Learning through the arts in Mississippi

During an interview in a hallway of the music building at Ole Miss, Malcolm White breaks into song. It’s just the alphabet, but he’s proving a point.
“Do you know why children learn lyrics so quickly? It’s because they sing them,” said White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. “That’s how I learned my ABCs.”
White was at the University of Mississippi last week for the 11th annual Summer Institute of the MAC’s Whole Schools Initiative, which he described as a way “to teach learning through the arts.”
“Our mission is to return arts to the classroom and make arts a part of the curriculum,” White said, noting the right side of the brain is usually left out of the equation. “We represent a different way to teach and we also represent half of knowledge. We represent all of that – arts, innovation and creativity.”
The Institute demonstrated to its 300-plus participants how they can deliver arts-infused instruction. For example, they learned how to teach math through dance, critical thinking and problem-solving through visual art, and how hands-on, sensory lessons in the garden and kitchen can be translated into core subject lessons.
One session was led by Tupelo Public School District teachers Jeni Chandler, Tina Siddell and Tara Harris.
“This is ‘Masters in the Classroom,’” Chandler said. In one exercise, participants were instructed to look at well-known prints and come up with verbs and adverbs. In another, they were asked to act out what was depicted in the picture.
Everything is tied to the Mississippi Curriculum Framework. “They’re tangible lessons,” Harris said. “The arts promote problem-solving, communication, learning to pay attention to detail and questioning. Those are skills everyone needs.”
Other classes during the Institute included screenplay writing, learning how to make totem masks with papier-mâché, and ballroom dancing. Instructors include classroom teachers as well as professional actors and musicians from across the United States.
“For those children who do not learn by sitting and listening to a lecture, the arts invite them to tap into their abilities and see the world in new ways,” said instructor Rochelle Winter, artistic director of Wavelength, an improvisational theater group in Chicago. “The arts invite everyone to honor different ways in which people are smart.”
Research has found there are multiple intelligences – some people are self-smart, for instance, while others are number smart or word smart – and teaching through the arts reaches a variety of learners.
“Absolutely,” said Sondra Fleming, who teaches gifted and talented students in grades 3-5 in Quitman. “It meets their intelligences, it just meets all their needs.”

Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582
or ginny.miller@djournal.com

Ginny Miller/NEMS Daily Journal