Interdisciplinary Teaching Across an Arts-Integrated Middle School

Jonathan, pictured fourth from left in the back row, accepting an Engaging Creative Thinkers Award grant from PIA director Rob McAdams in 2016.

Jonathan Walker is Assistant Principal at Binford Middle School. Prior to his current position, he was an English teacher at Binford and attended Partners in the Arts’ Joan Oates Institute during his early years of teaching. Jonathan has experienced arts integrated learning both in the classroom and from an administrator’s perspective.

The Arts-Integrated School Model

Binford Middle School is located in the Fan District of Richmond and is an arts integrated school. Binford transitioned to arts integration in 2014 when principal Melissa Rickey joined the school. Creating a curriculum focused on arts integrated learning was a challenge, however it has paid off tremendously. All teachers at Binford have experienced a form of arts integrated professional development, and many of them have participated in the Joan Oates Institute through Partners in the Arts.

Walker, second from right, at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond for a PIA course in 2017. Binford Principal Melissa Rickey is pictured working on the other side of the table.

To Jonathan, what makes Binford unique is that every class utilizes arts integration, which enables lots of cross-subject collaboration. Teachers from different subject areas come together to compare curriculum to ensure that students are seeing the holistic view of arts integrated learning between their classes. Jonathan attributes some of the collaboration between teachers to arts integrated teaching and arts integrated professional development.

Increased Teacher Engagement

Jonathan’s greatest takeaway was the impact arts integration had on teacher engagement. Jonathan expressed how teachers who go through arts integrated training, like the Joan Oates Institute, come out with a new excitement to teach. It inspires teachers to refine and reflect on their pedagogy. He expressed how the energy created by arts integration PD lasts more than a few weeks of art projects in the classroom. Rather, it creates long-term improvement in teachers’ approaches, which in turn helps the students succeed.

Our Binford Community

Jonathan spoke about several ways he brought art into the classroom, with one project shining above the rest. This project was for one of the four annual showcases at Binford, supported by a PIA Engaging Creative Thinkers (ECT) Award grant. Students worked with teachers and classes across all subject areas to create a shadow puppet performance. Binford partnered with PIA teaching artist Heidi Rugg from Barefoot Puppets to bring this project together. The art element the students focused on was light.

The Binford Middle School shadow puppetry dome

Students wrote and recorded poetry written from the perspective of Native Americans. In doing so, they touched upon the subject areas of English and Social Studies, using poetry as an art form. Then, they worked in their Science and Math classes to build an outdoor dome from PVC pipes in geometric shapes, accounting for measurements and angles. The science teacher focused on the topic of a bio-dome and how it connects Native American culture to modern-day farming. The final project was a shadow puppet performance in the dome, covered with sheets and lit by a projector.

This project brought together almost every core subject area and used art to help both dissect and intertwine the topics discussed. Additionally, family and community members who attended the showcase more deeply understood arts integrated learning and its impacts.

Arts integrated learning across Binford Middle School is an example of how an integrated approach can be used across the curriculum to help teachers collaborate.

This is a guest post by University of Richmond senior Kat Mitchell, who spent a semester with Partners in the Arts through an independent study and internship. Kat studied Leadership and Education & Society, and is passionate about equity in education and advancing knowledge of the world around us.

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