Infusing Arts-Based Education Into Learning
By Stacy Stackhouse
The most common statement I hear after an adult visits my third grade Interactive Humanities (IH): Ancient Empires class is “I wish I had learned this way!” At AIM Academy, we know that our students with language-based learning differences need to learn “this way.” We’re teaching about a historical time period in an engaging, immersive way through drawing, painting, literature, architecture, philosophy, religion, theater, music and games.
I love teaching at AIM because I teach history through the human experience with a focus on art. For my students, learning “this way” means that they develop important background knowledge to support their literacy skills through a teaching model tailored to the ways they learn best.
My students arrive at the classroom door each day with excitement and calls of “Hello, Queen Cleopatra!” When I teach about ancient empires, I take on the persona
of Queen Cleopatra as we learn about ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. When students arrive at the temple (our classroom) each day, they say our weekly password with hand gestures and take on
the character of their chosen god or goddess as they cross the threshold.
The world created in our temple fosters curiosity. The dramatic play of being a mortal outside of the classroom, and an immortal inside the classroom, heightens students’ interests in learning more about themselves in the ancient world. Comprehension and learning is strengthened as they build memories and connections to their characters’ role in this unique moment in time.
The variety of IH art projects and hands-on activities supports student learning using a multisensory approach that includes visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. For example, we illustrate the story of Hades, Persephone and Demeter on our Season Wheels with markers and pencils and practice sequential retelling. By using multiple media not only for art but also for sharing history
and language, I can create a learning experience about a particular time period and make the moment stick in an enduring way.
So many times teachers hear the following from parents: “My child hated their last school.” “My child was bullied.” “She felt she wasn’t smart.” After parents and students experience AIM, they instead report, “His confidence is soaring.” “She is picking up books to read on her own.” “He tells me all about what he is working on in IH on the ride home.”
These educational successes all tie back to matching teaching methods to students’ needs and interests. Research shows that students with language-based learning differences like dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia are often unsuccessful in traditional classrooms. Infusing arts-based education into learning, supported by systematic, research-based literacy instruction, helps AIM students flourish intellectually and socio-emotionally.
Athena*, a student in my class with dyslexia, finds writing and reading tasks challenging and stress-inducing, but she loves sculpting and painting. As we learn about Poseidon and the importance of his trident, Athena sculpts a trident from cardboard and aluminum foil instead of only reading about it and filling out a worksheet. Each day she comes to class and hears stories about Poseidon before continuing to sculpt, paint or add seashells and pearls to her creation. She participates in lively class discussions, identifies character traits and story elements and compares and contrasts Poseidon to other gods and goddesses.
Someday she will be one of my former students who stops me in the hall to tell me that her trident is still hanging in her room. When she asks, “Do you remember how Hephaestus made Poseidon’s trident for him?” I will know that learning “this way” is her secret to success.
Stacy Stackhouse (MAT, BFA) is an Interactive Humanities and art teacher at AIM Academy in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. By presenting varying media and art forms for students to experiment with, Stackhouse is able to show her students that they are all unique artists. Learn more about AIM Academy by visiting aimpa.org.
*Athena’s name has been changed to protect her identity.