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date: 26 February 2024

Art-Informed Pedagogies in the Preparation of Teachers in the United Statesfree

Art-Informed Pedagogies in the Preparation of Teachers in the United Statesfree

  • Melisa Cahnmann-TaylorMelisa Cahnmann-TaylorUniversity of Georgia
  •  and Lynn Sanders-BustleLynn Sanders-BustleUniversity of Georgia


There are several interrelated themes in arts-informed pedagogies and teacher preparation: (1) the arts as tools to improve students’ academic achievement in other content areas such as math, science, social studies, language arts, and foreign language; (2) the arts as holistic and dynamic process for meaning-making; (3) the arts for teachers’ own professional identity and satisfaction (e.g., for teacher reflection, teacher retention, job satisfaction, and relationship-building); and (4) the arts for social change, social justice, and education advocacy work. There are a series of key questions and concerns regarding where, how, and why arts-informed teacher education practices are used, who uses them, and to what end.


  • Professional Learning and Development


Figure 1. Detail of artwork titled The Theory of Everything, created by graduate student Jessica Harms for a 2016 exhibition titled Crossing Boundaries.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Sanders-Bustle.

Since the end of the 19th century, modern educational philosophers and researchers such as Francis Parker and John Dewey have articulated the unique and important ways the arts contribute to education, awakening students’ perceptions of qualities and experiences in the civil “arts of living” (Dewey, 1934, p. 350). Engaging students in arts-informed practices supports Dewey’s (1938) position that an educator’s primary responsibility is to engage students in physical, material, and social “experiences that lead to growth” (p. 40). Building on these ideas, leading arts education scholars Elliott Eisner and Maxine Greene argue for “aesthetic modes of knowing” (Eisner, 1985), making room in the curriculum for the imagination, healing, and possibility (Greene, 2007).

“Arts-Informed,” “arts-based,” “arts-integrated,” and other terms have been used to explore the relevance and approaches to arts education connected to curriculum and instruction with learners of all ages, including teacher learners. In this article, we further Cole and Knowles’s (2001; 2008) use of the term “arts-informed,” knowing that scholars have referenced the arts and education through a variety of terms. It is important for scholars working in the field of arts and language education to recognize that informing teacher preparation with the arts acknowledges the unique tools that the arts offer “to make and provide meaning through aesthetic symbols” (Davis, 2008, p. 48) (see figure 1). Expanding on Ecker’s (1963) work, we also frame art-making as qualitative problem-solving, a process with distinct phases of reflective practice that benefit K-12 teachers in training as well as teachers in practice. These phases point to the humanizing potential of arts-informed pedagogies to help educators examine the very heart and body of teaching and learning.

However, the values of aesthetic education are often pitted against the priorities of scientifically based education reform taking place in the United States. Driven by the priorities and evaluation indicators of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 (“No Child Left Behind,” or NCLB), followed by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, education reform leaders have addressed concern with “achievement gaps” related to race and ethnicity, gender, language, school location, and other characteristics through standardized testing and a Common Core curriculum. In this climate, the arts have been positioned within a landscape of reform that emphasizes accountability and test score gains for those “at risk,” pushing toward budget cuts to educational programming considered not core. From this perspective, experiences in the arts require valuable time that has been limited by even earlier philosophies supporting our modern-day liberal arts curriculum. Ben Franklin’s famous 1700s regret that “Alas! art is long, and life is short!” remains a tension in U.S. liberal arts education where subject matter knowledge or the “three R’s” are given much greater curricular emphasis than arts education for students as well as in the preparation of K-12 educators. In contrast to work that is “informed” by the arts, work that is “scientifically informed” is given much more credibility and investment in a climate driven by standardized test indicators. Thus, an enduring tension in K-12 U.S. education remains regarding the variability that arts-informed pedagogies receive in teacher preparation. We recognize the challenges of present binaries where what is informed by the arts versus the sciences appears on opposite sides of an educational debate rather than as necessary partners in deep and meaningful education.

This article provides an overview of the ways in which the arts have informed pedagogies in the field of U.S. teacher preparation by reviewing arts-informed teacher education practices to date. Key questions and concerns regarding where, how, and why the arts are used, who uses them, and to what end are considered with reference to a selection of international work that helps contextualize U.S. activity. At the end of this review we provide extensions to the ways in which the arts have been used in the training of medical doctors, social workers, and other civil servants and their relevance to teacher training. We also make connections to important work outside the U.S. context.

Arts-Informed Teacher Education Practices

When valued, there are several rationale that have been used in order to include the arts in teacher preparation: (1) the arts as tools to improve students’ academic achievement in other content areas such as math, science, social studies, language arts, and foreign language; (2) the arts as holistic and dynamic process for meaning-making; (3) the arts for teachers’ own professional identity and satisfaction (e.g., for teacher reflection, teacher retention, job satisfaction, and relationship-building); and (4) the arts for social change, social justice, and education advocacy work. The languages and skill sets across varying arts fields—visual art, theatre, music, dance, creative writing, and (multi)media arts—have been previously identified as valuable tools for attaining particular educational goals. These studies stress the need for breadth and depth in the arts disciplines as well as increased teacher education, collaborations with art specialists, and teaching artist partnerships (Catterall & Waldorf, 1999; Lukes & Zwicky, 2013; Meban, 2002). While we discuss each of the rationale for arts education separately, we recognize these areas are intertwined (e.g., arts-informed pedagogies for social justice are often holistic, connected to student achievement as well as to a teacher’s job satisfaction and retention). Discussing each in isolation helps us to define these areas, while keeping in mind their deep interconnections.

The Arts for Academic Achievement

In terms of academic development, Chapelle and Cahnmann-Taylor (2013) review the many ways the arts have frequently been invoked as a way for teachers to deepen student engagement in subject area knowledge (Blecher & Jaffee, 1998; Efland, 2002; Marshall & Donahue, 2014; Mulcahey, 2009; Smithrim & Upitis, 2005; Walker, Tabone, & Weltsek, 2011) as well as extend knowledge retention and improve test performance (Corbett, Wilson, & Morse; 2005; Deasy, 2002). Many studies address how the arts can be integrated with other subject areas to increase art competencies as well as disciplinary skills in other fields such as literacy, language, social studies, and science (Appel, 2006; Broulette & Burns, 2005; Burnaford, Aprill, & Weiss, 2001; Burnaford, Brown, Doherty, & McLaughlin, 2007; Cornett, 2011; Deasy, 2002; Mishook & Kornhaber, 2006; Sicre, 2013). Both Deasy (2002) and Burnaford et al. (2007) offer a comprehensive overview of studies related to arts integration, and Ludwig, Boyle, and Lindsay (2017) have conducted a comprehensive search of educational databases to identify reports about the implementation and outcomes of arts integration interventions since 2002. According to a meta-analysis, it was determined that “the effects of arts integration interventions on student achievement in core subject areas were positive and statistically significant” indicating that an “average student would likely move from the 50th percentile to the 54th percentile in academic achievement (or an improvement index of 4 percentile points)” (p. 42). In addition to larger comprehensive reviews, scholars and teacher-researchers focus specifically on arts-informed strategies utilized by teachers with learners. Gadanidis, Hughes, and Cordy (2011) examine an arts-integrated gifted program in which 7th- and 8th-grade students used drawing, poetry, drama, and interactive technology to investigate, extend, and communicate mathematical ideas. They find that using the arts helped the students think artistically about math, moving beyond the idea that math requires a right or wrong answer. Dabach (2010) demonstrates the strategy of pairing an aesthetic tool or process with a content area skill, in particular using visual imagery to develop writing skills with English language learners. In their work with first and second graders, Belcher and Jaffee (1998) use drawing as a daily tool for inquiry as children recorded observations, visualized math problems, experimented with measuring, and generated detailed stories in their sketchbook journals.

Given the growing evidence that the arts impact academic development, teachers of all disciplines are being asked to integrate the arts into core subject areas. Their ability to do so varies widely and is based on informal and formal experiences. Informal experiences include individual art involvement or collaborations with arts specialists in schools and formal experiences occur as part of teacher preparation programs in higher education and in-service training or partnerships with art specialists, teaching artists, or artists-in-residence in schools. Many in-service programs have been implemented through grants sponsored by large arts organizations such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., whose ArtsEdge program has provided a range of arts integration resources for teachers for more than a decade. Goals for in-services include helping teachers understand arts integration, develop self-efficacy in the arts, experience art processes, locate connections between the arts and core subject areas, and design arts-informed instruction. The Getty Center in Los Angeles regularly offers programming for teachers that is aimed at providing best practices for arts integration through their “Create and Connect” workshops.

