Meadow View students and teachers thrive as a result of Artful Learning
CASTLE ROCK—When you walk through the front doors of Meadow View Elementary, you can tell that something is different about the school.
Look forward, and you see a patchwork quilt made by the school’s students of their visual interpretations of a school lesson. Down one hallway is a tapestry of yarn that promotes how the students self-identify, such as “I am bilingual,” “I am an explorer,” and “I am full of good ideas.”
Lining the hallways and in every classroom are visual maps that give you a snapshot of a semester’s worth of learning that is occurring in the classroom. Scattered throughout are labels like “significant question” and “inquiry center” on which many visitors to the school might need clarification, but any enthusiastic student around the corner will gladly and readily explain.
It’s not just the visual stimulation that is striking; it’s the sound and atmosphere, such as students enthusiastically and confidently explaining complex concepts around culture and diversity, power generation, and how these topics interrelate to affect economic decisions.
All of this is a result of Meadow View’s implementation of Artful Learning, an instructional model designed to engage students at a deeper level of inquiry and understanding, through the lens of the arts and artistic process, than can be achieved with traditional educational approaches. The model was developed by The Leonard Bernstein Center, extolling the significant life work and educational vision of the composer.
Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, Meadow View took the bold step of switching from a traditional neighborhood elementary school to one that integrated Artful Learning. It is the only school in Colorado infused with the Artful Learning model and one of just 23 schools nationwide.
“Children are really very excited about doing,” explained Meadow View’s principal, Patti Magby. “If you have [a learning opportunity] where they are actually experiencing it, they become one hundred percent engaged. This is what you see in the classrooms, full student engagement.”
Director of Artful Learning, Patrick Bolek, admits there is some skepticism by teachers and parents when schools make the decision to implement the learning model.
“There is a feeling of ‘Are they drawing all day? Are they singing and dancing social studies but there’s no rigor attached to this? My kid’s not very good at art. I don’t think they want to go to this school,’” Bolek said. “That’s not what artful learning is.”
Artful Learning is attaching more rigor to the content taught and outcomes to be achieved
Each grade level divides its lesson planning into three units over the course of a year.
Working together, educators plan backwards from the outcomes to be achieved and content to be learned. An overriding concept is attached to the entire unit, linking together topics across disciplines of study, and a specific artist and masterwork is attached that educators believe emulates the concept. A “significant question” frames the concept in order for students and teachers to generate researchable investigations and produce a diverse array of answers.
For example, fourth grade outcomes include items such as “evaluate the relationship between decisions and the impact on available resources in the community” and “evaluate the relationship between cause and effect.” Content associated with these outcomes include items such as government, physical science, economics, and modern Colorado. Meadow View educators made a connection between scientific power and power within oneself as it relates to society. The unit’s concept is entitled “Power” and the artist chosen for the unit is John Fielder, using Rocky Mountain Cascade as the associated masterwork. The significant question is “How does power influence relationships?”
“It is totally built in rigor,” explained Bolek. "It’s built in everything you have to teach. It’s just a different way to do it. Everything is framed around a concept, so when you go into the classrooms, it could be balance, relationships, cause and effect, or systems. They arrived at that concept by building a curriculum map and building everything around it. So these aren’t just engaging fun activities, it’s all based on World Class Outcomes and content.”
Educators are not rewriting curriculum. In fact, Douglas County School District’s Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum, which inherently spells out the World Class Outcomes and 21st century skills to be gained in order to meet the State of Colorado’s educational standards, provides a great base for Meadow View educators from which to map out their units of study—an advantage that other school districts across the nation do not have.
“What’s happening in Douglas County is different because there’s buy-in at the District-level to make it whole,” Bolek said. “Other school districts talk about 4C’s— but can they elaborate on the 4C’s? They can’t.”
Using the 4C’s through Art
The 4C’s (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) are actively and thoroughly integrated in Artful Learning.
In Lubna Jamal’s sixth grade class, students are creating miniature parade floats on top of skateboards, each float collaboratively constructed between groups of students, reflecting culture and diversity.
