Monday, March 4, 2013

Here is the text of my latest article, just sent for publication to the INTO. STEM to STEAM Vital Life Skills are learned through Arts Education - argues Michael O’Reilly. Many education reformers around the world are currently focusing their attention on the need for arts education and new research findings focus on the need to train teachers in the delivery of arts programmes. The great education debate is beginning to focus on what is being termed “adding the A to STEM” or “changing STEM to STEAM”. In case you don’t get the acronym, STEM is education that focuses on Science, Technology, Economics and Mathematics. The A of course is Arts! This push for reform and refocus stems, not alone from the belief that art education has an intrinsic value in its own right, but the belief that such art education promotes a wide variety of life skills crucial to success in general. This is allied to changes in the belief that the arts are reserved only for people with “talent” and the understanding that, in the context of today’s job market, it is creative individuals that are increasingly in demand. All business is struggling to find creative ways to stay in the market, in need of creative employees – arts education, it is argued, develops just such skilled individuals. CEOs around the world are identifying creativity as the most important leadership skill for the future. All list the following skills as the most needed skills • The ability to think creatively • The ability to find solutions to challenging problems • The ability to relate well to partners and clients • The ability to communicate effectively • The ability to adapt to changing markets and circumstances The problem in education is that increasingly children are no longer spending their formative years honing this critical skill – they are spending too much time practicing so-called core skills from STEM subject areas. STEAM education acknowledges that we are all creative and argues that developing this creativity throughout life leads to better careers. The arts encourage CREATIVITY in that they encourage children to think on their feet, to approach tasks in a variety of ways, to not only think outside the box but even to omit the box at times. This might be exemplified by the following curriculum objectives – to recite a monologue in a variety of ways, to make a painting representing a memory or to compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. The arts develop CONFIDENCE in that they encourage children to convincingly deliver a message to take command of a stage as it were, to step outside comfort zones and to make and learn from mistakes. Consider these objectives in that context: to perform a short piece of theatre with confidence, to present and talk about how you have built a construction or to play a musical instrument as part of a group. The arts are about PROBLEM SOLVING. All artistic creations are born through the process of solving particular problems/tasks. Higher order thinking skills, reasoning, experimentation and understanding are all developed through process work as in objectives such as these: to turn a piece of clay into a novel character, to create a dance that represents a particular emotion or to dramatize a social issue. The arts demand PERSEVERANCE and DEDICATION. In a world increasingly obsessed by the X Factor, the mistaken notion that instant success/fame is possible, this skill is sadly decreasing. Children learn that playing Vivaldi the first time you pick up a violin is not an option. By working through art processes children learn that the practice of various skills and techniques is essential to achieving any success. When children get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. Consider how this is inherent in the following objectives: to learn how to create a mono print, to learn to play a traditional piece of music on the recorder or to work with a small group to perform a scene from a script. Work in the arts demands FOCUS. Much recent research has shown that participation in all the arts subjects improves children’s ability to concentrate on tasks in all areas of their lives. In discussing their own and others visual art,writing, drama, dance or music children learn when to listen and when to contribute, they learn to balance these two key skills. Arts education also involves much NON VERBAL COMMUNICATION. Through experiences in drama and dance education, children learn the mechanics of body language and experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. Consider the following few objectives in this context: to look at and respond to a piece of art from another culture, to listen to a piece of music and write a short poem about this or work with a small group to recount a story using freeze framing. The arts involve the giving and receiving of CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK The giving and receiving of constructive feedback about a performance or about a piece of visual art is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is an integral part of learning, that it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally and is actually something helpful. The second strand units of all the arts subjects in the Primary School Curriculum focus primarily on this aspect of arts education. Arts education involves COLLABORATION and ACCOUNTABILITY. Much art work can be collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a shared goal or objective. When a child has a part to play in a rock group, in a group of mural painters or a drama or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have a major role. When children practice creating something together they get used to the idea that their actions affect others. They learn that when they are not ready or not on-time, that other people are affected. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a vital part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen constantly. We acknowledge them, learn from them and carry on;”don’t panic” - it is all part of the process. Consider the following few objectives in this context: to design and plan for a construction based on a particular theme, to work with a group to compose a sound story to accompany a poem or to edit/redraft a piece of writing/poem. Michael O’Reilly © February 2013

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