Elliott Seif

Ten Reasons Why Strong Arts Education Programs Are Critical for Living in Today’s and Tomorrow’s World

Categories:

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

In two previous blogs, I identified many reasons for building strong science and social studies programs for students, K–12. In this blog, I identify ten key reasons why a comprehensive K–12 arts program should also be a critical component of a rich education that prepares students for living in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Unfortunately, in too many schools and districts, the arts are considered less important than other subjects and are given short shrift as part of a student’s K–12 educational experience. In my estimation, rich, comprehensive arts programs are a critical component of a strong education because they have a powerful impact on attitudes towards school and learning and help develop important understandings, skills and habits of mind. Arts education programs also develop student interests and talents, prepare students for living a full life and, for some, lead to career choices in music and dance, visual arts, and the theater, among others.

Here are my ten powerful reasons for developing strong, rich, and comprehensive school arts programs.

  1. Most children like arts education and actively engage in school through the arts.

    Let’s face it—for the most part, children like arts education! They are engaged, interested and involved. Arts education is usually “hands on,” has immediate rewards, focuses on positive achievements and results, develops concrete products, and fosters collaboration and successful achievement. There are many opportunities for students to “show off” and demonstrate their skills through authentic performance. For some students, arts education is the main reason why they come to school and stay in school.

  2. Children learn growth habits, positive behaviors and attitudes through the arts.
    The arts enable children to grow in confidence, learn ways to improve learning, and think positively about themselves and learning. Learning a musical instrument, creating a painting, learning to dance, or singing in a chorus teaches that taking small steps, using feedback to improve, practicing to get better at something, and being persistent and patient even in the face of adversity are important for growth and improvement. In other words, the arts teach growth habits, behaviors, and attitudes that can be applied to any field of endeavor.
  3. The arts help students develop critical intellectual skills.
    The arts foster the learning of critical skills that carry over to learning other subjects and in life. For example, through the arts, children learn to observe (“What do you see in a painting?”); interpret (“How should we play this music?”); see different perspectives (“What is the artist’s perspective? What is your perspective?”); analyze (“What if we take apart this play and study each part separately?”); and synthesize (“How do all the parts of the dance fit together to create a whole?”).
  4. The arts enhance creativity and creative thinking.
    Imagine an art class in which students create an original canvas filled with color and creative use of space; a music class where they develop their own rhythms and music interpretations; a theater class where they create and produce their own interpretation of plays and/or their own original plays. In other words, the arts are a wonderful arena for fostering creative thinking, inventiveness, and originality—important skills to have in a rapidly changing world.
  5. The arts teach students methods for learning language and literacy skills.
    As students learn to read musical notes, play an instrument, learn dance steps, create a painting, act in a drama, or interpret a script, they are also building reading skills, learning how to develop new concepts, building new vocabulary, and learning a new language.
  6. The arts help students learn mathematics.
    The arts require measurement, number manipulation, and proportional thinking—all of which foster mathematical thinking. Students also learn about patterns (e.g., musical rhythms and dance patterns); spatial and geometric relationships (e.g., visual art patterns); and three-dimensional measurement skills (e.g., making models of clay).
  7. The arts broaden and enrich learning in other subjects.
    Artworks provide a visual context for learning about, interpreting, and analyzing historical periods. Music, painting, theater, and dance help literature come alive. Graphic designs and drawings, such as those made by inventors and engineers, complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations.
  8. Aesthetic learning is important in its own right.
    The arts teach about beauty, proportion, and grace. The power of the arts is in their wondrous ability to give us joy, help us understand tragedy, promote empathy, and make the written word come alive. They help students examine conflict, power, emotion, and life itself. For many, the arts become part of the richness of living over the course of a lifetime.
  9. Artistic talents and interests are nurtured and developed.
    Through the arts, many children discover their talents and interests and find a way to do something productive with their life. They develop career interests, talents, and hobbies related to acting, theater production, painting, graphic design, music, dance, sculpture, or creative writing that they will enjoy and use throughout their lives.
  10. The arts teach teamwork and collaboration. Children learn tolerance and understanding of others.
    Through the arts, children learn how to work together to achieve great things. For example, they learn how teamwork contributes to a great theater or musical performance, a mural, or a dance. By teaching students how to work and live together, the arts contribute to making schools and the entire community safer and more peaceful.

