Susan Riley | October 2013

Define through Doing Strategy

Strategy: Define through Doing

Grade Level: K-12+

Art Focus: Music, Drama, Dance

Think about what makes learning exciting for you: is it the activities? the connections? developing a deeper understanding?  All of these pieces are an essential part of the chord that strikes within each of us during the learning process.  The trouble is, too often we treat the learning process like separate events.  We either focus on the instructional activities, OR the cross-curricular connections OR going deeply into each standard.  Instead, the real magic of learning happens when we use AND – we teach with all of these pieces together.

One of the ways that I have found helpful in accomplishing this with both students and adult learners is through the use of the Define through Doing strategy.  This provides the learner with an opportunity to explore a key question through the use of a chosen artform as a pathway to defining their own meaning.  This serves a few purposes.

First, there is a specific prompt that encourages deep discussion and mental “chewing” about a concept.  Second, the learner needs to interact with the question to transfer their knowledge and meaning through non-traditional communication tools.  Third, the learning is cocooned by the natural rigor of the arts themselves.  This strategy provides an avenue for learning that connects each of these essential components into one deceivingly simple activity.

Strategy Steps

1. Select an essential question.  Be sure that this is a question that probes deeply into a key aspect of the standard of focus.

2. Ask the learners to choose an art form through which to communicate for the rest of the lesson: music, dance or drama.  Ask the learners to sit with others who chose the same art form.

3. Provide the learner groups an opportunity to define or answer the essential question through their chosen art form.  For example, if students chose dance, they would define the essential question through dancing.

4. Record or video each group performance of the essential question exploration.  Once complete, share the recordings as a class and reflect upon similarities and differences in their definitions or answers.

Strategy Sample: What is Creativity?

Recently, I used this strategy with a group of Teaching Artists as we explored the essential question, “What is creativity?” as a team.  As a twist, I got social media involved by asking my followers what questions they would want to ask an artist.  I then chose one and used that as the question prompt for this activity.  Below, you’ll find the example recordings that used their art form to communicate their definition.  Note: I used the Vine app to record 6 second video clips, which we could then piece together to provide a comprehensive look at creativity in a new way.

Defined through Drama:

Defined through Music and Dance

How do you think you might use this strategy?  Could you use Social Media to help capture and reflect upon this practice?  We welcome your thoughts!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan