Deirdre Moore | August 2013

Arts Integration with English Learners

Arts Integration with English Learners, Education Closet

We have two weeks left of my Arts Immersion To Do List. As much as I have enjoyed checking off the items I needed to take a little break this week.  Over the past week I have intensely prepared for the CTEL Examination. This is a test to qualify California Teachers of English Learners.  Here in California, if you are a classroom teacher, the chances are good that you will have at least one child (and most likely you have several) in your classroom for whom English is not the primary language.  Although this is a common scenario here in California, it is becoming more common all across the country.

Trying to reach students with little or no understanding of English is a daunting task. However, we can make this a little easier with the arts.  This is just another example of how Arts Integration helps to differentiate instruction and engage all learners at their level no matter their individual educational needs.

For the past two years I have been involved in the implementation of an Arts Integration and Science research grant and the data is building.  One of the strongest pieces of evidence emerging to show that the Arts Integration approach is having positive effects is with English Learners (ELs).  It seems that using the arts with science content helps ELs expand their vocabularies and concept comprehension.  And it’s no wonder, really.  The arts don’t rely as heavily on written and spoken language as the content areas do.  They also provide motivational ways to use language and provide greater context and support for understanding, especially content area vocabulary.

As I have read through The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook: A Complete K-12 Reference Guide by Lynne T. Diaz-Rico and Kathryn Z. Weed I have been struck by how many times authors suggest teachers utilize the arts as strategies to reach ELs.  They mention Carolyn Graham who has developed sound recordings of Jazz Chants to help students learning English as a second language with correct emphasis in speaking.  In order to help students to distinguish phonemes and practice with rhyme and sound patterns, they suggest using poems and songs.  A strategy known as TPR, Total Physical Response, involves students responding with their whole bodies to spoken directions.

Diaz-Rico and Weed also stress that being able to create mental images as one reads is key to comprehension and that students who are having difficulty creating them mentally need to first see images and/or create them externally as a bridge to creating them internally. The only thing missing from all these wonderful suggestions is the corresponding arts objectives so these English Learners can also gain the tools to intentionally create art as they expand their understanding of English and content area concepts.

All Around the Best Strategies

Another thing that struck me as I read was how most of the strategies suggested for ELs are really just good teaching strategies for any student.  If teachers employ these strategies specifically to help the second language learners in theirs classes, all their students will benefit.  What is wonderful about having students in our classrooms who challenge our traditional teaching methods is they make us better.  They force us to look more deeply at our craft. To analyze what we ask our students to do. Thus, finding ways to make the learning more accessible to all.  English Learners simply enrich our classrooms. They force us to be better educators constantly working to find creative methods to bring equity to education.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.