Integrating the Arts into the Curriculum for Gifted Students
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC EC Digest #E631
Author: Joan Franklin Smutny
Studies have shown that the arts can significantly advance gifted students' academic and creative abilities and cognitive functioning (e.g., Hetland, 2000; Seeley, 1994; Walders, 2002; and Willet, 1992). This is a strong rationale for making the arts an essential feature of gifted education. Goertz (2002) envisions art instruction as the "fourth R" in education and demonstrates how it increases the skills of observation, abstract thinking, and problem analysis.
Education in art is an invitation to use the reasoning skills of an artist. The artist visualizes and sets goals to find and define the problem, chooses techniques to collect data, and then evaluates and revises the problem solution with imagination in order to create....The artist, in his or her creative process, requires a high-order thought process (p. 476).
When integrating the arts into the curriculum, teachers can design experiences that are tied to the unique needs, interests, and abilities of gifted students and challenge them to perform more complex and sophisticated tasks. Teachers can ask themselves: What needs do my arts activities meet? What precisely do I want my gifted students to learn and how will I know that these activities are stimulating their growth? Studies on differentiated instruction and the "parallel curriculum" (Heacox, 2002; Tomlinson et al., 2002) emphasize the importance of establishing clear learning goals before designing alternative learning experiences. The following are examples of learning goals and activities that integrate the arts with the language arts, social studies, and mathematics and science curricula.Language Arts Learning Goals
The arts can strengthen all areas of oral and written communication and, for gifted students, provide more opportunities for creative problem-solving and analytical thinking.Reading
Social Studies Learning Goals
Studying history, geography, and other social studies subjects through the arts (and vice versa) enables gifted students to investigate topics from multiple viewpoints and in more depth. As they create vivid representations of significant events, processes, and people, they analyze, assess, and interpret the facts and images before them. Activities such as the following use imagination and analytical abilities in new ways:
Science and Mathematics Learning Goals
Science and mathematics have immediate ties to the arts. Pop art's Roy Liechtenstein said, "Organized perception is what art is all about" (Piper 1981, p. 95). Leonardo Da Vinci studied perspective and depth in painting, applied mathematics and the science of color to every aspect of his work, explored anatomy, invented machines and sketched designs for technology far in advance of his time. Thomas Locker, a contemporary artist, has integrated science and art in a format designed especially for teachers' classrooms. His Sky Tree Portfolio (1995), Cloud Dance (2000), and Water Dance (1997) contain exquisite paintings of nature with information and activities that promote scientific inquiry.
Science, mathematics, and art all concern themselves with the true nature of things. Are things what they seem? Should the arts depict things as people experience them or as they are? The following activities suggest ways to blend the arts with math and science in such a way that gifted students can examine real-world applications of fundamental concepts and ideas (such as distance, color, perspective, proportion).
The activities described here open the door to a new kind of learning experience for gifted students. Integrating the arts into the academic curriculum and the academic curriculum into the arts enable gifted children to make unique discoveries and innovations. Because the arts immerse them in the creative process, they can apply their advanced reasoning and problem-solving abilities in new ways. As previous examples show, these processes also offer an even greater opportunity to the gifted: to bring more of themselves-their own unique insight, ability, and vision-to a subject.
Gifted children, many of whom are artistically and/or creatively gifted, are not a dispensable population. They need to feel that their talents can create for them a unique and enduring place in the world. The talented young painter, Alexandra Nechita put it well:
"Sometimes I get so immersed in my paintings I'm just somewhere else. I create my own universe that you get to see little by little through every painting I work at. And every painting I create is part of me going out little by little to all of you." (Nechita 1996, p. 80)
Goertz, J. (2002). Searching for talent through the visual arts. In J.F. Smutny (Ed.), Underserved gifted populations. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Heacox, D. (2002). Differentiating instruction in the regular classroom: How to reach and teach all learners, grades 3-12. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
Hetland, L. (2000). Music instruction enhances spatial-temporal reasoning. Journal of Aesthetic Education.
Locker, T., & Christensen, C. (1995). Sky tree portfolio. Stuyvesant, NY: Sky Tree Press. (Available at the Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, 847.251.2661.)
Locker, T. (1997). Water dance. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co.
Locker T. (2000). Cloud dance. San Diego: Silver Whistle Harcourt, Inc.
Nechita, A. (1996). Outside the lines: Paintings by Alexandra Nechita. Atlanta, GA: Longstreet Press.
Piper, D. (Ed.). (1981). Random House history of painting and sculpture. New York: Random House.
Seeley, K. (1994). Arts curriculum for the gifted. In J. VanTassel-Baska (Ed.), Comprehensive curriculum for gifted learners (pp. 282-300). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Smutny, J.F., Walker, S.Y., & Meckstroth, E.A. (1997). Teaching young gifted children in the regular classroom. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
Tomlinson, C.A., Kaplan, S.N., Renzulli, J.S., Purcell, J., Leppien, J., & Burns, D. (2002). The parallel curriculum: A design to develop high potential and challenge high-ability learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Walders, D. (2002). Poetry and science education. ERIC Document EDO-SE-00-03. ERIC Clearinghouse on Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education.
Willett, L.V. (1992). The efficacy of using the visual arts to teach math and reading concepts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (73rd, San Francisco, CA, April 20-24). ERIC Document ED348171.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education