Archived Information

Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning The Arts - March 1997

Students Need to Know the Elements of the Various Arts and Need to Develop the Vocabularies with Which to Discuss Them.

"When we teach a child to sing or play an instrument, we teach her to listen. When we teach a child to draw, we teach her to see. When we teach a child to dance, we teach him about body and about space. When we teach a child design, we teach the geometry of the world. When we teach children about the folk and traditional arts and great masterpieces, we teach them to celebrate their roots and find their place in history."
Alexander 16

"In order for the words to be personally useful, students need to describe and express their perception and experiences of musical events in their own words, words drawn initially from an experiential vocabulary."

Costanzo and Russell 17

By asking more questions and making fewer statements, arts educators can help students develop the ability to verbalize about their experiences. Encouraging the use of verbal imagery and metaphors over the memorization of professional terms (many of them in foreign languages) can assure real understanding. Expressing a concept in one's own words builds ownership. Translation to the professional level is then less confusing.


Teresa Purcell, physical education and dance teacher at the Brunswick Acres Elementary School in Kendall Park, New Jersey, encourages children to create their own expressive movements. They learn to extend original ideas by discussing and revising their actions. In the course of this process the children build a vocabulary in dance terminology. 18

One third--grade teacher in Illinois, Mary Rose, shows her students examples of famous paintings by well-respected artists. She encourages her students to use their own vocabularies to describe the paintings by asking probing questions: For example, when she shows the class a Marc Chagall painting, she asks, "What is in the picture?" The students recognize the dreamlike quality of Chagall's artwork. They compare this style to traditional landscapes. The teacher is thus incorporating artistic terms and ideas into a natural conversation with the students. 19

[The Arts Offer the Opportunity to Practice Decision Making] [Table of Contents] [Experiences in the Arts Provide Opportunities for Students to Learn as Much About Themselves as They Do About the Subject Matter]