Education

Teachers trade winter break for training in bringing the arts to class

During visual arts training, teachers cut different shapes out of foam sheets to make mobiles.
During visual arts training, teachers cut different shapes out of foam sheets to make mobiles.
Priska Neely

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Teachers at arts integration workshop this week sounded pretty strange as they engaged in dialogue using only different combinations of "blah" and "blah." 

But it wasn't an expression of disgust at the workshop. They were participating in a gibberish exercise where tone, intonation and expression conveyed the message.

Matthew Kennedy, a theatre adviser for the Los Angeles Unified School District, explained that exercises like this can help students master presentation skills. 

"If you give them gibberish ...  they can practice their volume and expression," without being nervous about the content, he told the group.

That was just one of the concepts dozens of LAUSD teachers learned during the final days of winter break at a four-day workshop on arts integration. Groups spent each day learning techniques of four disciplines — visual art, theatre, dance and music.

LAUSD music adviser Chris Rodriguez leads teachers through a conducting lesson during an arts integration workshop over winter break.
LAUSD music adviser Chris Rodriguez leads teachers through a conducting lesson during an arts integration workshop over winter break.
Priska Neely

The LAUSD school board voted unanimously in 2012 to make arts education a "core subject," and schools have struggled since to determine what that means for curricula. For four years now, the district has offered workshops like these to give teachers concrete ideas for classroom activities. The trainers do emphasize that arts integration is not a substitute for specified instruction in these subjects. 

The district has stepped up arts education funding in the last few years and much of the money has gone to support arts integration trainers who lead workshops like these. Teachers learn how they can use each discipline to support Common Core standards. 

In visual arts class, teachers made mobiles out of foam sheets, wire and coat hangers. They talked about how they could use these in lessons about the solar system or water cycle.

Most of the teachers who participate in workshops like these are general grade or subject teachers who don't normally work with the arts. Sixth-grade teacher Robert Reyes of Gardner Street Elementary said he'd usually feel insecure about using music and dance in his classroom, but "to see how easy it is to infuse that into your daily lessons, it kind of takes the pressure off of what I thought it could be."

Sally Weinberger teaches at Lowman Special Education Center. She says the training was a productive way to spend the last days of break.

"I've gone to so many [professional development trainings] and they're, like, so boring and I get nothing out of it, and this one I was actually like, 'Wow this is exciting!' " Weinberger said.

"And if I’m having fun then I want to bring that fun back to my students."