Using Art To Learn Various Subjects
Art is an integral part of the human experience. Along with helping us express ourselves, it also boosts our learning ability. Read on to find out how.
By Kalyani Voleti
“I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand”.
Nowhere is this time-tested adage of Confucius more relevant than in the teaching-learning environment. Any idea will embed itself in the deeper recesses of our brain if additional connections are established to it and if, across subjects, an extension of the concept is facilitated.
Cross-curricular integration identifies multiple intelligences in the child which then can be used to improve teaching and make learning meaningful and fun. I have found that art can really lead the way in this kind of teaching.
When art is deployed, I find that students embrace any subject with curiosity and confidence, and that peer learning increases. Thus, the role of the (art) teacher is increasingly becoming that of a facilitator. The lines between teacher and learner are also getting blurred.
I have outlined some examples of what we practise in our school. Though my school is nascent in this approach, I am excited by the far-reaching benefits of such learning.
When grade 4 students read a folk tale from China in English class, we chose to do Chinese lanterns during art class. I introduced them to the visuals of a Chinese dragon, an enduring symbol of China, which the students first drew and then coloured with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. They then converted this drawing into a lantern. They created some unique lanterns!
When grade 3 learnt about the Trojan horse and the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, it was time to make their own Trojan horse, complete with warriors, during art class. I provided visuals of the warriors of the times, in all their armour and finery. This group activity saw each student contribute a warrior to the Trojan horse. Students surpassed my wildest expectations by drawing amazing reproductions of the visuals I provided. At their age, children possess the twin advantages of a wonderful sense of observation and the unwavering belief that they can do what they set their sights upon. Soon the windows in their corridors had displays of Trojan horses with soldiers spilling out of them, battling each other!
Geography / zoology
The animals of the Amazon rainforest also found favour in the art lessons of grade 3. I sent them on a research trip to the library and asked them to bring back pictures of the amazing animals of the Amazon. They filled up the display space with macaws, tree frogs, piranhas and other interesting animals. During the craft activity that ensued, the children made their own red-eyed Amazon tree frog pencil stand, and glove puppets. Their research helped them to create features specific to frogs.
Grade 2 learnt to draw cubes and cuboids in Math. We brought out the uses of the 3D shapes in drawing in art class. Children converted cubes and cuboids into tables and related objects to these shapes.
When grade 2 had a lesson on tigers, they got to prepare their own props and masks during art class, for their project on this theme. Their research on tigers and forests taught them about the dwindling tiger population and made them understand the need to conserve forests to protect tigers from extinction. Eight months after this episode, they made use of their learning when they wrote and drew passionate messages and posters for the Kids for Tigers campaign in school.
Grades 1 and 2 learnt ‘उल्लु’ (Ullu), which means owl in Hindi and simultaneously, we were making owls in art class. I devised a simple paper fold influenced by origami which the students embraced with great enthusiasm. They decorated their owls beautifully and added them to their Hindi letters.
Even older children enjoy this
Grades 5 and 6 had to learn about symmetry. We chose to draw self-portraits. Students first learnt to draw the human face symmetrically for which their knowledge of math and geometry came in handy. Then I asked them to personalize it by using colour symbolically. They filled the background with descriptions and symbols of their favourite things. The result was some amazing, unique self-portraits with layers of cross-curricular integration.
The topics pertaining to water and energy conservation in environmental science were adequately reinforced when their knowledge found expression in the national poster making competition conducted by the Ministry of Power and Water Resources. The children’s posters are a reminder to one and all about the need to conserve our resources and also look for alternate sources for the future of humankind.
Benefits of such an approach
In all these instances, the children’s learning was reinforced when it extended beyond the classroom into the art room. Students enjoyed the process and we discovered a lot of visual, spatial, kinaesthetic and other intelligences manifesting among them. I found that the elements of art or the principles of design were never compromised at any stage, even when art was being used sub-consciously or reinforced inadvertently. Across the world, this kind of learning is gathering currency and the biggest benefactors are the learners.
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