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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 8

A FLARE for the Arts

Although art programs have been cut from many school budgets, a new program in Pasadena, California, not only puts art back into the classrooms, but it also puts artists there.

An innovative program called Project FLARE (Fun with Language, Arts, and Reading) pairs classroom teachers with local artists. Together they develop an integrated curriculum of language arts and visual arts, incorporating art projects into classroom curriculum, instruction, and the assessment process. Students also take field trips to various artists' studios, local art shows, and performances. All totaled, each student receives more than 100 hours of combined visual arts, performing arts, and arts-related language instruction in a semester. Funding comes from local businesses, arts organizations, and grants.
Three elementary schools in Pasadena have introduced the program to students in grades 2-4, including bilingual classrooms. Many of these students come from low-income families, have limited proficiency in English, and read below their grade levels. By using the teaching tool of art—which is not restricted by language barriers and socioeconomic backgrounds—students are able to learn successfully while they improve their self-esteem.
Juan is one student who has been profoundly affected by Project FLARE. Before working with the program, his teacher thought of him as an introverted troublemaker because he was often disturbing the class and rebelling against any type of structure. Three months into the program, Juan's behavior improved greatly. His teacher noted, Now Juan is one of my star pupils. He is very involved in the process of making art and expressing himself through it. He enjoys the art sessions, but he occasionally says that his art makes him feel things inside. He is currently learning how to deal with the emotions that his art-making brings to the surface. Art and writing have given him a productive means for doing this.
Infusing art into the curriculum provides students with therapy and motivation. It also gives students important tools for learning from, and communicating with, their world. Most important, it nurtures a sense of confidence that they can succeed in school and in life. Nina, for instance, was suffering from a lack of confidence. Spending time with artists helped improve her work, her confidence, and her attitude. Nina's teacher said, Nina has come a long way. She has much more self-confidence now. Her mom died when she was born. She didn't speak much until she was 5. She used to be so needy; she'd always say to me, "I can't, I can't!" But she's shown tremendous improvement because of the FLARE program. She makes art and writes on her own now. Before, she didn't have the self-confidence to create anything.

Bringing Art to Life

In 1991, the Armory Center for the Arts, in partnership with the Pasadena Unified School District and the California Institute of Technology, developed Project FLARE. It was designed to increase elementary students' mastery of language and visual arts, understanding of diverse cultures, awareness and appreciation of the arts, and repertoire of personal expression. In FLARE, art is not an add-on that interrupts the existing curriculum or an unnecessary frill. Rather, art becomes a potent stimulus for a thoughtful exploration and communication of complex ideas.
Themes in FLARE, like those in many other interdisciplinary classrooms, reflect shared human values, ideas, or experiences, such as personal identity, community, or human migration. Lessons are based on appropriate curriculum and core literature for the student's grade level, the teacher's and artist's unique backgrounds and interests, and the specific interests and needs of the students. Teachers may also choose to integrate social studies or science activities into their thematic units.
Each teacher-artist team carefully selects literature that corresponds with the theme of the lesson. Students use art to further illustrate the theme. For example, students might read the book Island of the Blue Dolphins, then sculpt a doll representing a character in the book. When the artist shows slides of work by Diego Rivera or Grandma Moses, the teacher may read biographies about those artists to the children.
Students also learn to use language to evoke or reflect their feelings. In a unit on personal identity, for instance, 3rd graders will sit with a visiting poet and create group poems in which they express themselves as individuals, as members of a family, and as members of a culture. Students then write their own poems, prompted by the phrase "I Come From..." or "I Remember..." or "I Am..." (see fig. 1). Then, after receiving instruction in art, students draw self-portraits and write and illustrate books of their own histories.

Figure 1. Examples of Student Work, Grades 2–3

A FLARE for the Arts - table

I Am

I Am!

My Name

I am a loud frouses lion roring to the moon.I am the aflete going in a difrant dirachan. I am a bowanaro going into a broken heart. I am a pencil writing a letter to God. I am a ? mark how can't find a sentence. I am an angle giving peace to the world. I am a rock thomping Mars. I am a a cat hising in fright. —Nicole JolinI am the tiger that leaps in the night I am the ocean that roars to the sky I am the thunder slashing my enimies with bolts of lightning I am the book of spells and nightmares I am the flag of the universe I am the loudness of a tornadoI am a rock from outerspace that makes people turn into bones I am the clock that shouts at people I am everything you can imagine I am someone. —Jennifer ChanMy name sounds like a heart filled with love A good and compassionate giraffeMy name has the shape of a flying balloon in the air A painting of love and sadnessThe color of my name is the blue or the oceanThe red of an apple The texture of my name is my soft and straight hairA soft and tender dog My name means love for everyoneA beautiful painting.—English translation of poem in Spanish by Elizabeth Treto

To track their progress, students chronicle their learning in the pages of journals, sketchbooks, and portfolios. Throughout the year, students also show their progress at exhibitions and performances for other students, teachers, and parents.

