Assembly Concurrent Resolution 25 (Campos) declares “March 2011 to be Arts Education Month and encourage[s] all elected officials to participate with their educational communities in celebrating the arts.”
There’s no better way to share the power of arts education with elected officials than by inviting them to experience firsthand the creativity, innovation and joy that happen in arts classrooms. The Alliance’s Arts Learning in Action Toolkit provides a step-by-step online guide for planning a visit for a local school board member, mayor, city council, county board of education or county supervisors.
Finding the Words for Duke Ellington
We spoke to award-winning teacher Genein Letford and she shared a lesson that brings to life the tenets of ACR 25 with ”a visual and performing arts curriculum [that] addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression.”
Once a third grade general education teacher, Letford is in charge of the music program at NEW Academy Canoga Park. “My goal has been to develop a program that teaches music standards, theory and instrumentation while successfully connecting to other disciplines for whole child learning.”
Her lesson on Duke Ellington brings jazz, improvisation and African American history to life. It charts Duke’s rise from piano player in pool halls to leader of an orchestra headlining at Carnegie Hall, where he introduced Black, Brown and Beige, a suite that celebrated the “the triumphs of black people, from the days of slavery to the years of the civil rights struggle.”
Letford’s lesson is also an exploration of language. “I use Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra for its wonderful similes to convey the color tones of the instruments and the mood of the music. Along with developing listening skills (students identify instruments and instrument families), the students pay attention to how the authors use language to describe the music. Then the students practice writing similes of their own to describe the music.”
Art isn’t Just for Art Classes Anymore
You don’t have to be an art teacher to celebrate the power of arts learning this month. Assemblywoman Campos’ resolution affirms that a “visual and performing arts curriculum addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression, and learning that complement learning in other core subjects.” There is a growing interest in cross-curricular learning. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as:
“An approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area meeting objectives in both.”
Last week, we witnessed an exciting example at the Armory for the Arts in Pasadena, when they shared findings from their new curriculum, which integrates visual art and math. The curriculum develops the connections between math and art focusing on math standards, providing visual art lessons and standards-based instruction to complement and enhance the math learning. Assessments after one semester show a sharp rise in post-test skills, as well as improved scores on standardized tests. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting initiative.
Let the Celebrations Begin
Help us spread the word about Arts Education Month, share our new video, Start a Conversation About the Arts. It links to our Arts Learning in Action toolkit and makes a persuasive case (complete with music from Ozomatli) for advocates to reach out to elected officials.
Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park and believes that every child, despite socioeconomic status, deserves a quality education that includes the arts. Mrs. Letford began her teaching career as a third grade teacher of low-income English language learners. It was there she discovered the power of using music to help teach vocabulary and academic concepts to her students.
Mrs. Letford is now the music director at the same elementary school and has created a dynamic award winning music curriculum that not only teaches music standards but also incorporates corresponding math, science, language arts and social studies concepts. In 2009, Letford began the Music For All: Instrument Scholarship Fund, which awarded low-income students with instruments for their ongoing music education. Early last year, Letford was a finalist for the Bravo Arts Educator Award and was just named the 2010 Great American Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Letford received her bachelor degree from UCLA and recently completed her master thesis, Integration With Integrity: The Importance of Keeping Music in the Elementary Classroom at California State University, Northridge. She has done numerous professional presentations on this topic and remains focused on bringing arts education to underserved communities.