Implications

In sum, extensive and excellent art education programs foster important and enjoyable learning experiences, positive attitudes toward school and learning, significant learning across many subject areas, creative thinking, teamwork, the understanding of new career options, talent development, and many other learning and life experiences. Arts programs can make a big difference in the life of every child, and every student should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, multidimensional arts program throughout their educational experience. The arts can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and they can make a significant difference in children’s lives. What it takes is commitment, support, understanding, and hard work to make sure the arts are a significant and meaningful part of every school program in the country.

Ten Reasons Why a Strong Social Studies Education Is Critical for Living in Today’s and Tomorrow’s World

Categories: 21st Century Skills

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

In my last Solution Tree blog, “Why We Need K–12 High-Quality Science Instruction in a 21st Century World,” I identified twelve reasons why every child needs to have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent, inquiry-oriented science program. In this blog, I will explore ten important reasons why a strong, coherent social studies program, beginning in the earliest grades through high school, should be an important goal for all schools today.

Unfortunately, the quality of the social studies program has often been neglected in many schools and districts. In the primary and elementary grades, teachers and schools often limit the teaching of social studies or water down the teaching in order to pay more attention to tested subjects, such as English/language arts and mathematics. Secondary social studies is often taught through textbooks and survey courses that cover content and ignore interesting, meaningful, active, in-depth learning, a focus on understanding, and the teaching of critical skills such as thinking and writing.

Here are ten reasons why we need a revitalized, strong, coherent, and comprehensive social studies program at all grade levels:

  1. Social studies provides students with a broad and relevant knowledge base that helps them better understand and deal with today’s complex world.
  2. Knowledge and understanding of crucial concepts and ideas in American and world history—such as the diversity of American and world cultures and communities, key geographic knowledge and concepts, an understanding of America’s democratic heritage, and basic economic concepts and theory—as well as important concepts from other social science disciplines are critical for an enlarged understanding the place of each individual in the world in which we live, America’s place in the world, and the role of informed citizens in a democratic society.

  3. Social studies helps students develop understanding and positive values that build a common foundation among Americans.
  4. Students are able to build common understanding and a common set of values that transcend geographic boundaries and create a concept of America as one nation. These include stories and narratives about great Americans; the ideals, principles, rights and values tied to the American Revolution and found within the Constitution; the geography and demographics of America; why we fought the Civil War and in World Wars I and II; slavery and the civil rights movement; the importance of immigration to America; Manifest Destiny; market economy principles; the Cold War; common problems Americans face today; and many other key ideas.

  5. Social studies teaches students how to be thoughtful, active citizens in a democratic society.
  6. Students develop an understanding of current issues and events, and develop the context through which to analyze these issues and events and consider alternative perspectives and solutions. Social studies is also how students learn to actively participate in American democratic institutions—through field trips to the courts and governing bodies, learning how to register to vote, community service, and other means.

  7. Social studies is a key vehicle for developing literacy, math and other critical skills, such as the use of evidence, research, argumentation, writing, speaking, listening, numeracy, and data collection and analysis.
  8. From an early age, students should read and analyze varied fiction and nonfiction texts, learn important concepts and vocabulary about history and the world around them, learn how important evidence is for accuracy of opinions and ideas, conduct research and write essays and reports, develop and conduct surveys, interpret and use graphs, and in general develop and reinforce important and vital skills necessary for living in a 21st century world.

  9. By engaging in social studies inquiry, students learn how to be capable, collaborative problem-solvers.
  10. Through essential questions, discussions, persuasive essays and other means, students work together to learn how to discuss, use evidence, and reflect on and solve problems, such as issues about the environment, poverty, race, class, economics, and politics.

  11. Social studies develops critical and creative thinking skills.
  12. Students in social studies classes discern patterns, analyze and interpret maps, take apart arguments, and invent new solutions to challenging problems.

  13. Social studies is a powerful vehicle for creating interdisciplinary, integrated school programs.
  14. Many elementary teachers, along with diverse secondary subject area teachers, can create interdisciplinary programs around social studies themes like community, environment and human interaction, conflict, change, and adaptation. History can be integrated with literature, social studies topics can be infused with science and math, and the arts can help students understand historical events.

  15. Social studies helps to educate and prepare future leaders.
  16. As students learn about positive leadership in America and throughout the world, consider difficult issues throughout history and how they were solved, examine current issues and ways people try to solve them, and take part in civic activities, they build an understanding of leadership and what it takes to be an effective leader.

  17. Social studies promotes self-understanding and the understanding of other peoples and cultures.
  18. Social studies helps students understand their own backgrounds, the values and diverse backgrounds and experiences of Americans, and the wide variety of cultures and customs of people around the world and at other periods in history.