Despite these efforts, often located in large cities, the degree to which the arts are successfully integrated into urban, suburban, and rural classroom curricula often depends on a teacher’s knowledge and experience, grade level, and, most important, self-efficacy and self-image relating to creativity and the arts (Oreck, 2004). Additionally, logistical barriers associated with schooling in general such as “time issues, collaboration, seniority, testing, accountability, and individual teacher’s own commitment to the arts” (Windsor-Liscombe, 2016) also impact the effectiveness of arts integration in schools see Figure 2 of a student teacher who appears entangled whilst viewing a middle schooler's large graffiti project on values. Furthermore, efforts to implement an arts-informed curriculum are often determined by federal policies, such as NCLB and the Race to the Top, and short-term grant funds made available to schools to strengthen core subject areas. For example, in the United States, the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 granted art and music education access to funding, validating the role that the arts play in STEM education (Watson, 2016). As a result, current efforts are aimed at inserting the arts as the letter “A” into the acronym STEM, thereby creating STEAM as a kind of arts-informed curriculum (Liao, 2016). Consequently, teachers in STEM disciplines are being asked to incorporate the arts into the curriculum. However, such efforts do not ensure that the quality of experiences and academic outcomes will be realized because policies aimed at improving academic performance in core subject areas involve the arts in a range of contortions in the service of academic disciplines and inclusion and does not necessarily mean that the experiences afforded students are well-integrated, balanced, or authentically placed or that collaborations are equitable. And, despite best efforts, standardization and testing, scheduling conflicts, and challenges associated with collaboration and administration support (May & Robinson, 2016) result in the continued marginalization of the arts in the service of academic disciplines.

Figure 2. Student-teacher reviewing Middle Schoolers’ artwork.

Photo courtesy of Lynne Sanders-Burstle.

Limited, urban-centered support, insufficient resources, time constraints, and power imbalances that privilege subject area content over the arts are some of the many challenges to deep arts integration that often perpetuate arts marginalization or disappearance in many U.S. educational contexts, including teacher preparation. In discussion of arts-informed pedagogies, it is important to distinguish between what we refer to as little “i” versus big “I” integration. Little “i” refers to arts integration that is made when the arts are solely viewed as handmaidens to academic achievement. A visual rendering of a science experiment, performing a scene from history, writing a poem to articulate understandings of a piece of literature or a math equation—little “i” integration of the arts maintains arts education on the margins, a useful accessory to more valued, cognitive learning in the content areas. Little “i” views of arts integration can truncate the dynamic, holistic qualities of arts learning beyond quantifiable skill acquisition. As Davis (2008) astutely observes, “You are not asked to transfer something that has sufficient value in itself” (p. 46). Thus, scholars in arts-informed pedagogies increasingly argue for big “I” arts integration: the holistic and dynamic processes of meaning-making that are uniquely provided by arts-informed pedagogies.

The Arts as a Holistic and Dynamic Process for Inquiry and Meaning-Making

While evidence that the arts support learning in academic subjects is significant, much of what makes the arts so powerful (or big “I” integration of the arts) gets lost in the shuffle. Many arts integration strategies fail to honor the integrity of the arts as a holistic and dynamic process for inquiry and meaning-making, raising important questions about the value of the arts in education as a whole. In Why Our Schools Need the Arts, Davis (2008) responds to seven common “objections” taxpayers and policymakers have against including arts education in public schooling, including constraints on curricular time, finances, challenges to valid assessment of learning, the artistic preparedness of all teachers, and the assumption that the arts remain available in community settings regardless of whether they are available in schools. On the defensive and to safeguard arts programs in schools, many well-intended advocates, past and present, turn to arguments that justify the arts in education in terms of academic achievement disciplines as discussed; for example, the arts raise CRCT, SAT, and other scores, and increase students’ creative problem-solving abilities that transfer to other disciplinary knowledge in literacy, math, and science (Baker, 2011; Bauerlein, 2010; Deasy, 2002; Caterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012; Fiske, 1999). Increasingly, arts advocates have studied the unique, holistic contributions aesthetic processes make to student learning.

