Why PBL and the Arts Need Each Other

4 Min Read  •  Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning.

As we hear more and more about this approach, we at Education Closet are engaged in asking how PBL intersects with our passion for integrating the arts. Not only is there a place for both our classrooms, but the relationship between PBL and the arts can be mutually beneficial. Today, we take a quick look at why PBL needs the arts in the general classroom, as well as why the arts classroom needs project based learning.

Why PBL needs the arts.

PBL places the emphasis on how we come to know something, and less on what we know. PBL is a shift away from teaching to the test. While it is rooted in standards, it is process and inquiry based. PBL employs creative processes like the design process, which naturally aligns to creative processes used in the arts. The arts are project-based by their very nature, and encourage skills that have been identified as those essential for students to be college and career ready: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. As students work to create works and performances in art, music, drama, and dance, they generate original ideas, make inferences, ask questions, create, refine, and evaluate their own work. What more can we ask for in our classrooms?

We are preparing students for a future we cannot predict, for jobs that don’t exist yet, and with that in mind, it is essential that we are preparing students for lifelong learning in all content areas and for all kinds of careers, including those in the arts.

Why the arts need PBL.

We as arts teachers already know that many of the processes and skills that are used in teaching Common Core contents are easily and often transferred into the teaching of art, music, drama, and dance. Once we gain a better understanding of how to authentically use inquiry-based approaches in a way that honors the inquiry process as well as the teaching of arts contents, we provide students with an opportunity to make their learning more authentic, to gain knowledge based in standards, and to develop 21st century learning skills.

Arts educators can ramp up the rigor of arts contents by infusing the inquiry process into teaching of the arts, and allowing students to enjoy more “voice and choice” in the creation of their artistic products. We can make manageable adjustments to our own teaching to include authentic cross-curricular connections and real-world contexts without sacrificing time or the integrity of the explicit teaching of the arts.

 So how do we do this?

Focus on process. Of course we want students to master content: that’s what we are responsible for, as in any inquiry based approach, we maintain our fidelity and our responsibility to content standards. But deeper than that, we want our students leaving our classrooms with the tools to be successful in life. By providing students choice, asking them to inquire and investigate, helping them develop the skill to solve problems, and to provide a structure in which they can share what they’ve learned, regardless of the content area, we are allowing them an opportunity to practice a process they will need to be successful in life, and the bonus is that they will walk away with a deeper understanding of content.

 Let students take ownership of their learning. If we can let go and trust our students to guide their own learning, this creates buy-in. (What do you want to know about this subject? How do you want to learn this? What can you listen/look for?) Of course, there are times for explicit, teacher-led instruction, but if we can recognize those opportune times to let go of the reigns and allow students to make their own choices, we create a culture of authentic, self-motivated learning in our classrooms.

Make real-world connections. When students make meaning for themselves, learning sticks. By integrating content standards with something relatable to our students and allowing them voice and choice in how they come to know that content as well as how they demonstrate their learning, we allow students to construct meaning for themselves.

 Want more? Check out our brand new mini-course, Project Based Learning and the Arts. This course is online and completely self-paced 12 video lessons, 16+ templates and resource packets, a packed bonus area and a certificate for 10 PD hours.