  19. Social studies provides students with important practical information and skills that can be used in their everyday lives.
  20. In social studies classes, students learn skills for financial literacy, career options, how to register and vote, and other important practical skills.

Implications
Based on these crucial reasons for creating a strong, comprehensive social studies program, social studies should be given a prominent place throughout the curriculum, beginning in the earliest grades. If social studies are to fulfill the important goals outlined above, there must be a greater emphasis on building a strong, coherent K–12 curriculum that uses multiple resources and powerful instructional strategies. This requires a belief that social studies is as important as reading, math, and any other subject, and that it should be given significant financial support and provided with effective professional development at all levels.

Follow-up reading:
Seif, E. (2003). Social Studies Revived. Educational Leadership, 61, 54–59. https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/social-studies-revived

Why We Need K–12 High-Quality Science Instruction in a 21st Century World

Categories: 21st Century Skills

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

This is the first of three essays that will describe why powerful instruction is important in three content areas: science, social studies, and the arts. This first essay examines the many reasons why good science teaching is so important for preparing students to live in today’s and tomorrow’s world.
I argue here that an important part of a liberal arts education is a strong science education that, among other things, develops a sophisticated understanding of the natural world and offers deep insights into the nature of scientific investigation. Unfortunately, too few school districts today create comprehensive, inquiry-based, high-quality science programs at all levels, kindergarten through high school. Other priorities, such as time limitations, lack of attention, fragmentation, or a traditional coverage-based focus, all conspire to reduce the effectiveness and excellence of science programs in many schools and districts.

Here are one dozen reasons why we must counter these trends and why schools and districts must find ways to provide high-quality science teaching and learning for all children at all educational levels.

1. Learning science is interesting, meaningful, and motivating.
Science questions provoke curiosity and interest in the wonders of the natural world. Students learn to focus on science as a series of mysteries to be explored through interesting questions, such as “What is the nature of the universe?” “How does life exist?” “Why do things grow?” Learning science also provides students with an understanding of its massive contributions to everyday living and the comforts of life. Science programs provide an important avenue for helping students to develop a passion for inquiry and a better understanding of the world around us.

2. Science knowledge provides us with a basic understanding of the natural world.
Scientific knowledge helps us to understand the natural world around us, such as the vastness and characteristics of the universe, how species adapt and survive, the nature of matter, and so many other important insights. Every educated person needs to be provided with background knowledge on what has been already discovered and what is currently being explored in science.

3. Science teaches students to be “skeptics” about claims of truth and to look for rigorous evidence to support statements claiming to be true. Science builds on the idea that knowledge is tentative, subject to change, and that changes to knowledge, theory and understanding, based on rigorous research and experimentation, are an important part of the learning process.

Too many students come away from school thinking that knowledge is fixed and immutable and that there is always a right answer. Good science programs teach students a very important lesson: that knowledge is tentative, changing, and subject to tests of evidence. For example, a study of Galileo’s or Einstein’s discoveries help students to understand that what once was thought to be “correct” turned out to be wrong; that supposedly “accurate” knowledge needs to be tested; research studies need replication; and theory is only an empty idea until there is valid evidence to support and explain it. This “scientific” attitude—the tentativeness of knowledge and the need for evidence to support claims of truth—is important to learn today, in light of so many spurious claims made without evidence that are often believed by too many people.

4. Science promotes democratic thinking and democratic values.
Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. Conflicts in science are resolved peacefully through discussion, persuasive argument, further investigation, and the rigorous collection of evidence. Scientists learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Thoughtful criticism is the norm, not the exception. The expectation is that, as Einstein once said, “critical comments should be taken in a friendly spirit.”

5. Science builds positive lifelong learning habits, behaviors, and attitudes.
Good science programs emphasize the value of continuous inquiry. Students learn to solve problems and answer questions by taking small steps, being persistent, having patience, and overcoming adversity. They learn that finding “truth” is often messy and inconclusive. Science teaches that successful achievement and learning often require experimentation, trial and error, making mistakes, even failure. In other words, science teaches habits, behaviors, and attitudes that support self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learning.

6. Science develops critical intellectual skills, including creativity and imagination as well as tolerance for and adaptation to change.
Science fosters the development of critical and creative thinking skills that carry over to learning other subjects and daily living. Through science, children learn to:

  • Ask “what if” questions
  • Carefully observe: “What do you see happening to this plant as it grows?”
  • Interpret and hypothesize: “Why do you think this is happening?”
  • Conduct experiments: “How can we prove it?”
  • Consider many alternatives
  • See different perspectives and points of view: “What are different points of view about why this happened?”
  • Analyze: “What are its component parts?”
  • Synthesize: “How does this all fit together into a pattern? What are the connections and relationships?”
  • Test solutions
  • Draw conclusions: “What are our results? Conclusions? Why?”

