, identity, and motivation: The relation between past, present, and possible future selves. In C. Dunkel & J. Kerpelman, Possible selves: Theory, research and application (pp.1-15). New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

 

Sarah Powell is Education Content Manager at Musica Viva Australia. She is also a sessional academic in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, and a UWS doctoral candidate whose thesis is currently under examination.

Place, curriculum and the arts May 5, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Early Childhood Education, Education and the Environment, Social Ecology.
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from Dr Kumara Ward

There has been much commentary in this blog (Gray 2012; Malone 2012) and in other publications (Seed, Macy, Fleming &  Naess 1988; White 2004; Louv 2006; Ward 2011) about the importance of children developing a connection with the natural environment, and in particular their local natural environment, in order to develop a sense of belonging in place and a disposition toward stewardship for the environment. This is seen as essential if we are to develop new ways of interacting with and managing our planet as a finite resource and as our only home. The urgency for sustainability education is evident in educational curricula for all ages across Australia. It is a cross-curriculum priority in the Draft Australian Curriculum documents (ACARA 2010) and recommended as embedded practice in daily routines and curriculum in Outcome 2 of the Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR 2009). The quality assurance process in the early childhood sector also highlights embedded sustainability education for young children in Quality Standard 3 (DEEWR 2010). The question considered here is, how do we best do this when working with young children?

This discussion draws on the findings of my PhD research (Ward 2011) and suggests that arts-based pedagogies can play a key role in expressing daily content about the natural world through music, drama, dance and the visual arts. We know that the arts engage multiple intelligences (Gardner 1995), encourage lateral thinking, problem solving, integration of concepts, aesthetic and creative development and comprehension on many levels of being and understanding (Russell-Bowie 2009; Wright 2012). What needs to be added to support children’s learning about nature is a deliberate injection of content (Cutter-Mackenzie &  Edwards 2006) and intentional teaching through arts-based pedagogies in which the focus is on the local natural environment (Ward 2011). Content introduced through the arts cannot replace actual experiences in the natural world but does help to interpret and extend children’s experiences of nature and weave the understandings they gain from their in situ experiences in the natural world into their everyday knowing about their place and their community. It is time that the arts were dusted off to become key elements of pedagogy for young children, particularly for education for sustainability.

In the early childhood field, what started out as environmental education in the 1980s, has evolved and become known as early childhood education for sustainability or ECEfS (Davis 2010). ECEfS is a term that encapsulates notions of connection to the natural world through first-hand experience, awareness of sustainability practices, management and design, advocacy and agency. In a practical sense, this often means gardening, worm farms, composting and cooking and perhaps even building design, landscaping and management practices but overall the uptake of ECEfS in Australia is limited (Elliott 2009). There is, in Australia and internationally, an emerging interpretation of ECEfS that emphasises the first hand experiences children have in the natural world and it is often called ‘nature education’.  In this interpretation of practice, the extent of time in the natural world can vary greatly and at its most basic may mean a couple hours per term in wild or unstructured environments. At its extreme it involves children spending all or at least a substantial period of time in wild or unstructured places. Whatever the case, it is the first hand experience that is paramount and the environment that is the teacher. The content of the experiences in the environment become the foundations for learning in many domains, in addition to the embodied, affective and physical experience (Warden 2005).

Early childhood settings and primary schools in Australia are by their nature not inclined to adventurous, unstructured or wild outdoor spaces (Walsh 2008; Little 2010). There are some exemplary settings, despite the majority tendency to build outdoor spaces according to minimum global requirements for space and the perceived need for amelioration of risk (Malone 2007; Little 2010). While many educators who are committed to providing opportunities for children to experience nature do their best to transform their environments so there are green and/or unstructured elements, there are invariably constraints related to budgets and resources. Arts based pedagogies can play a substantial role in assisting educators to interpret and deepen children’s understandings of the natural world and their understanding of place in their local community.

