Connections: Literacy and the Arts

With the current emphasis on the ABC's of Public Education, local - and state-mandated assessments, and the need for accountability of arts programs, it is extremely important to educate and inform administrators, teachers, parents, and the general public about the role of the arts in the education of every child. The following is taken from the North Carolina Arts Education Standard Course of Study and Grade Level Competencies,K-12, 2000, which emphasizes the comprehensive nature of arts programs:

"Arts Education should promote interdisciplinary study; and integration among and across the arts and other disciplines' because forging these kinds of connections is one of the things the arts do best, they can and should be taught in ways that connect them to each other and to other subjects. Significantly, building connections in this way gives students the chance to understand wholes, parts, and their relationships. "

This article is intended to provide some insight into the elements of a Balanced Literacy Program and some connections that may be made with arts education. It may be helpful to begin by thinking about what English Language Arts and the other arts have in common:

Common Elements of Reading, Writing, and the Arts:

  • Interpreting symbol systems- sound/symbol correspondence in sequence

  • Gaining competency through practice and repetition

  • Studying a variety of genres

  • Reflecting on societies and cultures

  • Composing/writing/creating for different purposes

  • Supporting various levels of meaning- personal interpretation, connections to own experience, connections to past events

  • Expressing or evoking feelings/emotions

The 1999 English Language Arts Standard Course of Study states, "The priority of the English Language Arts curriculum is oral and written language development and use. Literacy requires the ability to think and reason as a literate person with a focus on thinking critically and creatively using oral language, written language, and other media and technology as tools."

A Balanced Literacy Program includes modeled, shared, guided, and independent reading and writing. The following overview describes these components and some possible connections with arts education:

  1. Modeled Reading

    1. Read Aloud

      Description: Teacher reads a selection aloud to students.

      Arts Connection: Reading informational texts, stories, or plays/dialogues models expressive, fluent reading for students while educating them about a particular composer/artist/choreographer/author; exposes students to new vocabulary; creates interest; and enables students to hear stories/information they may not yet be able to read independently.

    2. Think Aloud

      Description: The teacher is reading aloud and thinking aloud.

      Arts Connection: When sharing informational texts, the teacher can model how a fluent reader approaches the text (what goes through your mind as you are reading, what are you thinking to yourself to help make sense of what you are reading?---think these things aloud so students are able to hear you process the text as you are sharing it).

  2. Shared Reading

    Description: A more competent reader reads (sings, chants) text that all participating students can see (chart, big book, overhead, etc) while students are encouraged to join in. This process actively engages students in a process that may be beyond their independent reading level.

    Arts Connection: Shared reading can easily be incorporated in arts classes through singing, choral reading, etc. For early emergent/emergent readers, shared reading helps to introduce print concepts such as title, recognizing the difference between a letter and a word, recognizing where to begin reading, matching one-to-one written word to spoken word, and return sweep (coming back to the beginning of the next line when reading from left to right). For all readers, shared reading can help students with comprehension and exposes students to language and language structure.

  3. Guided Reading

    Description: A teacher and a group of students talk, read, and think their way purposefully through a selection. Selections are chosen based on the learners' instructional levels and each participant has an individual copy of the material being read.

    Arts Connection: Arts educators do not typically conduct guided reading lessons; however, the process is much the same as the type of individualized, guided practice provided to students with instruction in the arts (learning to play an instrument, performing a dance sequence, painting a picture, etc).

  4. Independent Reading

    Description: Students read individually without the support of another reader.

    Arts Connection: Arts teachers can provide students with a wide range of choices for independent reading in whole class or small group settings.

  1. Modeled Writing

    Description: The teacher shares or models a piece of his/her writing. The process is modeled aloud.

    Arts Connection: Very much a part of the composing process. The teacher can model good writing/composing strategies/skills such as notating music on an overhead or chart on the board.

  2. Shared Writing

    Description: The teacher and students compose a writing piece together.

    Arts Connection: A group composition, dance, art piece, or dramatic writing are good examples of this process. Shared writing does not have to result in a final product, and can be done in small blocks of time (5-10 minutes).

  3. Guided Writing

    Description: The teacher supports a single child or small group of students with a strategy or skill, which will move the student(s) to a more independent level.

    Arts Connection: Individualized opportunities for writing/composing/choreographing/creating with focus on specific skills or strategies is an example of this process.

  4. Independent Writing

    Description: Students choose their own topics and write independently without the support of the teacher.

    Arts Connection: Arts teachers can provide students with a wide range of choices and opportunities for independent writing in whole class or small group settings. Keeping reflective journals is just one example of an easy way to provide students with opportunities for independent writing.

  5. Writing Across the Curriculum

    Description: Writing is a thinking and doing process with many phases. Writing depends on the purpose, message, audience, and contexts for communication. Students should have opportunities to use writing processes in all environments. While no one writing process is used by every writer in every piece of writing, students need to understand how to write purposefully and strategically. They should learn to use a range of strategies to create a final product.

    Arts Connection: Arts compositions incorporate many strategies for writing. For example, a dance composition may involve:

  • Pre-writing
    (brainstorming, improvising)

  • Writing (combining brainstormed ideas into dance sequences or a composition)

  • Revising (changing the composition until it looks/communicates the way the student wants)

  • Editing (making sure all the technical aspects of the dance are correct)

  • Publishing (performance is a form of publication)

Arts educators in our state are to be commended for the natural connections that are already being made for students in their classrooms on a regular basis. Making connections does not mean sacrificing the integrity of the program, but rather finding common elements that naturally lend themselves to helping students gain understanding within and across content areas. Hopefully, this overview will enable teachers to better understand the components of a Balanced Literacy Program and thereby help students connect their learning through literacy and the arts.


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