Research by Harvard’s Project Zero has observed numerous arts classrooms and identified what they refer to as “eight studio habits of mind” (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013) that students develop through art-making and can be applied to all disciplines. When students engage in arts processes they develop distinct and complementary social practices: developing craft; engaging and persisting; envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, stretching, and exploring; and understanding art worlds. In a similar vein, Anderson and Milbrandt (2005) offer Art for Life as a holistic approach to the teaching of art focused on art as a process to discover “meanings, values and ways of living in the world” (p. 7). Visual art and literacy scholars Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell (2003) suggest that early childhood teachers involve learners in immersive art experiences meant to drive inquiry, instill curiosity, and generate questions and reflection as a regular part of daily teaching and learning. Through artistic processes, learners are motivated to explore relevant topics, locate symbols to express their ideas, and share them with others. Founded in 1963 in northern Italy, Reggio Emilia serves as an excellent example of holistic arts-informed pedagogy in Europe that has informed U.S. pedagogies. With the atelier or art studio as the center of pedagogy, teachers learn alongside children by engaging them in rich experiences that encourage careful looking, a sense of wonder, documentation, question posing, and the discovery of overarching ideas that connect school to the wider community (Gandini, Hill, Cadwell, & Schwall, p. 2). Reggio-inspired methods have had a profound effect on teacher preparation in a host of disciplines finding their way into teacher preparation programs around the world. Supporting thousands of educators, in 2002 the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance was established as a way to connect early childhood educators with Reggio Emilia–inspired education and currently serves as a resource-sharing network offering workshops, publications, and conferences for teachers (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, n.d).

The holistic treatment of arts-informed pedagogy can also be found in visual arts teacher preparation that focuses more broadly on helping teachers make connections between the arts and meaning-making. In 2004, Sydney Walker proposed that teachers design visual art experiences around big ideas or broad themes about which essential questions are posed and deeper understandings of art-making and artworks are explored in a “reflective and conscious manner” (p. 7). In essence, art-making or studio practices become contemplative processes for constructing knowledge across interrelated content areas and include opportunities for teachers to explore the intersections of methods, knowledge, purposes, and forms across disciplines, as is represented in figure 3. (Marshall & Donahue, 2014). Drawing from the innovations of contemporary visual artists, Marshall and Donahue (2014) propose an arts-centered approach to teaching at the secondary level that invites teachers and learners of all disciplines to make connections, mine deeply into ideas, and to construct new learning.

Figure 3. Detail of large felt map created by graduate students investigating the intersections of methods, knowledge, purposes, and forms across disciplines. Created by Nara Kim, Jessica Harms, Kihyun Nam, Amber Pitt, Christine Wu, Carolyn Stoddard, Micheal Gilles, and Carli Brownlee.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Sanders-Bustle.

With the advent of digital technologies, teacher preparation in the 21st century requires teachers to think more broadly about what it means to teach and learn in a postmodern era as the fluidity of knowledge complicates disciplinary borders and consequently is viewed as multimodal. These shifts have significantly impacted art practices and are consequently reshaping arts integration. For example, in the field of literacy, new conceptualizations of literacy in the United States and Europe (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Gee, 1996; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; New London Group, 1996; Street, 2003) emerged that focus on the role that nonalphabetic sign (i.e., visual and auditory) systems play in the mediation of experiences. New literacies simultaneously challenge and share complementarity with traditional and privileged ways of representing knowledge academically (i.e., writing and speaking). Similarly, the visual arts, more broadly described as visual culture, are wrapped into literate experiences as part of a larger web of meaning-making and world-making (Alvermann, Hagood, & Williams, 2001; Bailey & Carroll, 2010; Chase & Laufenberg, 2011). These changes represent a shift toward transdisciplinary thinking that challenges the relevance of separate disciplines in a contemporary world and at the same time requires aesthetic flexibility as teachers and learners navigate the risks of moving from the known to the unknown with curiosity and creativity in any field of knowledge.

Figure 4. Collages created by middle school students as they explored the topic of power in the art room.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Sanders-Bustle.

Such rationales point to humanizing, integrated purposes for arts education in schools that examine the very heart of learning: why do people create, question, desire, interact, and make interdisciplinary meaning in the world? In letting go of a defensive posture, some arts educators and researchers have refused to translate what the arts “do” in the language of other disciplines and instead celebrate the unique tools that the arts offer “to make and provide meaning through aesthetic symbols” (Davis, 2008, p. 48). The arts and social imagination are intertwined (Greene, 2000), and in shifting the conversation from apology and justification to validation and value, arts education is “more likely to serve its transformative, emancipatory, and aesthetic purposes” (Chapelle & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2013, p. 5). This idea played out in a lesson pre-service teachers presented to middle school students on power (Figure 4).

