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September 10, 2018
by: Ted Hamm

National Arts in Education Week: The Arts at Étude

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As I write this blog, I am surrounded by the sounds of students creating music, the sight of students creating their own dances, and drama students working through their own scripts and improv pieces. At first look, it is a bit chaotic, but after further observation, it is productive chaos. Each student is engaged in doing something; not tacitly learning, but involved in thoughtful dialogue with other students and teachers. The arts inherently do this. The arts engage a child in a holistic approach to learning unlike other subjects. This is why the arts are core to what we do at the schools of the Étude Group. As we kick off National Arts Education Week I want to use this week to share with you the transformative impact the arts have played within our schools.

Our schools are founded on a mission to have young people engage creatively, think critically, and build a strong human connection. We believe that these skills are crucial to our young people becoming productive citizens as they reach adulthood. To this end, we teach the arts with creating as the end point; this what people see, but it is process that gets our students to a creation that is the true value of the arts in education. To get young people to a point of creating there is skill development, but there is also an understanding of the art form; it is through this that critical thinking enters the artistic process. We call it responding in our teaching circles, but it is really about helping students understand how others use the arts to communicate ideas. If you look in Molly or Katie’s dance classes, the core of the instruction is showing professional dance pieces and the critiquing them using thinking routines. Mike and Dan’s classes are the same (although Mike tends to have a lot more horror movies in them). Across the board critiquing professional models, and eventually critiquing other students’ work is core to our use of the arts. This along with skill development in the arts is key to engaging in creating.

The arts provide something else that is core to our organizational Credo. Our Credo contains our guiding principles. Core to our beliefs is the belief that students learn best when they experience learning in an authentic way and are passionate about what they do. To build this into our schools, we put the arts (and engineering) at the core of our projects because they provide an easy road to hands on experiential learning. More importantly, students are passionate about the arts. Students identify with an art form easily and are willing to do anything with it. At the high school we have used this to sneak in annotated bibliographies, research papers and other learning that tasks that students usually shun. If a student is passionate about something, there is nothing they won’t do for it; the arts provide that passion.  

It takes me awhile to write these blogs, so at this point the hallways are quiet. The productive chaos of our students creating music, dance, drama, art (and engineering, but it isn’t engineering in education week) has died away. Students are in their classrooms sharing their work with their classmates.


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