Art for art's sake, and reading's Teaching: Educators learn to combine two topics in their lessons and do justice to both.

August 09, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The art and music specialists were picking up tips about teaching reading.

Reading and English teachers were learning to incorporate the visual and performing arts into their language lessons.

Neither group felt as if it was taking a back seat, as members tried to learn more about teaching youngsters to read. That's the idea behind Learning to Read Through the Arts, an educational philosophy and method for teachers of all subjects, grades and ability levels.

Though the program is more than 25 years old, it addresses the needs of today's teachers -- particularly in Maryland, where state officials are moving to put more reading instruction in the repertoires of all teachers.

"All teachers are reading teachers," said Howard County art teacher Janice Ford, who attended a recent workshop on the program at Maryland Institute, College of Art. "Art is an additional tool that we can all use to teach reading."

That's something Bernadette C. O'Brien, creator of the program, has known for a long time. "This is a total arts program and a total reading program," said the former New York City public schoolteacher who has taught the Maryland Institute class for at least a half-dozen years.

Her approach is used in more than 2,800 schools, including many in this area, with measurable success in student achievement, especially among youngsters not reading at grade level.

Learning to Read Through the Arts is not a specific curriculum. It is a way of teaching that can be adapted to almost any content -- be it literature, social studies or mathematics, or preferably all of the above skillfully interwoven.

To teach reading, O'Brien advocates a balanced approach that incorporates phonics, word study, spelling, grammar and literature.

"You have to capture their attention. We are presenting material in a variety of ways," she said, while giving tips on games that reinforce vocabulary, stress comprehension and prompt children to analyze the written word.

O'Brien's approach begins with a theme and an art form -- a drawing project or a dramatic reading of a story or historical document. The students get involved in the artistry, and from that the teacher leads them into reading techniques and the content of other subjects.

At the beginning of a lesson, students might be instructed to draw or paint a picture, O'Brien said. When they have finished, the students, with their teacher, talk about what they have created, and the teacher might introduce vocabulary into the discussion that applies to the art and to other areas of study.

The students also would pick up concepts, such as the main idea, O'Brien said. They could talk about the focus of the art and, later, apply that to fiction and nonfiction.

"We go from the concrete to the abstract," an approach that works effectively for many students, she said.

Carroll County reading specialist Helen Stein liked that approach. "I can use the emphasis on art to motivate those who may be the more reluctant readers," she said.

Colleague Pam Knellinger agreed: "The kids who struggle to read are often good in art. It's hands-on, they like it."

Once the children get into the art, they can be steered into listening, talking, reading and writing about it, under the program's philosophy.

The art teachers in the group were especially happy, because it puts art front and center in the classroom, rather than off to the side as a supplementary subject.

"Teaching art for art's sake is valid," Ford said. "There needs to be nothing more. You don't always want to be the one to meet their needs" in other areas such as reading.

But with O'Brien's approach, art might come first, though art isn't the only thing involved.

There's reading and writing and learning, along with it.

Information: Bernadette O'Brien, executive director of Business and Industry for the Arts in Education Inc., Box 52, Glen Rock, N.J. 07452, or call 201-445-4359.

LTC Pub Date: 8/09/98

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