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Thinking outside the box

Claire Tomsett-Rowe discusses combining music with arts and drama to boost engagement and attainment in school

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 27, 2016 | Teaching

In the summer of 2036 our current cohort of children in nursery will be graduating and applying for jobs which have yet to be invented. We, as their teachers, are therefore unsure of the skills and knowledge that they will need to thrive in this new environment but we can expect that their employers will be seeking multi-faceted workers with supple intellects. In order to prepare these employees, we need to ensure that we equip our pupils with the ability to think creatively, problem solve, be flexible, empathetic and able to communicate clearly.  

In life we rarely perform tasks that fit into a specific box, and this should be reflected in the way our curriculum is delivered within the classroom. The foundations of literacy, numeracy and ICT will always be important and we should explore how we combine these elements with the creative side of our syllabus. 

For a creative arts faculty to work in a school, it needs to be open and supportive towards all teachers    

Applying a cross-curricular approach

Even though some sceptics may question whether or not a creative approach to teaching undermines the academic rigour of a more traditional ‘chalk and talk’ lesson, it has been shown that through applying a cross-curricular approach pupils can begin to make links between the subjects. This in turn encourages them to think creatively and imaginatively using the skills they are learning across the board to solve problems. Learning by doing and experiencing can be far more memorable than learning by rote. Experiencing the formation of an oxbow lake by making one in mud or sand is more likely to resonate with pupils than reading about it from a PowerPoint presentation. 

This creative approach to education is at its most prevalent in creative arts such as music, drama, art and dance. For a creative arts faculty to work in a school, it needs to be open and supportive towards all teachers. Pupils too readily classify themselves as ‘musical’, ‘bookish’ or ‘sporty’ so when the PE teacher plays in an orchestra or the librarian coaches a rugby team, it helps to break down these stereotypes. It is imperative therefore that this faculty practices what it preaches, supporting teachers in being able to offer a more creative curriculum in their subjects though the encouragement and initiation of cross curricular projects.

Developing language and reasoning

It is well acknowledged through myriad academic studies, that creative arts help develop areas of the brain involving language and reasoning. The earlier a child starts their creative exploration, the better these areas are developed. There is a theorised link between music and spatial intelligence – being able to form mental pictures and visualise a variety of simultaneous patterns can help to solve all manner of problems from packing the car to tackling advanced mathematical questions.

Studying arts subjects with their ever-changing dynamics encourages pupils to think critically, constantly appraise their work and stretch themselves to continually develop and improve their skills.  Through this sustained effort we learn to build a sense of achievement and cultivate an attitude of discipline, persistence and commitment. Bearing one’s soul through a piece of art or a performance gives pupils the chance to take risks, conquer fears and learn how to cope with criticism. Through performance, pupils learn to listen, negotiate and communicate within a team, memorise information and hone the ability to present and speak publically; undoubtedly these are important life skills for any generation. 

Pride and achievement

We all have a memory of a significant event at school when we took ourselves out of our comfort zones, be it as first violin in the school orchestra or ‘tree number three’ in a nursery nativity, performance and creative arts allow pupils to develop a sense of pride and achievement. Should these not be the overarching emotions our children feel at the end of every school day?  

“Choices, alternatives, failures and doubt: the creative person works all of them out”. (Balkin 1990)

Claire Tomsett-Rowe is Director of Creative Arts at Edge Grove School

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