One of the most exciting parts about starting a new year in elementary school was going to the store to buy a fresh, beautiful new box of crayons.
These crayons may have been used to draw, practice spelling or add and subtract. Crayons were imperative to every child’s educational development.
In Cal Poly’s Visual Arts in the Elementary Classroom class (LS 211), liberal studies students learn how crayons may have played a larger role in education than they thought.
Liberal studies lecturer Juleen Packard, who also teaches art classes at various elementary schools in the San Luis Obispo area, said she thinks learning through visual arts fosters a creative outlet that will allow the child to continue being creative after they leave elementary school.
“This world we’re living in now is so visual,” Packard said. “Even if they’re not producing visual arts, at least they have an appreciation and understanding of it.”
Packard sends her students to oversee at least one art class at a local elementary school to observe firsthand how teachers incorporate visual arts into their lessons. Teachers from Old Mission School in San Luis Obispo frequently use art in their classes.
Visual arts can range from maps to drawings, models to charts or diagrams to photographs. Third grade teacher Mary Donnelly said the pictures in her class’ science books help her students understand concepts more easily.
“[Photographs] give them that affective domain when they can look at something like that,” Donnelly said. “Not only to learn, but to really feel.”
Affective domain is the theory that every person’s learning style is different, so teachers should be open to different teaching methods.
“I think when kids have different learning modalities, just to be able to see a picture of something is a way of re-teaching,” first through sixth grade science and math teacher Margaret Gresens said. “It’s a good way to teach kids who would otherwise lose the information auditorily.”
There are nine recognized forms of intelligence, originally proposed in Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences in 1983.
Two of the forms, logical-mathematical and linguistic, make up the material that students are tested on in school.
That excludes seven other possible forms of intelligence. In our society, success in these other forms of intelligence is not as valued as success in academia.
“I think it helps them have value,” fourth grade teacher Brittany Enamorado said. “You know, if I may not be good in my academics but I have value in my art, or I can take my skill in that art and it transfers over so I can be a more confident student.”
Incorporating spatial intelligence, or the ability to visualize things with one’s mind, into the classroom gives students more paths to acheive success.
Many teachers agree that having a visual connection with a piece of information can help students solidify the information in their brain so they can recall it more easily later.
Fifth and sixth grade teacher Nicolle Gilsdorf is currently working on a map project with her students to teach them about different details in a landscape, like gulfs and straits. The students create their own continents, incorporating these features by drawing, labeling and coloring the map. They write about their projects afterward.
“What’s important to me is the buy-in of the students,” Gilsdorf said. “The kids want to do this; I have a couple of kids who really struggle with writing but they want to tell me their story of their imaginary creature on their continent.”
Several teachers in San Luis Obispo agree that elementary-aged students are more interested in art than in reading a textbook.
“You will form more concrete memory and better recall things when they’re attached to emotion,” Enamorado said. “And so that feeling of ‘I love this’ or ‘I’m excited’ helps them to be able to recall that.”
Incorporating exciting visual arts opportunities may not only be beneficial, but it’s relatively easy.
“The one thing that [LS 211] really taught us is that visual arts can really be brought into anything,” liberal studies sophomore Robyn Amendola said. “Students are having fun and it usually helps them to retain information better.”