I began elementary school in the era of phonics. Looking back, I can honestly say that it seemed to work okay. Matching pictures with their word families in plaid workbooks… I learned to read, but don’t remember loving reading.
I finished middle school in the era of dioramas built in shoe boxes and cereal box book reports. Looking back, I can honestly say that I loved every.single.minute of it. But, I also loved to read, so it’s hard to say if it was the book reports or the actual books.
I went to college in the era of guided reading, balanced literacy, and running records. Looking back, I can honestly say that I agreed with a lot of it. There was just no proof that dioramas made kids better readers.
I teach in the era of Common Core, standardized testing, and rigorous teacher evaluations. Looking around, I can honestly say that I don’t think this is working. Kids are not better readers. And writing skills? Forget about those! And, please, don’t get me started on what I think this era is doing to kids living in poverty, in print-poor homes. It’s criminal, really.
Throughout my 32 years of schooling, I’ve seen the pedagogy of ELA swing wildly back and forth. And, I do believe that in every era, there are some nuggets of positive mixed in with a whole lot of negative. As teachers, we need to find those nuggets and figure out ways to integrate them into what we do every day. The hope is that all those nuggets will come together and create the perfect learning environment to foster life-long readers and writers.
The one nugget that I work to incorporate always is ART. I firmly believe in keeping the ART in ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS. Because, despite the fact that we, on the daily, absolutely flog literature in the attempt to help kids better answer multiple-choice questions and we’ve dictated writing formats for students to follow in an attempt to standardized their responses, ELA is ultimately about ART. Literature, poetry, memoir, essays… these are creative, artistic works.
For me, the best way to make sure that we continue to view reading and writing as an art form is to find ways to incorporate actual artistic practice – coloring, drawing, photographing, cutting, gluing, creating – into our day. We don’t get to this stuff every day, but we do it as often as possible.
So, without further ado, here are 8 of my favorite ways to incorporate art into our daily ELA instruction.
1. Experiment with the One-Pager. One-Pagers are all over the Internets! Just Google it and you’ll find more information than you’ll ever need to implement these. Try having students complete one instead of taking a standard test. You won’t be disappointed!
2. Give List Writing a try. Enough said. You know how I feel about writing lists. If you’re new around here, check out this video:
3. Create Covers. Have your students make covers for their work. They can glue them on notebooks or staple them to the cover of their papers. It makes the BEST “fast finisher” activity and adds such a fun, creative spin to serious work.
4. Put it on a Poster. Instead of having kids answer questions on lined paper, stick a few students together, give them a large sheet of paper and some markers, and simply tell them to PRESENT the answers to their questions. Same work, but a more creative output.
5. Work on Handwriting. Gah!! As a teen, I spent HOURS perfecting my handwriting. Today, it’s a lost art 🙁 But it doesn’t have to be!! I’ve watched lots of YouTube and can now hand-letter like a BOSS. When I do it in front of my students, they are mesmerized. They ask me to teach them cursive and show them all the ways I know to write the letter “G.” Handwriting is lost art because we’ve allowed it to become one, so if we want to see it thrive again, we need to work on it. Trust me, your students will thank you.
6. Illustrate their Answers. Why not have students create an illustration to go along with their next literary analysis? In this picture, you are seeing a “mood picture” created by a student for the Bradbury story, “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.” For the assignment, students had to find the parts of the text that best created the mood of the story. This student then used those examples to a create a picture inspired by the story.
7. Integrate Interactive Student Notebooks. No lie, every year there are 7th grade students that need a demonstration for how to use scissors properly. And there are lots of 7th graders that need to be reminded on how a glue bottle works. Each new school year, I am appalled at the number of kids that do not have these basic, dare I say LIFE, skills. Using Interactive Notebooks (or these huge Interactive Anchor Posters) is a great way to add coloring, cutting, and gluing into your day.
8. Use a Writer’s Notebook. I truly believe that Writer’s Notebooks should be at the heart of your writing instruction. And I can not encourage you enough to have your students include artwork in them. Motivation will sky-rocket and their notebooks will be so pretty at the end of the year, they’ll never want to throw them away. (If you don’t feel artsy enough to model this, feel free to start with this.)
So, those are some of my favorite ways to keep the ART in ELA. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and would really love it if you shared some of your favorite ways to keep the creativity flowing!!