Connection with nature is often cited as an aim of nature education and of ECEfS (White &  Stoecklin 2008; Davis 2010; Wilson 2010; Ward 2011; Warden 2012), as an end in itself and as a precursor to developing dispositions toward sustainable living and stewardship. Pedagogies of place (Orr 2005; Sobel 2005; Somerville 2012) discuss the role that place has in the forming of identity and the sense of belonging to place. Ecopsychological (Roszak 2001) practice or practice aimed at ecoliteracy (Capra 1999) also promote connection to place in order to understand and feel connected to the natural world in a manner that supports psychological well-being and sustainable living. The common element is the connection with nature.

The nature of this connection can perhaps best be evoked by reflecting on our own embodied experience in natural environments and the multi-textured and layered sensorial encounters that can be part of a simple walk through the forest, a swim in a local stream or a daydream lying in a grass meadow. These sensorial experiences, while physically embodied, are filtered through the child’s metacognitive schema and become additional ways of knowing and understanding the world. They can be further explored, relived and reinterpreted through scaffolded creative arts experiences. For example, educators can assist children to recreate the movement of the water, clouds or grass in the meadow through dance and drama, to draw elements of the experiences and to create simple songs that reflect them.

An appreciation for the beauty of the natural world is also often cited as a worthy attribute to encourage in children (Seed et al. 1988; Capra 1999; Sherwood 2006; Wilson 2010). The emotional connection that arises through fascination, awe and wonder, whether it be at the markings on a beetle or a breathtaking grand landscape scene, are also types of knowing and knowledge according to Wilson (2010 p. 8) who describes wonder as ‘an emotion wedded to understanding based on intuition and natural instinct’.  Aesthetic appreciation is also a key feature of experience in the natural world (Capra 1999) with unlimited combinations of form, colour, shape, movement, pattern, sound and texture, all of which lend themselves to specific creative experiences that will resonate with children because they reflect their experience on a deep experiential level.

The various modes of the creative arts are innately reflective of the sounds, sights, smells, textures and colours of the natural world. They can evoke emotional, intellectual, creative and physical understandings and deepen knowledge. It is time we embraced them in our pedagogies.

References

ACARA (2010). Draft K*- 12 Australian Curriculum in Engish, History, Mathematics and Science, 2010, Australian Curriculum Assssment and Reporting Authority, On line, http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Home.

Capra, F. (1999). Ecoliteracy: The Challenge for Education in the Next Century, Centre for Ecoliteracy, Liverpool CA, Schumacher Lecture Series.

Cutter-Mackenzie, A. & Edwards, S. (2006). “Everyday Environmental Education Experiences: The Role of Content in Early Childhood Education”, Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Vol. 22, No. 2,  pp. 13-19.

Davis, J., M (2010). ‘What is Early Childhood Education for Sustainability’. In J. M. Davis, (Ed.), Young Children and Environment: Early Education for Sustainability, , Sydney, Cambridge University Press, pp. 21-42.

DEEWR (2009). The Early Years Learning Framework: Belonging, Being & Becoming, Council of Australian Governments, Canbera.

DEEWR (2010). National Quality Standard for Early Childhood Education and Care and School Age Care., 2010, Australian Government, ACT.

Elliott, S., & Davis, J. (2009). “Exploring the Resistance: An Australian Perspective on Educating for Sustainability in Early Childhood.”, International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2,  pp. 65-77.  Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/194778948?accountid=36155

Gardner, H. (1995). The Unschooled Mind: How Children Learn and How Schools Should Teach, Basic Books, New York.

Gray, T. (2012). Vitamin N: The Missing Ingredienty in the 21st Century: Learning in the 21st Century, S. Wilson, 15/07/2012. University of Western Sydney, Milperra, Accessed 17/01/2013, http://https://learning21c.wordpress.com/?s=Vitamin+N&searchbutton=go!

