Arts education program boosts reading scores

SAN MARCOS: Arts education program boosts reading scores
.ByDEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN dbrennan@nctimes.com | Posted: Thursday, February 9,2012 7:00 pm.

Thousands of North Countyschoolchildren showed an “astonishing” jump in test scores after their teachers used the arts in reading lessons, officials announced Thursday. In a pilot programinvolving 3,000 third- and fourth-graders, test scores improved at triple therate of similar students using the standard curricula. Those in the”DREAM” program learned reading through lessons involving theater,puppetry and painting —- and improved their reading scores by 87 points,education officials announced at a news conference.  “Art has thepower to inspire, inform, and obviously the results of DREAM show that art hasthe power to educate,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said.
DREAM —- DevelopingReading Education through Arts Methods —- is a four-year program of the SanDiego County Office of Education, the North County Professional DevelopmentFederation and the Center ARTES of Cal State San Marcos.  Through the program,teachers participated in a weeklong arts integration training sessions and wereassigned to one of three groups. A control group did not employ arts in readinglessons. A second group added the arts lessons, while a third group did so within-class coaching by arts educators.
Kids in the controlgroup raised reading scores by 25 points, officials said. Those whose teacherstaught arts integration on their own brought up test scores by 42 points. Andthe group in which teachers received coaching increased reading scores by 87points.
Merryl Goldberg,chairwoman of the visual and performing arts department at the university, saidthe results show that arts education contributes to attainment of academicstandards, rather than distracting from them.
“We use arts insuch a way that it’s a tool,” she said. “It doesn’t take away fromthe curriculum at all. The arts teach creative thinking, innovative thinking,critical thinking. These are skills that are fundamental to what we need forthe 21 st century.”
Integrating movement,music and visual arts into reading lessons allows kids to employ more sensesand improve their comprehension of literature, said Laurie Stowell, a professorof literacy education at the university.  “Arts are simplyanother way we make sense of the world, and how we make meaning,” shesaid. “That’s what reading and writing is.” At the newsconference, fourth-graders from the Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Artsswayed to jazz music while displaying hand-lettered poster boards emblazonedwith single words.  Smooth,beautiful, peaceful, love,” proclaimed the signs for a smooth jazzselection.
“Explosive,blast, dynamite, grenade,” announced signs for a rhythm and blues piece.
Their teacher, HectorDeleon, said the multimedia lesson reinforced the meaning of vocabulary words,and improved reading comprehension.  “Instead ofhaving kids memorize stuff and spit it out, we’re having them take ownership ofthe word, and experiencing the words with music and movement,” he said.  His student, ArianaCastillo, 9, said the lessons erase her self-doubts about learning.  “It just makesme forget about all the voices in my head that say ‘You’re not good foranything,'” she said. “I just believe in myself.”
How have arts inclusion programs been utilized in your school district  to improve students’ in reading? other subject areas?

Remembering those Dog Days of Summer . . . or What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

They say that when one doorcloses, another opens.  Read about mypersonal predicament of joining the ranks of the unemployed in an articlepublished in the November 2011 issue of Incite/Insight. 

I hope it will provide alittle inspiration for anyone facing challenges in this [non-existent] jobmarket and that there is light at the end of the tunnel:

As an educator, summers were always a time to leisurely pursueprofessional enrichment, read junk novels, and capture the calm breezes of theseason. Not unlike T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock whose life was “measured in coffeespoons,” my teacher’s existence was structured into 42-minute segments, 5 daysa week, 10 months a year, carefully pacing myself to the next day off tore-boot my energy. This inner balance worked for me for over 30 years.When I left teaching behind to pursue other goals, it was challenging, yetthrilling. How would I monitor the next 30 years of my life?
Using the lyrics from the Spice Girls’“Wannabe” tune as a source of inspiration, I sought to reinvent myself witheach new endeavor with the query: So, tell me what you want, what you reallyreally want? With every new day, I wanted …
To be acollege professor!
To devise a newcurriculum!
To serve as aneducation director for arts organizations!
To presentworkshops at conferences!
To teachteachers!
To work withyoung people and promote their voices throughplaywriting!
As I successfully transitioned from onecreative pursuit to the next, I finally landed a job as an education director;no sooner did I begin to savor the challenges of this career phase when theposition was eliminated due to budget constraints in March of 2011. I shouldhave seen it coming; the handwriting was on the wall: continued budget cuts,declining arts funding, selectively competitive grant awards. Schools, thoughsupportive, were unable to allot monies and relinquish class time for artsprogramming. Despite acknowledging its merits, schoolsperceive such programs as “extras” and they easily become targeted to reduceexpenses with the rationale that donations from philanthropic patrons wouldreplace any losses. Sounds like a feasible compromise until you begin to thinkabout the long-term effects. I’ll come back to that dilemma, later. Stay withme.
So, here I was, at age 60, unemployedwith a Ph.D. and over 30 years teaching experience, with no prospects, or so itfelt at the time—after all, this was during the highest unemployment rate inour nation’s recent history. In this economic downturn, who would hire me atthis stage of my life? I sulked … for an entire week lapsing into a regimen ofeating Mallomars with a quart of milk. After glutting myself with such internal pleasures, I took astep back and asked: So tell me what you want, what you really really want?
Within the soul of every teacher lies adeep commitment to making our world a better place to live in by educating ourfuture citizens—those young minds whose imagination and talent shape the nextgeneration. It has always been my strong belief that the arts define ourhumanity, and that they are an empowering supernatural gift givento us in order to make our world a richer better place to live.