“Our significant question has been ‘how does diversity influence global communities and environments,’” Jamal explained. “Towards the end of the unit they have to make an original creation. What they’re doing is showing me their understanding of diversity through the making of these floats. So they went through and created their own communities, which they felt was ideal and would show diversity. They’ve used metaphors in their floats and included a lot of symbolism.”
In Jennifer Lamoreaux’s second grade class, students created board games based around their current study of pioneers. They are not only demonstrating their knowledge, but also evaluating other groups’ board games. Lamoreaux circulates between the groups of students to encourage their critical thinking skills and talks them through the feedback process, which the students record on evaluation forms, as they play each other’s board games.
“We’re playing another group's board game right now to rate it and give feedback,” explained one student in the class.
Meadow View and other schools are seeing positive effects from Artful Learning
Schools implementing Artful Learning across the country demonstrate a pattern of increased growth in state achievement measures, school level data relative to their districts and an increase in student motivation to learn.
Bolek points to student performance at Moffett Elementary School in Los Angeles as an example. The school, located near LAX, was built entirely underground so that overhead noise from planes cannot be heard. There are also no windows in the school, though. The school implemented Artful Learning in 2001. Between 2001 and 2009, the school’s Academic Performance Index—California’s measure of school performance—increased 321 units to 738 (out of 800).
“What you get with Artful Learning is really an eight year plan. We provide professional development to schools as they’re implementing the first three years. In the third year, we work together to build a five-year sustainability plan to ensure that the effects of Artful Learning are lasting,” Bolek explained.
However, Meadow View is already seeing peripheral benefits from the implementation of Artful Learning, such as increased communication between teachers, and communication between teachers and students.
“Collaboration has increased ten-fold since beginning this process,” said Cindy Bledsoe, a first grade teacher at Meadow View. “We’re communicating a lot more with the specials teachers.”
“It’s just natural, is the other thing,” Bledsoe continued. “Your collaboration with the kids increases quite a bit.”
Bledsoe, who has been teaching at Meadow View since 2002, was originally planning on retiring at the end of the 2012-13 school year, until she learned that Artful Learning would be implemented at Meadow View.
“I went to Patti and said, ‘whoa, changed my mind! Can I stay a few more years?’ Because that was something I’ve always wanted to do and I never really had the opportunity to do that.”
Meadow View students have become enthusiastic about learning
Meadow View educators do admit that the implementation of Artful Learning has been one of the most challenging things they’ve done as teachers, but that it has been exciting at the same time, especially seeing how engaged the students are. Teachers also quickly realized that they do not need to be artists themselves in order to teach under this model, nor do students need to be artists to learn under this model. The arts are used as a lens by which the learning occurs.
“We build a map,” Bolek said. “I liken it to that scene in Apollo 13: ‘This is what we have to work with, this is the timeframe we’ve got, we don’t have anything else. Oh, and by the way, you’ve got limited resources, so you have to make that work.’ It’s a great metaphor— it’s high stakes. Imagine if that was your unit of study, it changes the importance of what you’re doing.”
Parents of children currently in Meadow View, some of whom were skeptical when Artful Learning first began in 2013, are now seeing the benefits of the new model in their children and are glad that they remained at the school.
“When we were first told about Artful Learning, I had a lot of friends jumping like rats from a sinking ship to other schools, thinking my kid’s going to have to tap dance to learn their multiplication tables. They had this really strange picture of what was going to go on,” said Andrea Miller, a current Meadow View parent. “Several of my siblings are superintendents and college deans. I didn’t know anything about this program so I emailed them and asked about it. My one sister sent back an email with two words: ‘don’t move. Just don’t move.’ And we didn’t, and I see my friends now who left, they’re now thinking ‘hey, wait a minute, we’re not getting what you are getting.’”
“My son comes home now and he’s engaged. My son is a quintessential nine-year old boy. Every other year up until last year he would come home and say ‘I hate school. I hate it. I have no friends. This is boring.’ And the last two years, the door doesn’t close on the car before he says ‘Oh, guess what we did today!’ And he’s just this sponge now, which is not what I expected. This was a fantastic opportunity.”