My idea of art in my personal life is stick figure drawings and adult coloring books. I have always said I’m not very artistic, whatever that means. This lack of skill or interest in my life doesn’t impact me, but I have noticed that I tend to veer away from using art in the classroom because of my inexperience in it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Ismaili Muslim community of the United States is preparing for a historic event: the visit of our Imam, the Aga Khan, for his Diamond Jubilee. As we get ready for this event, we have been implementing special lesson plans in our classes to help our students understand the historical and spiritual significance of this event for our community and for ourselves as individuals.

In the first couple of lessons, I was unable to even get to the crafty activities due to the multitude of questions that students had as well as some behavioral issues. In the third lesson, however, I wanted to ensure I left time for some artistic expression to take place. My students each got a small 4×4 canvas and were asked to express in writing and drawing and colors their understanding of this upcoming event and what it means to them.

Overall, the activity went well; students were engaged and many put in a true effort in reflecting, internalizing and articulating their thoughts and emotions. The success of the activity made me reflect on the role of art in the classroom. Although the activity took at least 30 minutes and required a bit of scaffolding and support, I believe there are valid reasons for incorporating this type of expression and articulation more regularly (based on the subject and content of the class, of course).

The Teaching Channel (Mariah Rankine-Landers) discusses four reasons for arts integration:

  • development of critical thinking skills
  • the use of collaboration
  • based on the use of collaboration, communication skills are also built
  • development of creative inquiry

This list of skills is not only relevant to art activities, but also to the general growth and development of our students. These are all life skills that are needed in any subject, in any field.

Adding to these, Edutopia’s Susan Riley shares other valid reasons for using art:

  • Art can help students focus more on the process than the product which can connect to math skills as well as the habits of mind
  • The various forms of art can help different students access the content in their own way and connect their personal lives to the classroom
  • Art provides an equitable way for each student to engage
  • Art can help develop analysis and synthesis skills

As with the Teaching Channel article above, these reasons provide not only reasons that relate to the engagement of students, but also reasons that connect to the content and general skill development of our students. My students may have felt more engaged and may have enjoyed the activity, but hopefully it also helped them reflect, synthesize their learning from the previous weeks and articulate their understanding of a big event relating to their religious education.

Do you use art on a regular basis? What are your reasons for or against incorporating art more often?

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