So. Now. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do?

It was time to put my [unemployment]money where my mouth was and take charge. Subverting all fears aside, “Whatmakes you think you can make a difference?” echoed in my psyche. I was remindedhow I used it as a mantra for all my students—why not for me?
After an acting stint in an Off-Broadwayproduction of The Vagina Monologues, I realized the only way to moveforward and effectively utilize my time and talent would be through thecreation of a professional website. Thus began an arduous two-month examinationof the scope and scale of my career arc. As a result of this self-reflection, Iwas able to define my next challenge: to authenticate the arts and alter its perception as an amenity. I started tocollect stories of artists “in the trenches,” so to speak, who were makingthings work and garnering amazing outcomes: 12-year-old Olivia Bouler of Islip,Long Island, who raised more than $175,000 for the Audubon Society; an Artspaceloft to energize Patchogue, Long Island; the Airmid Theatre Company working withNew York Assemblyman Steven Englebright to create a permanent theatre space on the sprawlingformer grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
On a national scale, I was horrified andoutraged by a particular story related by Erika Nelson, an artist in Lucas, KS who makes miniature models ofgiant pieces of Americana, puts them in a van, and drives around the country toshow people. She called her mobile museum “The World’s Largest Collection ofthe World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.” But this year,Kansas, which has one of the country’s smallest state artsbudgets, decided to shrink it even further, to zero, cutting off all ofNelson’s state support. This was just one story among many. While nationaladvocacy groups fight to keep the arts as a core mission of the government, therising sentiment is that it’s an optional staple of sustenance. Instead oftaking polite nibbles to offset this spiraling trend, I decided to bite back!
Since the launch of my website in lateAugust, I’ve initiated The First 100 Stories Campaign, entered blogs onsubjects ranging from literacy, CORE standards, and professional development,and proposed an education program for class field trips to the 9-11 memorial.Additionally, I conducted two interviews for First Online With Fran: atalk show solely dedicated to honoring ordinary people doing extraordinarythings in the arts to make our world a deeper, better place to live. Soundslofty, doesn’t it?

Alas, it’s the stuff that dreams are madeof.
And THAT is what I did over my summervacation.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Frances McGarry, Ph.D. has been teachingtheatre for more than 30 years. The Young Playwrights Festivalin New York City became the subject of her doctoral dissertationin the Program of Educational Theater at New York University. She haspresented Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! curriculum at local,regional, and national conferences. Her new website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com offers discussions on how practitionersare utilizing the arts to make our world a richer, deeper better place to live.

Guest Lecturer at The City College of New York School of Education

This past Monday evening, Iwas a guest lecturer at the CCNY Program in Educational Theater Teaching Literacy Through Drama graduate course.  One of the assignments is The Diary Project; wherein, classmates creatediary entries from their childhood and adapt them as monologues and/or scenesculminating in a devised performance.

To get them started on thisproject, I selected a playwriting icebreaker exercise from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play Curriculum calledWhat’s In A Name? Each participant introducedthemselves by substituting their last name with a new one that reflected eitheran aspect of their personality of which they are particularly proud, orsomething they recently accomplished. For example, I became Fran Dream Reaper; others included SobhaSeedplanter, Marissa Laughter, Laura Lunacy, Joe Bridgemaker, EricSilkscreener, and so forth.  The groupselected Amy Jazzhands as the name they found to be the most evocative.  Delineating the difference between the REALAmy and the one that the group would create, the character evolved as aseven-year-old girl who wore red sequined tap shoes with bows, a neon greentutu with yellow suspenders, had bright red-curly pigtails that bounced whenshe walked.  She carried a journal in herdoggy bag pack and spoke with a froggy voice. She left her home in Staten Island to tell the group something that made thisday different than any other.  She said, “I am leaving home.”  Another response, “I have jazzy hands and Ineed your help.”  Another had her announce,“A crime has been committed and I’m here to solve it.”  Each participant was instructed to choose oneof the prompts and write a monologue clarifying Amy Jazzhands’ Need To Tell.  The renditions were read aloud and the groupdiscussed how the character communicated WHAT she needed to tell, WHO sheneeded to tell and WHY this day was different from all other days? Tofacilitate the lesson further, the class deconstructed the exercise:  the power of choices, how names tell ussomething about the character, how selections impact characterization,etc.  In addition, a discussion ensued onhow the exercise could be integrated into their professional praxis.  During the hands-on demonstration, I stepped outof role to note “teachable moments”; for example, how it applied to a COREstandard, literacy goals, classroom management strategy, etc.

