Archived Information

Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning The Arts - March 1997

The Arts Offer the Opportunity to Practice Decision Making

"I believe that every student who enrolls in school has the innate ability and capacity to be artistically expressive just as fully as they have the capacity to be linguistically expressive. But after several years, we suppress and destroy this language and we say eventually that it's just a frill. What we have done is deny one of the elements, one of the God-given capacities to respond to what the Psalmist called, 'The beauty that surrounds us.'"

Boyer 12

"The arts are essential to the education of all children and a comprehensive education in the arts (visual arts, dance, music and theater) provides a powerful means of engaging children in learning and improving student achievement. The arts help teach students many skills they need to succeed in life."
Official Policy Resolution,
63rd Annual Conference of Mayors
June 1995 13

Arts educators play up the unique opportunities for decision making presented by dance, art, music, and drama. Frequently, however, their own teaching demands that students follow set rules without allowing students to explore for themselves. Teachers need to develop strategies that will allow students to discover their talents and creativity on their own.

A few examples of such opportunities for decision making could include: selecting adjectives that help define an object in terms of its look, smell, sound, taste, and touch; creating body movements to accompany a fellow-student's poem; designing costumes and scenery for a play; selecting percussion instruments to accompany the reading of a story such as "Billy Goats Gruff;" choosing items for display in an artist's corner; selecting appropriate background music for a class-made video as an introductory experience that would lead to creating an original score.

All such activities should require defending one's choices and learning to live with the con- sequences. "Students who have the opportunity to make artistic decisions develop a deeper sense of [musical] understanding and aesthetic awareness." 14


Decision making has been the emphasis of the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project, a model for arts educators for the past 25 years. Ronald B. Thomas, its creator, developed a series of problem-solving experiences on a spiral curriculum of skills and principles taught in the primary grades and then expanded upon in the upper grades. In the primary grades, for example, children composed a musical piece about other subjects of their choice--about a story that was read, about counting and adding, about gerbils and fish, or about spelling and punctuation. Thus, music was integrated into other subject experiences. In the music lab, children were free to explore and discover music as part of the total learning experience. 15
[Make Certain All Students Have Daily Arts Experiences] [Table of Contents] [Students Need to Know the Elements of the Various Arts and Need to Develop the Vocabularies With Which to Discuss Them]