Tag Archives: The Arts

Sneak Peek: July 2017 English Journal

This post is written by members Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, editors of English Journal.

The work of teaching illustrates the adage that change is a constant. Teaching is framed by many constants: schedules, rhythms, routines, and expectations based in national memory and local nostalgia. And teaching is also marked by change: different groups of students every year, not to mention every 42 minutes or so; different texts and expectations driven by technological and social innovations. Teachers practice in spaces of praxis, spaces of simultaneous constancy and change.

In our daily lives, we may become accustomed to living in flux while fixed in amber, but for many educators, summer offers a chance for reflection. Away from the days divided by bells and evenings filled with student papers to grade, teachers may have time to think about what to keep and what to change. With quiet space and time to read, teachers can consider new methods and explore new texts.

Authors in this issue stretch our imaginations and offer opportunities to reflect on what works. Themes featured involve enduring aspects of English classrooms, for example, teaching writing, which is examined from five perspectives. Authors in this issue emphasize authenticity in student writing, investigate teacher and peer responses to student writing, and analyze student and teacher perceptions of argumentative writing in the context of the Common Core. While all of the articles share the topic of writing, this constant is complemented by the lenses through which it is viewed. This issue offers a new approach to literature circles as well as articles that highlight the arts. Poetry, another staple of English classrooms, is amplified through spoken words, and video games extend our definitions of texts.

This issue, which is situated in decades of previous volumes of EJ, is focused on interactions of students and teachers as our lives intersect with one another and with classic and contemporary texts. We hope that the combination of constancy and change helps you find new perspectives on established practices, and imagine how democratic classrooms can prepare today’s learners to lead tomorrow’s world.

juliegorlewskidavidgorlewski2Former English teachers, Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski work with preservice and practicing educators, and with educational leaders, to create instructional opportunities that empower students with language.

Art and Ingenuity: Teaching Literature Through Arts Integration

This post is written by member Stacey Dallas Johnston who is serving as a 2016 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. 

stacey-johnstonI am fascinated by the history of America. For 13 years I have been teaching an American literature class and detailing the historical and artistic evolution of society, politics, and literature. Unfortunately, not all sixteen-year-old’s feel the same way about this subject as I do.

I admit, old literature can be a bit dry at times. A teenager in this day and age is used to high-resolution TV, video games, and information being delivered at lightning speed. The slow crawl from the colonization of America to the 1920’s doesn’t always pack as much action as they would like.

Stacey3As I kick-start this current school year at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, I once again have turned back the clock to enter early America. This year, however, I have decided that I am no longer content with the way I’ve been doing things. As a teacher who wholeheartedly believes in arts integration, I know I can take my usual journey through American literature on some new twists and turns. All I need are some art supplies and ingenuity.

This year my students will study foundational American texts such as The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, and The Great Gatsby while using an interactive notebook to create collages, write poetry, draft letters, and analyze pieces of American artwork. Additionally, we will be memorizing and delivering some of the greatest American speeches such as “The Gettysburg Address,” in full costume, of course. It’s time to turn up the dial on arts integration so that my juniors forget that what they are reading is hundreds of years old and focus more on engaging in the empathetic experience of learning about history and enjoying literature.

Stacey2There is no reason why a room full of teenagers can’t be just as excited as I am to get inside the head of political figures or to imagine life in a Puritan colony. It just takes the right approach. Already, in a mere three weeks, my students have written rap songs encompassing the traits of America and have created visuals to express their responses to an essay titled “What Is an American.”

All it took was an invitation and a few markers, and no one was bored. My students were engaged in deep conversations and critical thinking about word choices and symbols. Although I teach at an arts high school, my student population is “diverse.” Not all the kids are outgoing, and not all of them even consider themselves creative. Additionally, they often do not see that their arts and academic classes share many of the same qualities.

Stacey1My job is to bridge that gap, to show them that jazz is not just a style of music but a culture, with just as much importance to the literary world of 1920’s as the musical world of that time. My job is to show them that delivering the words “Give me liberty or give me death” was probably not a performance meant to entertain, but was delivered with just as much, if not more, passionate intensity than the most riveting stage monologue. My job is to show them that language can be just as creative and metaphoric as an abstract painting.

It might be a hard sell at times, but I believe that the arts have the power to knock the dust off of history and appeal to the harshest of teenage critics. If you don’t believe me, just ask Alexander Hamilton.

Stacey4Stacey Dallas Johnston is an English teacher at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Las Vegas, NV, currently teaching English 11, AP Literature and Composition, and Creative Writing. A 16 year veteran of the Clark County School District, Johnston is an advocate for the arts. Johnston is currently serving as a 2016 Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.  

Advocating for Change through Artistic Expression

The following guest post is by author Sharon Draper. Draper will be the keynote speaker for the Children’s Book Awards Luncheon and one of our featured speakers on the Authors as Advocates panel at the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention.

SharonDraperThose who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.  I’m paraphrasing here, but the knowledge of the past and the words written to preserve that knowledge are waiting in books. Fiction. Nonfiction. Drama. Poetry. Add to that art and music and color and sound and rhythm and all the manifestations thereof, and we as humans survive and continue.

I remember a powerful short story that we read during a senior literature class I taught. I cannot recall the title, but it was about a music box—the last one in the world. The story took place after the final apocalypse, and basic human survival was a daily life-and-death struggle. And what was the most prized possession of the world in which everything had been destroyed? That music box. It was the only item left on the face of the earth that carried music and art and beauty. Wars were fought—not for food, but for that one piece of beauty. So I asked my students—do we need artistic expression to be fully human? Most of them decided that yes, we do.

What I do through my artistic expression is miniscule, compared to the magnitude of all we need to breathe and think. But I feel uplifted when I see a painting of a sunset that my heart recognizes. I feel satiated when I smell honeysuckle in the summer. I incorporate lots of sensory imagery in my writing—not because a writing professor told me to, but because that is how I inhale the world, how I process all the beauty of life.

Through writing, we have the opportunity to save humanity—one word at a time. I am so grateful to be part of the artistic process, to be one with the drummers and the singers and the photographers who capture a moment.

Reporters sometimes ask me, “Who is your audience?”

I reply, “People who read. People who think they don’t like to read. People who think and connect to others. People who are searching.”

“What do you hope readers take from your books?”

“Memories. Joys. Sorrows. Shared community. Characters. Story. Smiles. Tears. Vision. Hope.”

“So how do your stories promote change?”

“Often they do not. But when they do, this is what happens:

  • Kids read a book all the way through to the end.
  • They tuck [books] in their backpack and dig them out during math class when they are supposed to be doing subtraction.
  • They take [a book] home and share it with their mother.
  • They refuse to return the book, saying they lost it.
  • They identify with the characters in the story, saying that life mirrors their own.
  • They laugh. They cry. They get angry at characters.
  • They read a book many times.
  • They think about their life, their future, their possibilities.
  • They see dances. They hear echoes. They touch a symphony.”

This is a book in the hands of a child.

StellabyStarlightSharon M. Draper is the author of over 30 award-winning books, including Out of my Mind, which remains on the NYT bestseller list. She served as the National Teacher of the Year, has been honored at the White House six times, and was chosen to be a literary ambassador to the children of Africa as well as China.  Her newest novel, Stella by Starlight, won the 2016 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.