The Arts for Teachers’ Own Professional Identity and Satisfaction

In order to harness the power of arts-informed processes for inquiry and meaning-making, teachers need to experience this power and reflect on classroom applications. Greene (2001) asserts that personal experience with the arts is necessary if aesthetic pedagogies are to be realized. Anderson (2016) supports this view in her work using drama with student teachers, claiming that if they pay attention to their own thoughts, senses, and emotions they are better able to craft their own aesthetic pedagogical practice. Augustine and Zoss (2006) use the concepts of experience (Dewey, 1938) and flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), often associated with aesthetics, with preservice language arts teachers to help them better understand the richer notions of knowledge that secondary students bring into schools. In their work with preservice teachers in Canada, Gouzouasis, Irwin, Miles, and Gordon (2013) demonstrate that when a/r/tography, or practice-based “artist, researcher, teacher (a/r/t)” research, is used as an artistic framework, those who embrace art are not only more successful in their coursework and practicum but also continue to value artistry, which has a strong influence on their identities.

Viewing teachers’ identities through the metaphor of “teacher artists” shifts our thinking from that of depositing academic knowledge into learners’ accounts, which Brazilian scholar Paulo Freire (1972) referred to as monologic practices, toward viewing teachers and learners as creative and collaborative meaning-makers. Danzac (2015) refers to this form of pedagogical discovery and innovation as “sociocultural animation” (p. 58). Cahnmann-Taylor and Hwang’s (in press) study adopts an “eight studio habits of mind” framework as an apprenticeship approach (Hetland et al., 2013) in which English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) educators, like artists, learn by creative “doing” with language as opposed to depositing information about grammar and vocabulary into students’ accounts. For teachers to embrace studio habits in their instruction, teacher education environments should function like artist studios, cultivating communities of creative practice and perspective through writing and sharing poetry. In theatre, Cahnmann-Taylor and Sahakian (2013) co-created an education course that culminated in an interactive performance and discussion with pre- and in-service educators in foreign language, English, science, and early childhood education. This performance showcased embodied and aesthetic inquiry that teachers in graduate courses share and learn to implement with students in their own K-12 classrooms.

In other words, for teachers to implement holistic and dynamic arts processes in their own classrooms, greater teacher training opportunities must be provided for educators to experience these processes themselves and reflect on their implementation. This training must also include strategic arts-integration strategies in light of the numerous constraints discussed previously, such as limitations on time, testing demands, core content focus, and increased curricular prescription and oversight. U.S. research indicates that due to the high stresses and struggles in a teacher’s career, one in four teachers quits within the first three years in the profession. Teacher attrition rates have been shown to be as high as 50% in the first five years (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Ingersoll, 2007). Many teachers and teacher educators turn to the literary, visual, and performing arts as tools to help new and practicing teachers craft more resilient professional lives.

There are several arts programs in the United States that provide teachers with training in specific arts practices that offer ideas for their own instruction as well as experiences in the personal satisfaction of meaning-making through the arts. For example, since 1987, the Dodge Poetry Program has been committed to giving New Jersey teachers and students meaningful, relevant, and revitalized experiences with poetry by sending poets to work, short-term, in 300 state schools. Since 1996 the American Academy of Poets has provided numerous online resources to all teachers to help them bring poetry into U.S. classrooms and to provide resources for teachers’ own satisfaction and learning (Materials for Teachers, 2019). In many states, such as Ohio, there is funding to invite many different kinds of artists to become visiting co-teachers in public schools (Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, 2019). These programs exist both within and outside the United States. For example, in 2008, the Australian government implemented an expansive artists-in-residence program that paired teachers with artists. The month-long program aimed to “improve access to the arts for young people while at the same time sharing arts integration strategies with teachers” (Hunter, Baker, & Nailon, 2014). Lasting a full day, several days, or longer, artists are funded by public and private resources to supplement existing arts education programs and extend them in unique, personalized, and meaningful ways.