The Paper Airplane exercise was used as an assessment tool:  every member “flew” their paper airplane andshared what they learned.  We exploredhow that same urgency for feedback can be applied to playwriting.  To learn more about how these exercises andothers are used as playwriting tools, the class was encouraged to attend Young Playwrights Inc.’s Teacher Training Institute.

To further assess theefficacy of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to imagine possibilities, integrate the lesson into theirprograms, and share their implementationthrough their testimonies on my website.  Ultimately, my goal was to INSPIRE them to take these new tools outinto the field as theater education practitioners and encourage them to putthem to use!

Thank you, Professor Sobha K. Paredes and theCCNY Program in Educational Theater!

How do you use playwriting as ateaching tool?

The Triangle Project: an original work at the New York UniversitySteinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

The Triangle Project, an original work at the New York University Program in Educational Theater Black Box Theatre is a production not to be missed!  Nimbly directed by Dr. Nan Smithner and craftedby a creative cast, the play was a combination of storytelling, acting, physicaltheater, music, song and environmental theater. Rather than create a docudrama about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factoryfire, which erupted on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Streets in March 1911 killing 146workers, the performance offered a metaphorical response to the tragedy of the fire.

Ironically, it was thepremature arrival of snow on Saturday evening that forced the opening act to beheld inside; however, the change of venue did not detract from the show’sdirective:  audience members were dividedinto groups and we “traveled” the timeline with our character hosts, introducingus to people, places, problems, and predicaments.  Rotating from one theatrical locale to thenext allowed each audience member to be intimately invested with each newintroduction – hearing their personal dilemmas and delights as immigrants whocame to Americato live better lives.

The arc of the plotdelivered:  the second and third actscarefully cut the pattern, seamlessly unfolding what we all knew would endtragically and yet, hoped all throughout the action that some how, some way, itwouldn’t.  Subtle details were delicatelydropped by each character:  the butcherwho was a fireman, the wedding proposal, the large ring of keys jostled by a menacingsupervisor, a lit cigar, untended piles of fabric scraps – all carefully wovenonly to come crashing down on its victims, simultaneously crushing theaudience’s sensibilities to tears. 

How could this havehappened?

Indeed.  The play echoed 9-11 sentiments, the Occupy Wall Streetprotest, the paradox of America’simmigration policy — a timely piece meant for all to see. To learn.  To reflect. That is the power of educational theater and I urge you to not miss this opportunity to witness thepassionately powerful message of TheTriangle Project!

Heartfelt congratulations tothe cast and crew! You make us all proud!

The show will run November 3 – 5, 2001 at 8 PM. For tickets, contact NYU Ticket Central at www.nyu.edu/ticketcentral/calendar,212.352.3101, or in person at 566 LaGuardia Place (at Washington Square South).

What was your reaction to the show?

Time, Maturity and the ARTS Can Work with ADHD

In an October 25th Newsday letter to the editor, DonnaRicci,a mother from West Islip  was urgedto medicate her son for displaying attention deficit hyperactivity disorderbehavior by his elementary teachers, school psychologist and schoolofficials.  She resisted: “I would sitthere in tears, never believing it.” She  believed that her son would grow out of itwith time and maturity. He did. With diet, nutrition, and flexible learningstrategies, her son, now 15 thrives. 

She concedes how teacherscan become frustrated with having to discipline students while trying to teachthe required curriculum and how too much is expected of young children.  She asked, “Why must so much be crammed intoa young brain, not developed enough to absorb information on a permanent,sustainable level?” She suggested re-examining the educational system,instead. 


Seven or eight-year-old boysare immature and wild with energy; yet, this is perceived as abnormal behavior?  As a middle school teacher and a mom of an active “speeddemon” son (an observation from his then first grade teacher) I understood, as didshe, how boys need to fidget and move.  WhenI taught 8th grade English, I made sure that some time during aclass session students were given the opportunity to get up and movearound.  Drama strategies facilitated allof my class lessons to insure that students had an opportunity to takeownership of their learning utilizing an  integrated arts praxis pedagogy. A correlation couldbe drawn to improved testing  results on NewYork State ELA scores.

Ross Rosenfeld’s opinionthat some children need more structure is noteworthy; however, Ricci added howsports, music lessons and the like are fundamental in helping train the brainto focus.  Case in point:  “Our son has been taking guitar lessons fortwo years, and his grades have improved significantly.” 

Let’s hear it from you:  Doyou think ADHD behavior  is exaggeratedand overly diagnosed? How does integration of the arts help to encouragelearning?