Several studies have revealed the benefits of visual arts as a methodology in the improvement of literacy. Bamford 2009,states that ‘literacy is significantly enhanced through arts education’ and continues that ‘education through art enhances overall academic attainment.’
Recently I undertook an action research project at an after school homework group in Limerick City to investigate how arts education can positive influence reading comprehension.
The two main studies which inspired my project were Learning Through the Arts which was based in Toronto, and Arts for Learning Lessons which was established in Oregon in the United States. The Learning Through the Arts Initiative has become the largest arts based educational programme in the world. It is used in four hundred primary schools in fourteen different countries. It involves teachers teaching math, science, geography and English language curriculum that incorporate visual art. Russell and Zembylas in Bresler 2007 examined this initiative and discovered that ‘a noticeable improvement was evident in core subjects when integrated with art education. It could therefore be argued that the utilisation of visual arts in the teaching of English can aid in pupils’ comprehension of the subject.
The second prominent study I analysed was the Arts for Learning Lessons programme. It was established in 2009 and ran for five years. This programme focused on literacy from grades 3 to 5. It concentrated on creative methodologies in the teaching and learning of English literacy. The Arts for Learning Lessons initiative involves reading the text and then creating an artwork that reflects their initial interpretation of that reading. By encouraging students to share their interpretations and art with one another the students discover different elements about the text. The initiative discovered that the pupils demonstrated an ‘improvement in reading, writing and communication skills compared with children in a standard literacy curriculum.’
The intervention I adopted was based on the Arts for Learning Lessons programme. This involved the children reading an extract from The BFG, a book which they had chosen themselves. The children initially read silently to themselves and then each child was given an opportunity to read a different part of the text. The text was not discussed following these first two readings. The children were instead asked to recreate their understanding of the text using painting and clay. After the children had spent some time completing their art pieces, the children were asked to share and discuss what they had created. Following this part of the lesson the children read the extract again. The children then were given time to alter or add to their original piece of art. The children then discussed and shared further their understanding of the text.
The most significant result of the project include the development of oral language throughout the reading lessons, an increase in enjoyment, and an increase in motivation. Each of these findings is supported further by relevant authors in the area. The improvement in each of these areas suggests the value of visual arts in pupils learning and the effectiveness of visual arts as a teaching methodology. Research into the utilisation of dance, music and drama as teaching strategies would also complement this action research project and would lead to the development of more creative methodologies in the pursuit of improved literacy outcomes for Ireland.
Article by Jane O’ Halloran
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