While the audience for these artist-in-residence programs that take place in schools are primarily school youth, teachers also benefit from watching how the artist approaches meaning-making and relationship-building through arts pedagogies. In relation to these programs are professional development programs that provide arts experiences directly to teachers in order to nurture teachers’ imaginations, cultivate joy in the profession, and secure teacher retention. Blair (2009) engages music educators in the power of story and metaphor in offering up possibilities for human action and feeling in relation to special needs students in their classrooms. The research found that narrative assisted with developing empathy and understanding for students who had otherwise caused teachers great stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Likewise, Cahnmann-Taylor and Souto-Manning (2010) use arts-informed pedagogies with bilingual teachers as a way to process recurring struggles related to a wide variety of perceived “antagonists” to teachers’ feelings of job satisfaction and success. At times, teachers perceived students as antagonists; at other times, parents, administrators, colleagues, or paraprofessional assistants were perceived as triggers for stress and tension in the educational contexts for their work. In this study, applied theatre practices were implemented as ways for new and more experienced teachers to rehearse various performances of the self to maintain their own sense of power and agency in their professional roles and relationships. Lobman (2006) uses improvisational comedy as an analytical tool to better understand the practices of responsive listening in early childhood classrooms and recommends comedy improv to pre-K teachers as a resource for initial training, reflection, and renewal. Creativity and agency in arts-informed teacher education practice has encouraged “teacher as artist” metaphors as counterpoints for more prevalent orientations to teachers as those who treat and fix problems (like doctors or scientists; Graham & Zwirn, 2010). Comparing the act of lesson-planning and instruction to that of the artist encourages teachers to see their tasks as creative, generative, surprising, and aesthetic.

This approach to teacher education allows teachers to see themselves as artists in the classroom as well as agentive producers of art to stimulate larger public conversations about schooling. For example, Thorne (2018), a public high school drama teacher, scripted, directed, and performed a musical based on applied theatre workshops she led with colleagues for her district. #Schooled, a musical parody of teachers’ lives, was performed by students and teachers for an audience of peers, leading to honest and nuanced conversations about what it means to be an urban teacher.

#Schooled triggered reflections on ongoing community tensions including the role of technology and social media in high school communities, teacher-student relationships, and teacher vulnerability during evaluation. Thorne’s work built on ethnodrama traditions such as that by Vanover and Saldaña (2005) performing teachers’ experiences in the Chicago public school system and Sun’s (2009) one-woman performance based on accrued experience as a teaching-artist in New York city schools. This arts-based work inspired a social studies educator with a background in dance to choreograph “Necessary Trouble: Dancing a Teacher’s Story” (Goodrich, 2015) in response to reading a teacher’s published poem (Thorne, 2012) related to working with low-income student populations in the southeastern United States.

The ethnotheatre performances, poetry, and choreographed dances were aesthetic and somatic processes that teacher-researchers engaged in as a way to illustrate and reflect on the pressures and demands experienced in their professional lives. This work also represents teacher-generated inquiry often referred to as “arts-based research” (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2018). While these inquiry-based performances did not resolve teachers’ struggles, they provided the means to express and share them with other educators, analyze patterns, and release the isolating burden of navigating challenges alone. More research is needed to evaluate the impact of teachers’ art-making on longer-term retention and success in the field.

The Arts for Social Change, Social Justice, and Education Advocacy Work

Another important area in arts-informed teacher education is to nurture preservice teachers’ experiences of “aesthetic processes” to disrupt normalized ways of thinking about the self and the world. Arts-informed pedagogies have been utilized by numerous U.S. teacher educators to engage teacher candidates—many of whom are often white, middle-class, heterosexual, and female—in critical reflections on patterns of inequality related to race, class, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and so on that are often reproduced through public schooling (e.g., Cahnmann-Taylor & Souto-Manning, 2010; Kraehe & Brown, 2011). The arts for social justice is deeply connected to the areas of academic achievement, meaning-making, and teacher renewal discussed previously, but extend renewal of self to include the students, families, and communities where teachers work. In this case the arts can help teachers have urgent yet difficult conversations about how conditions of poverty, racism, and other discriminatory practices further the education gap. Aesthetic processes can draw educators’ attention to the urgent need for creative strategies to invest in themselves and their students and address inequality.

Writing poetry or fiction, creating visual art or performing images or scripts, and making films may not solve social problems, but these and many other arts-informed pedagogies draw pre- and in-service teachers’ attention to the ways in which social inequalities are forged in histories that are riven with differentially constituted relations of power, to name them, and to explore creative possibilities for change. For example, numerous scholars in teacher education have described professional development approaches that merge the scholarship of critical pedagogy (Freire, 1972) with the theatrical, activist work of Augusto Boal (1992) called Theatre of the Oppressed. These scholars have utilized Boal’s methods, which began in South America (Boal, 1995), to navigate recurring moments of discrimination and social struggle that impact U.S. classroom life with preservice foreign language teachers (Wooten & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2014); pre- and in-service bilingual/ESOL/language arts teachers (Cahnmann-Taylor & Souto-Manning, 2010; Cahnmann-Taylor, Bleyle, & Hwang, 2016); and social studies and arts educators in training (Powell & Serriere, 2013).

