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Arts Leading Learning Model (ALLM)


June 18, 2006

When second grade teacher Cheryl Mertz teaches a geometry lesson, her class turns into something out of Cirque du Soleil.

That’s because when Mertz’s students learn about geometric shapes, they get to form these shapes by playing with flexible bands they call “stretchies.” As Mertz teaches her class about angles, one boy creates a triangle by anchoring the lower half of his stretchy with his feet and balancing the opposite end on his nose. A girl pirouettes like a ballerina, bending her stretchy into a triangle with her arms and leg. Other students team up by combining their bodies and stretchies to construct a pyramid.

Why teach geometry in such an unusual way? One girl offers the best answer. “When we do it,” she explains, “we remember it.”

Mertz is one of eighteen teachers at Desert Harbor Elementary School using the Arts Leading Learning Model (ALLM). Guided by ASU Public Events and the Peoria Unified School District Arts Education Department, this model was adapted from the Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) model developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and Partners in Education Department. CETA shows teachers how to integrate visual arts, dance, drama, and music into mathematics, social studies, language arts, and science. This merger not only helps students retain knowledge but also teaches them to work together and assess their performance.

“Because the lessons are taught through kinesthetic movement, a lot of children are more receptive – especially boys who like to get up and move,” observes fourth-grade teacher Melissa Shaver.

The lessons conform to all Arizona standards, including the AIMS test, and are very adaptive. Sixth graders study history by producing a short play on Ancient Egypt. Fourth graders learn about geography by using their bodies to form visual representations of popular landmarks like Sunset Crater. Since these activities stress group work, students learn the value of cooperation – leading to better classroom behavior and fewer disciplinary problems.

“Arts-integrated lessons let kids take ownership over their learning process,” states Teniqua Broughton, Cultural Participation Manager for ASU Public Events and head of Desert Harbor’s ALLM. This ownership extends to letting students create grading rubrics with their teachers for their projects. By determining the criteria for their grades, students learn to assess themselves and hold themselves accountable for their own work.

Although adapted revisions of CETA are used by schools across the nation, Desert Harbor is unique since it is the only school with a CETA model implemented by a university arts organization. In 2005, ASU Public Events took advantage of an eleven-year partnership with the Kennedy Center by selecting five of the Center’s best artist-mentors and bringing them to Desert Harbor. These mentors held three to five-day long workshops on how to integrate the arts into various subjects and also modeled CETA lessons in classrooms. Desert Harbor teachers then used this orientation to adapt arts-integrated lesson plans for their students, building the capacity to sustain the program on their own.

“Based on the first few workshops and how involved [the teachers were] we knew which ones the artist-mentors connected with,” states Broughton, who regularly observes the teachers in workshops to assess their proficiency. Tracking data in this manner not only lets ASU collect research for publication but also allows Broughton to inform Kennedy Center artist-mentors which teachers need more coaching when the mentors return to Desert Harbor for follow-up workshops.

Even though Desert Harbor is still in its first year and will require several more years of training before the school is completely arts-integrated, Broughton foresees a future of greater collaboration that will benefit both ASU and the public school system.

“When models are good, people don’t just want them in one place,” she explains, “And when you have resources of organizations like the Herberger College of Fine Arts that have students training to be teaching artists, there is a wealth of people who can contribute to this project. At ASU Public Events/Gammage we are proud to be a guide and a university-community conduit for this and many other programs.”

In the future, Broughton hopes the Kennedy Center model can train ASU Fine Arts and Education students to be artist/teacher-mentors who can help integrate ALLM in other public schools. This will provide new educational and practical application opportunities at ASU while supporting the advancement of Arizona’s K-12 educational system.

“Expanding upon what we have is going to take a lot of community collaboration and resources,” Broughton promises. Given this positive start, however, she is confident that Desert Harbor will become a defining example of what ALLM can accomplish in public schools with the support of ASU.