Students learn how to create an argument with supporting evidence to justify a point of view and to question opinions that have little backing to support them. Science teaches students that change and adaptation is part of the nature of learning and growing by testing new ideas and adapting to changing circumstances.

7. Science builds reading and “learning to learn” skills.
Good science programs build strong reading skills! As students investigate physical forces, chemical reactions, biological growth, or the solar system, they also learn how to read a variety of science resources, understand new concepts, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn the language of science and science inquiry. The investigation skills they learn are a significant part of the “learning to learn” skills they will need for college and future careers.

8. Science helps students to learn and apply mathematical thinking.
Math is the language of science. As students learn science, they learn that mathematics is an important tool to help solve real problems and questions. As students “do” science, they learn how to measure, manipulate numbers, collect and analyze data, form patterns, develop spatial and geometric relationships, and apply many of the higher level and complex math systems to scientific problem solving.

9. Science enriches learning in other subjects.
All subject areas benefit when a student understands science concepts and ideas. For example, science concepts are helpful for understanding historical forces, technological and social changes over time, and current issues and concerns, such as global warming. Science problems can be used to help students understand and apply measurement skills and statistical analysis. The arts are integrated into science through graphic designs and drawings that complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations. Science concepts are intertwined with understanding healthy living habits and good nutrition.

10. Science develops teamwork skills.
Through science, children learn how to work together to investigate, test hypotheses, interpret data, and draw conclusions. As they work together, they learn to understand and tolerate difference and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to significant learning. Science can also contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful by teaching students how to work together and resolve conflicts.

11. Science creates a growing interest in and preparation for expanding career opportunities.
High-quality science program experiences develop scientific talents and interests. They encourage students to prepare to work in the growing science-related professions, as scientists, health care professionals, technicians, and other science-related fields.

12. Scientific understanding is critical for good citizenship in a 21st century world.
An understanding of science, science concepts, how science arrives at results, and science research is critical if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. An understanding of today’s complex issues, concerns, challenges and problems require an understanding of scientific principles, concepts, and ideas. Global warming is the most obvious, but others include what to do about atomic waste, how to get clean water, agriculture and food issues, health and illness, hurricane damage prevention, energy issues, automation and robotics.

Conclusion

Every child should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent, inquiry-oriented science program. It should be a priority for 21st century world education. Science education can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and it can make a significant difference in the lives of children.

Teachers, boards of education, superintendents, principals, the community at large, and governments need to make a commitment to support and develop high-quality science programs at all levels, K–12. There are many ways to do this—for example, to widely share and discuss these twelve reasons on why it is critical to develop strong science programs. Teachers and schools then need to adopt high-quality science curricula at all levels. This will require the development of teachers’ science knowledge and skills, to train teachers on how to incorporate high-quality science experiences into their classrooms, to involve local science organizations in promoting and fostering high-quality programs, to apply for funds to implement and support high-quality science programs at all levels, and, ultimately, to develop competent science educators in every school and at all levels.

Part 2: Integrating Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and the Lifelong Learning Education (LLE) Framework

Categories: Authors, PLC, PLC at Work, School Improvement, Solution Tree

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

As I indicated in part 1 of this series,
Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) “…are designed to counter the separateness of school teaching and learning by creating collaborative teams of teachers who work together to improve learning”. Or, as Dufour et al. (2006) write: PLC’s focus on creating “…an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.” The PLC process should lead to new and improved classroom practices that reinforce relevant and meaningful learning across content areas and grade levels, and are likely to get better results for students. Read more

Integrating Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and the Lifelong Learning Education (LLE) Framework

Categories: PLC, PLC at Work, Student Engagement

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

 

What are the essential features of professional learning communities (PLCs)?

In many schools today, teachers shut their doors and essentially work alone, providing what they consider to be the best learning possible for their students. While this often gives them the opportunity to provide their students with decent education, it also often gets in the way of creating a collaborative culture in which all teachers work together and each contributes to the larger goal of improving learning for all students. Learning becomes fragmented and segmented when teachers work on their own.

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are designed to counter the separateness of school teaching and learning by creating collaborative teams of teachers who work together to improve learning. The formation of a PLC creates an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators” (DuFour et al., 2016, p. 10). Read more