In Kraehe and Brown’s (2011) study, each author instructed social foundations courses incorporating arts-informed pedagogies including storyboards, fiction writing, and film-making as a way to prepare students to address issues of social justice in their future K-12 classrooms. With backgrounds as arts and nonarts educators, they illustrated how a wide variety of arts-informed pedagogies can be designed and implemented regardless of arts background and do not need to result in artistic products. Rather, an arts-informed focus can provide meaningful insight into social inequities and their impact on classroom life through aesthetic processes. With similar pedagogical motivations, Sanders-Bustle and Lalik (2017) involve preservice teachers in art education in a sustained series of art-making activities at an outreach center for the homeless. In this effort, preservice teachers collaborated with homeless adults to erect a 15-by-75-foot tile and mirror mosaic on the site of a day shelter (figure 5). Research on the project demonstrated how design, a contested art-literacy space, disrupted social habits, challenged stereotypes, negotiated texts, and interrogated perceptions about poverty and homelessness. Embedded in this kind of participatory art-making is the idea that it can be a collaborative rather than individual endeavor. In this instance, the focus is less about a product and more about what happens during the process as participants share stories, confront bias, challenge perceptions, and develop empathy. An outgrowth of participatory work, teacher preparation programs find it beneficial to involve prospective teachers in community-based experiences in diverse settings through public art and socially engaged practice.

Figure 5. Collaborative community-based mosaic created by preservice teachers and clients at an outreach center for the homeless.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Sanders-Bustle.

Cahnmann-Taylor (2017) has written about the social justice possibilities lent by theatre in teacher education that may also be applied to a wide variety of arts in training many types of humanist professionals such as police officers, social workers, and medical providers. The arts have the ability to wake us up to ways of being that perpetuate rather than challenge inequality and change the “theatre scripts” we perform in everyday life (Goffman, 1959). Arts-informed pedagogies provide “the tools to teach us how to truly be in our bodies with one another—bodies of all different colors—and this practice gives us courage to discover scripts of which we didn’t yet know we were capable, to take the original transcript lines and turn them into positive thoughts and action for a better tomorrow” (Cahnmann-Taylor, 2017, p. 16). Arts-informed pedagogies lend themselves to courageous language and action for more socially just futures.

Connecting Arts-Informed Pedagogies to Other Fields and Other Nations

This review has largely focused on teacher education scholarship taking place in the United States, where the arts have focused on improving teachers, knowledge and practice for a variety of reasons. Educators and teacher educators can also benefit from the ways the arts are used in other related fields and nations where human actors encounter recurring social struggles and benefit from more nuanced skills in perception and embodied communication. We have discussed only a few of the many global influences informing arts-informed pedagogies in the United States, from Italy, England, Canada, and Brazil, and leave it to other international scholars to document the exciting work taking place in these as well as other nations in the eastern and western hemispheres. We refer readers to the vast and dynamic influence of Canadian scholars Cole and Knowles (2001; 2008) and Leggo (2008), who have energized arts-informed conversations in teacher preparation and educational inquiry for more than two decades. We also refer readers to several arts-informed scholars, educators, and activists from outside the United States who appear in Cahnmann-Taylor and Siegesmund’s 2018 edited volume on arts-based research and practice in education. While it may be beyond the scope of this article to review the many exciting arts-informed pedagogies occurring in other nations and other fields, we close by noting a few disciplinary trends outside of education that may benefit teacher training efforts worldwide and we look forward to future reviews that include non-U.S. and non-Western perspectives of arts-informed teacher education practices.

Arts-Informed Medical Training

A great deal of scholarship in arts-informed pedagogies has taken place in the field of medicine that is relevant to education. Medical anthropologist Dana Walrath (2013) showcases understandings of serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease through her graphic novel Aliceheimer’s. Emergency room physician Rafael Campo (1996) is one of many poets to reflect on stressful experiences as doctor and patient through poetry. The Bellevue literature prize specifically invites poetry from doctors and patients on health and medicine as a way to process health and healing. Pollock (1999) uses her “listening out loud” techniques to record women’s birth stories, recounting some of the unjust structures and reckoning with them. Finally, Rita Charon’s narrative medicine project (Adler, 2003) along with Massad’s (2003) “performance of doctoring” showcases the vitality of training medical practitioners to attend to medical conversation, writing about medical encounters and emotional reactions in ordinary as well as scientific language. Teacher education has much to learn from how the arts inform medical student education and practice. Orientations that fully humanize patient complexity and dignify illness can inform teacher training to see each child as fully human and to question the ways in which trauma or poverty may be seen as “assets” to be observed rather than as “deficits” to be cured.