Little, H. (2010). Finding the Balance: Early Childhood Practitioners’ Views on Risk, Challenge and Safety in Outdoor Play Settings: Australian Association for Research in Education Conference (28 November – 2 December 2010), Australia : Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Melbourne, accessed 12/12/12 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/153913.

Louv, R. (2006). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill.

Malone, K. (2007). “The Bubble-Wrap Generation: Children Growing Up in Walled Gardens”, Environmental Education Research, Vol. 13, No. 4, September 2007,  pp. 513-527.

Malone, K. (2012). Place-based Pedagogies in Early Childhood and Primary School Settings: Can They Make a Contribution to Community Sustainability?: Learning in the 21st Century, S. Wilson, 02/12/12, University of Western Sydney, Milperra, Accessed 17 January 2012, http://https://learning21c.wordpress.com/?s=Vitamin+N&searchbutton=go!

Orr, D. W. (2005). ‘Place and Pedagogy’. In M. Stone and Z. Barlow, (Eds.), Ecological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World, San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, pp. 85-95.

Roszak, T. (2001). The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopyschology, 2nd Ed, Phanes Press Inc, Grand Rapids MI.

Russell-Bowie, D. (2009). MMADD About the Arts: An introduction to Creative Arts Education, 2nd, Pearson Prentice Hall, Sydney.

Seed, J., Macy, J., Fleming, P. & Naess, A. (1988). Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings, New Society Publishers. Philadelphia, USA.

Sherwood, P. (2006). Soul Education: Inspiring a New Passion for Sustainable Learning: Sharing Wisdom for Our Future: Environmental Education in Action, 3-6 October 2006, Australian Association for Environmental Education, Sydney, Bunbury, Western Australia.

Sobel, D. (2005). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities, Nature Literacy Series, The Orion Society, Great Barring MA.

Somerville, M. (2012). ‘The Critical Power of Place’. In G. S. Cannella and S. Steinberg, (Eds.), Critical Qualitative Research Reader, New York, Peter Lang, pp. 67-81.

Walsh, P. (2008). “Stemming the Decline in Playground Activity”, Educating Young Children – Learning and Teaching in the Early Childhood Years, Vol. 14, No. 1,  pp. 31-37.

Ward, K. (2011). The Living Curriculum: A Natural Wonder: Enhancing the Ways in Which Early Childhood Educators Scaffold Young Children’s Learning About the Environment by Using Self-Generated Creative Arts Experiences as a Core Component of the Early Childhood Program, College of Arts: Social Justice Social Change Research Group, Sydney, University of Western Sydney, Doctor of Philosophy.

Warden, C. (2005). The Potential of a Puddle, Mindstretchers, Auchterarder, Perthshire.

Warden, C. (2012). Nurture Through Nature: Working with Children Under 3 in Outdoor Environments 2nd, Mindstretchers, Auctherader, Scotland.

White, R., (2004). Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development and the Earth’s Future, [online] at http://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/childrennature.shtml. Updated 23/1/2010: accessed 11/3/2010

White, R. & Stoecklin, V., L., (2008). Nurturing Children’s Biophillia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children, [online] at http://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/nurturing.shtml. Updated 9/11/2008: accessed 27/5/2010

Wilson, R. (2010). “Aesthetics and a Sense of Wonder”, ChildCare Exchange, Vol. May/June, No. pp. 27-27.

Wilson, R. (2010). Wonder: The Wisdom of Nature: Out My Back Door, Nature Action Collaborative for Children and Community Playthings, Washington, USA, August: pp. 8-9.

Wright, S. (2012). Children, Meaning-Making and the Arts, Pearson, Frenchs Forest.

 

Dr Kumara Ward is a lecturer in Early Childhood Education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

Once we were students… May 20, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Sarah Powell

“Get back here now!”

I keep walking.

“Get back here, Sarah!”

I’ve left the classroom.

“Get back here now, or you’ll be on detention for the rest of your life.”

How did this start?

Doesn’t actually matter.

The thrown pencil case; sitting at the wrong desk; wearing the wrong shoes; refusing to put my poster on the wall; speaking out of turn; arguing; questioning everything; but all the time the boredom.

