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Lesson Plans

Curriculum Issues: Theme Summary & New Questions

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Mary Erickson (MARY.ERICKSON)
Sat, 08 Mar 1997 18:54:05 -0700

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As you may know, a Curriculum Issues Seminar has been weaving its way in
and out of ArtsEdNet Talk for several weeks now. After a first week's
orientation to "Our Place in the World," as a sample curriculum resource,
the Seminar took up its first issue: "What characteristics do educationally
powerful themes have?" As Seminar Leader I'd like to take this opportunity
to summarize a few points made in the Seminar and, based in part on those
points, at the end of this message, pose a couple of follow up issues that
you might care to consider.

METAPHORS: Seminar contributors used several interesting metaphors to
characterize effective themes. Themes were called 1) frameworks; 2) sorting
bins with many trays; 3) ideas that travel across time and place; 4)" red
lines" (a Netherlandish expression for "threads"); 4) flexible, dynamic,
backbones; 5) webs; and 6) skeletons. One contributor wrote rather
poetically that themes are more than subject matter. They are subjects
that matter.

THE POWER OF THEMES: Seminar contributors attributed a wide range of
powers to effective instructional themes. They wrote that: 1) themes
connects concepts, facts, methods, experiences, and appreciations; 2)
themes generate connections and possibilities; 3) themes promote and
stimulate connective ideas; 4) themes link "subject matter" together; 5)
themes weave us all together; 6) themes initiate interdisciplinary study
and reflection on our own lives; 7) themes provide a common basis for
understanding for people of different cultures in different times and
places; 8) themes structure art learning about "makers" and capture the
essence of human activity in the arts and in societies; 9) themes raise
conceptual understanding about art beyond acquiring isolated bits of
knowledge and skill; 10) themes structure learning experiences that are
meaningful and make sense; 11) themes arrange art learning into coherent,
not fragmented, relationships, 12) themes take advantage of what we've
known all along; 13) themes relate to life outside the classroom; 14)
themes answer the question "What does it mean to be human?"; 15) themes
keep us focused, guide our choices, and provide a context for inquiry; 16)
themes provide common ground (through storytelling) across three realms:
humanness, general education, and art concepts; and 17) themes answer the
question "What if art for?"

WHAT TEACHERS DO WITH THEMES: Seminar contributors described a number of
ways that they used themes. With an effective theme: 1) a teacher can
sort, add, and organize; 2) a teacher can spontaneously incorporate news
and current events; 3) a teacher can maintain flexibility in art making; 4)
a teacher can incorporate religion, psychology, politics, environment,
scientific and social issues; 5) a teacher can find a place for it within
an art curriculum's scope and sequence; 6) a teacher can organize it for
sociological purposes; 7) a teacher can use it to address stated art
program goals and general education goals within the school; 8) a teacher
can use it to help keep lesson objectives and activities clearly focused;
and 9) a teacher can use it as the basis for inquiry.

number of relationships that effective themes should have with students.
They wrote that 1) themes should be exciting to learners; 2) themes should
be personal yet connect learners to the larger group and to the past and
even to the future; 3) with effective themes students can see
possibilities; 4) effective themes fit the pupils' experience or should be
geared to the pupils' perspective of their environment, or already have
students' interest; 5) effective themes are open to influence of student
input; 6) effective themes limit the cultural scope and social field to no
larger than the students can survey; 7) effective themes allow student
self-determination of art making; and 8) effective themes create varied,
active experiences that satisfy and appeal to the students' interest and
sense of relevancy, therefore, contributing to long term memory.

LIMITING SCOPE: One seminar participant proposes that good themes LIMIT in
some sense. Are there good reasons to limit the connections we use themes
to make? Are some connections trivial or meaningless? How can we decide
which intradisciplinary (within art) and interdisciplinary (beyond art)
connections are worth making? Just because we CAN make a connection,
SHOULD we? If an art teacher or curriculum developer were to design an art
curriculum around a series of thematic units, what are some considerations
they should take into account as they detemine the SCOPE of the art

SEQUENCE: One participant proposes that the scope of an art curriculum
within a general curriculum might be as broad as "what makes us human."
Another participant (and me, too, in the ten themes in my "Stories of Art")
proposes a sequence built on Western Art History with a Global Perspective.
What should art teachers or curriculum developers consider when they plan
the SEQUENCE of themes within an art curriculum? Is any sequence as good
as any other?

DEVELOPMENTAL APPROPRIATENESS: This issue has not been raised so far in
this seminar. I wonder if you have any thoughts about whether some themes
are more appropriate for some developmental levels than other themes are?
How might prior knowledge and cognitive development, for example, factor
into an art teacher or curriculum designer's process of identifying themes
for an art curriculum?

Thank you all for your participation, whether that participation be
skimming and reading messages that interest you or contributing your
thoughts by posting them on ArtsEdNet Talk.

Mary Erickson

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