Arts-Informed Social Work

Using the arts to process the training and experiences of social workers (Houston, Magill, McCollum, & Spratt, 2001; Papouli, 2017; Furman, Langer, & Anderson, 2006), coaches (Salit, 2003) and palliative care providers (Yalden, McCormack, O’Conner, & Hardy, 2013), arts-informed social work informs creative applications for education and reminds us of the many cross-field conversations to be had about the arts in training many kinds of civil service professions. Papouli (2017) offers a list of at least eight benefits of using art in the field of social work, including the construction of knowledge, the promotion of social interaction, a way to express feelings and thoughts, and a pedagogical tool with low risk factors. Papouli used drawing, writing, and photography with first year social work students in Athens, Greece, to raise awareness about Europe’s 2015 refugee crisis. In doing so, she argues that engaging with the arts helps students learn “and provides a secure base, from which they can explore real-life situations and try to give meaning to them” (p. 775). Furman, Langer, and Anderson (2006) wrote about the congruences of poetry practice to that of social work in a larger move away from medical outcome-based models and toward social work values rooted in social justice.

Yalden and colleagues (2013) investigate how a team of clinical health staff used the arts to explore personal and professional beliefs about the care of delivery, in particular as it related to palliative care. Using collage techniques and paint, participants engaged with arts with “the aim of identifying interventions to enhance comfort, dignity and supportive relationships between the dying person and loved ones and others” (p. 5). Through this process, the team collaborated to create “a chest of drawers” meant to hold items related to the physical, spiritual, psychological, and social dimensions of care.

Educators and teacher educators interested in arts-informed pedagogies should be encouraged to look toward medicine, social work, and police training (Telesco & Solomon, 2001) and other civil service work that can inspire more holistic approaches to classroom and community education. For all professionals working and caring for human beings, engaging in the arts can give practitioners a sense of the contextual and complicated nature of human learning as well as reach into new materialist understandings of how nonhuman materials, physical spaces, and beings impact and are impacted by education practices.

Questions That Remain in Arts-Informed Teacher Training

There is much we do not yet know about the impact arts-informed pedagogies in teacher training have on their students’ academic achievement, the integration of holistic meaning-making, teacher retention, and social justice understanding and actions. While we know the arts matter, many arts scholars find it difficult to quantify the importance and often turn to arts-based and narrative inquiry to convey understandings about what we know and how we know in teacher education research (Cahnmann-Taylor, 2018). Future inquiry requires creative, epistemologically complex stances to document the power of arts-informed pedagogies in more internationally informed teacher education practices. As technology advances, educators and scholars in education can more meaningfully “travel” around the world to arts-informed learning contexts from north to south, east to west. Virtual reality technology will allow classrooms to deeply experience big “I” integration of the arts, recognizing the ways in which collaborations among artists, scientists, storytellers, and engineers can bring unprecedented interdisciplinary understandings of the urgent issues of our time across diverse linguistic, cultural, religious, and other human/nonhuman experience. What we understand about ecology, climate change, historic preservation, human health and safety and other urgent issues requires the removal of boundaries between the arts and sciences, allowing them to blend, marble, and bloom like watercolor paint on paper.

Digital Videos

Reference was made in the article to the following video selections.

Video Description

Video Link

Teachers Tell All: Theatre for Social Change in Our Educational Communities. Created and performed by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Emily Sahakian, and the students of LLED 7504 (Cindy Blair, Sarah Branch, Lauren King, Ladonna Perkins, Michelle Thorne, Kristyl Tift, Camille Whitworth, Brooke Williams, Jamie Woodhead). Published by the University of Georgia College of Education YouTube channel.

Rockdale High School students and faculty perform #Schooled—A Musical.

An excerpt from “No Child” written and performed by Nilaja Sun.

Necessary Trouble: Dancing a Teacher’s Story

Dance performance ensemble: Laura Glenn, Ashley Goodrich, Leigh Harvey, Jen Morlock, Elizabeth Osborn-Kibbe. Poetry Reading: Michelle Thorne

Music: Four Tet, “Circling”

Annual 2018 Seat in the Shade Educator Poetry Series at the University of Georgia

Featuring: Teacher-Poets Charlee Cain, Maribeth Sibold, Cathi Warren, Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Faith Walker, Aileen Pollitzer, and Ashley Brown.

Further Reading

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