I simply didn’t matter. I dared to challenge their authority and that had to be quashed (yes, ‘squashed’ without the ‘s’). I was just a kid. Not a real person yet.

“I have to see her next lesson, and you’re telling me, that’s all I’ll have to do and she’ll respond?”

“Yes. Trust me.” My loyal mother.

“Sarah. I know we’ve got off to a pretty bad start, and I’d like to say “sorry” for the part I’ve played. I don’t care who said what or who was right and who was wrong. I’d like to start all over again. Wipe the slate clean as it were. What do you think?”

“Yeah, okay.”

From that moment, school was different. I became human, significant. He saw me as a person in my own right and for a short time we would be travelling the same road. I reminded him of this story just the other day, now 20 years on. He was my Music teacher and whilst he didn’t solve all my troubles with other teachers, he tapped into my passion for music and singing, and that made everything else bearable. This was not just about the fact that he was a caring, passionate teacher. He understood, more than most, that there’s a key that unlocks every child.

This is the heart of Significance.

Significance is one of three interrelated dimensions that form the NSW Quality Teaching Framework (2003). According to this framework, learning should be meaningful and accessible to all students, by providing experiences that “draw[s] clear connections with students’ prior knowledge and identities, with contexts outside of the classroom, and with multiple ways of knowing or cultural perspectives” (p.9). It begins with recognising that every student is an individual, with individual expressions of culture and personality; individual social standing and understanding; individual personal histories; individual capacities; and individual identities.

Possible Selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Freer, 2009, 2010; Sica, 2009; Cross & Markus, 1994) is a way of considering the formation of identity, and in the school context this is a particularly important and vulnerable time for the adolescent. As an aspect of self-concept or self-definition, Possible Selves define an individual’s future self, in terms of what they would like to be in the future, their ideal. This future self, a possible self, is generally defined in one of three ways: what a person wants to become, what they expect to become, and what they want to avoid or fear becoming. Cross and Markus (1994) suggest that Possible Selves bridge the gap between present self and future self. They are a way of organising the beliefs and actions of an individual in order to achieve a particular, desired outcome. According to Markus and Nurius (1986) Possible Selves inspire direction, modify behaviour, and are discrete representations of experiences and personality. The adolescent identity is not yet fixed or definite and therefore, it is essential to provide authentic, positive and meaningful learning, so that students can have access to a range of opportunities and possibilities, allowing them to confidently make choices about what they want to do, can do, who they are, and what they want to be. This, again, is at the heart of the NSW Quality Teaching Framework’s notion of Significance. In essence, if I have a good experience of something in the present, I am more likely to pursue it in the future. The opposite is also true.

My own experience has been that one teacher took the time and trouble to recognise me as an individual and connect my learning to my personal context. This meant that in the uncertainty of adolescent identity, and in the midst of all sorts of negative messages from other teachers, I chose to follow one possible and positive self. This choice has since opened up a world of possibilities.

Once we were all students… and yes, it was a battle.

References:  Cross, S. E. & Markus, H. R. (1994). Self-schemas, possible selves, and competent performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 423-438.    Freer, P. K. (2009). ‘I’ll sing with my buddies’ – Fostering the possible selves of male choral singers. International Journal of Music Education, 27(4), 341-355.   Freer, P. K. (2010). Two decades of research on possible selves and the ‘missing males’ problem in choral music. International Journal of Music Education, 28(1), 17-30.    Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969.    NSW Department of Education and Training (DET). (2003). Quality teaching in NSW public schools. Discussion paper. Sydney, NSW: Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate.    Sica, L. S. (2009). Adolescents in different contexts: The exploration of identity through possible selves. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(3), 221-252.

Sarah Powell is a doctoral student in the Centre for Educational Research in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is undertaking her PhD in music education and is also a sessional academic who teaches into our Master of Teaching (Secondary) initial teacher education program at UWS. Sarah is passionate about the need for teachers to understand and respect their students, and is the first of our postgraduate students to contribute to 21st Century Learning.

Why quality arts programs are essential in our schools January 23, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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3 comments

from Associate Professor Deirdre Russell-Bowie

 In her first post, Dr Russell-Bowie points out the many benefits of maintaining good creative arts programs in schools, and argues that an engagement in the arts leads to better levels of academic achievement and affective learning outcomes for young people.

 

Teaching the arts every day in the core curriculum of primary schools is the single, most powerful tool presently available to educators to motivate students, enhance learning and develop higher order thinking skills, (Oddliefson, 1994) 

One of my students came back from her professional experience placement in a school and informed me that, when she asked about teaching her creative arts lessons, her teacher had said, “We don’t teach creative arts, we teach NAPLAN!” What a tragedy! Children learn in so many different ways and the arts are a proven way to engage children across the curriculum and enhance their learning.

However, teaching the arts can be noisy, messy, time consuming, resource intensive, and at times, daunting. But teachers who are involved regularly in arts lessons indicate that the outcomes and changes in their children are so important that the positives significantly outweigh these challenges.

The Australian Council for Educational Research investigated the impact of quality arts programs on the academic progress of students, their engagement with learning and their school attendance. Their findings indicated that through involvement in arts programs, children’s potential to engage in learning was enhanced and their self-esteem increased as they began to feel more self-confident. In addition, they found this arts-related growth in self-esteem was of particular significance when children came from dysfunctional and/or disadvantaged backgrounds. Throughout the arts programs, children were also observed to have developed their social, communication, team work and self-expression skills, indicating that when arts programs happen inside the classroom, significant and varied outcomes are achieved. This confirms the research over many years, as well as what many teachers have known, that sustained engagement in quality arts programs can enhance children’s:

Academic achievement

Respect for self and others

Training and life skills

Self-expression.

Academic achievement

Involvement in the arts can help children actively engage in learning, understand the concepts being taught, develop deep understandings in whatever subject is being taught, and to express their understandings in different ways. Regular involvement in the arts develops the higher order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation, as well as critical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Research also indicates that sustained quality engagement in the arts enhances children’s literacy and numeracy skills, especially those children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Respect for themselves and others

Through involvement in quality arts programs, children are able to connect and empathise with others as they understand and appreciate their cultures, traditions and symbols. The arts are a way of changing children’s perceptions and stereotypes of people who are different from them as they are exposed to different societies and cultures through their arts. They learn to respect and appreciate the differences and become more tolerant of other people, as well as accepting and respecting their own culture.

Training and Life skills

Australian reports into employability of young people suggest that to succeed in the workplace in the 21st century, young people need to be able to collect, analyse and organise information, communicate ideas and information, plan and organise activities, work with others in a team, use mathematical ideas and techniques, solve problems and use technology. Within a quality arts program each of these skills is developed and so, by involvement in the arts, children, as tomorrow’s leaders, are being comprehensively prepared for the competitive and creative arena of the world of work.

Self-Expression

Through self-expression in the arts, children learn focus, self-discipline, innovation, creativity and emotional expression as well as verbal and non-verbal communication skills. They learn to use a variety of media to express themselves and communicate using multi-literacies. They learn to use movements, symbols, visuals and sounds as well as words to convey meaning. They learn to get in touch with their own feelings and those of others. When they create or observe a work of art they respond emotionally, they feel good about themselves, and they learn that there is more to life than what can be assessed by quantitative measures.

A quality arts program is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can give to their children – don’t deprive them of this precious gift for any reason!

Reference:  Oddliefson, E. (1994). What do we want our schools to do? Phi Delta Kappan, 75(5), 446-453.

Deirdre Russell-Bowie is an Associate Professor in Arts Education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is the author of the popular book on arts education in primary schools, MMADD about the Arts: An introduction to primary arts education, which has recently been published in a new edition.

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