Learning for Teachers, Too

In Project FLARE, as in other team approaches to teaching, planning is crucial. A teacher-artist team typically meets for several days to outline three unit themes and plan accompanying activities for the coming semester. During the school year, they also meet each week to coordinate their areas of responsibility, discuss student progress, share insights, consider new ideas, and plan future activities.
To prepare to be part of Project FLARE, artists and teachers attend several training sessions on language development, integration of language arts and visual arts curriculum, portfolio assessment, and thematic planning strategies. A project coordinator from the Armory Center for the Arts also holds monthly meetings for teacher-artist teams. At this time, problem-solving sessions help teams work through any obstacles.
Reaching out into the community means more than getting funding from local organizations and companies. Teachers and artists also work with local universities and through other performance venues to gain access for students to art performances and gallery shows. At Caltech, for example, free tickets to the Performing Arts Series are available to students and their families. After students have viewed events, some artists even arrange a special discussion session with students to review what students have seen.

Project Proves a Big Draw

An evaluation of Project FLARE over several years documented a number of beneficial effects on students, consistent with the benefits of similar projects (Redfield 1990, Williams 1991). Data included independent ratings of student portfolios; teacher ratings of student progress; and surveys and interviews of artists, teachers, principals, and students.
Teachers and artists interviewed mentioned that students in Project FLARE had grown in expressiveness, had increased their awareness and appreciation of the arts, and had broadened their cultural understanding of themselves and others. Teachers also said nearly all their students made progress in reading, writing, visual arts, and self-regulation skills. And although many students felt nervous in the beginning about making art (most did not think of themselves as artistic), within a month those students said both visual and language arts were thoroughly enjoyable.
FLARE teachers explained the art activities had a powerful effect on language because it encouraged students to observe details. This focus on detail acted as a springboard for greater definition and elaboration in their oral and written work. Bilingual teachers especially saw the benefit of incorporating drawing, sketching, and graphic visualization into traditional lessons because those students were able to describe or reflect on what they created.
Students had more to say than in the past and used more accurate and elaborate vocabulary, bilingual teachers reported. Students found the activities so interesting and personally meaningful, they were very eager to improve their language skills so that they could express their feelings and new knowledge.
FLARE energized and inspired teachers as well as students, for the teachers were able to gain insight into student learning and motivation. Teachers also became more aware of the importance of building pride in student work. After a few months of working with the artists and observing improvements in students, teachers thought of new approaches to assessing what students know and can do.
Along with reading and writing, teachers began to see the arts as valuable tools we use in life. As one of the teachers put it, "We have moved away from holiday art at last." The respect of teachers and artists for one another gave all of them a sense of success, confidence in their teaching, and the motivation to continue to grow. Another teacher said, It was very enlightening to see all of the art and writing that one student put together in his portfolio. It showed his strengths and weaknesses and the depths of his ability that I had not previously recognized. It also helped me see the development of a student's work as we compared early and later work. Keeping a portfolio really helps.

Student Impressions

Students saw progress in themselves, as well, as noted by three 3rd graders: Before this program I used to write one paragraph and now I write five pages! I realize now it's not just about facts. I can use my imagination. There's all this detail. I have so many ideas. I learned about words and how to express my thoughts and how to see detail. Cecilia, the poet, was my favorite. She made us do art in our heads, and then we made a poem. An art picture as a poem! I never did that before. I learned how to concentrate better and how to be more detailed. I learned if I concentrate, I can complete anything.
In reviewing student portfolios, teachers saw that students were better able to express themselves through art and writing. Pride in their work also increased. When I came to review students' integrated language and visual arts portfolios, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders virtually demanded time to explain their work to me. They were truly bursting with pride in their accomplishments.
Another benefit of the program was that students developed deeper respect for other cultures because they met a variety of artists from different cultures during workshops and performances. One teacher remarked, Meeting artists from other cultures and watching their joyful performances helped many of my 2nd graders discard their fearful stereotypes of people from other cultures.
Another teacher noted that students had a greater tolerance for one another, resulting from the curriculum's emphasis on appreciation of individual differences and alternative approaches to problems. She said: I could really see progress in the way they related to me and to one another. They developed respect for each other and their ideas. They learned how to work together and learned that everyone has a unique perspective to offer. Some of them also really appreciated having art as an acceptable avenue for action and rebellion.

Becoming Part of Project FLARE

Programs like Project FLARE require direction from someone with a strong vision of integrated language arts and visual arts instruction. After all, change is often inspired and nearly always sustained with the critical help of agencies outside the school (Jennings 1993). The Armory Center for the Arts played that role. Organizers were responsible for hiring, training, and supervising artists; training teachers; providing art supplies; and coordinating trips to galleries and artists' studios.
The Center also wanted Project FLARE to be self-sustaining and easily incorporated into each school's curriculum. It helped the schools develop long-term funding from school districts, government agencies, and private companies. For example, at the school it adopted, the ARCO Foundation covered the cost of supplies for student murals on walls previously plagued by graffiti.
According to Lisa Crystal, the Armory's executive director, the key to creating a program that leads to student engagement is to see the arts as a visualization of ideas and perspectives, not just the perfecting of technique.
Schools interested in establishing a program like Project FLARE might consult Safe Havens, from Harvard's Project Zero, for a list of educationally effective community arts organizations around the country (Project Co-Arts 1993), or contact the Armory's Project FLARE coordinator, Doris Hausmann. Support for your project may be available through a variety of state education funds, local businesses, and foundations.
Project FLARE places students at the center of the classroom and gives them stronger tools for communicating with the world. It offers new ways of creating partnerships between students and teachers. Further, it draws a new set of adults—artists—into the learning community as models, teachers, and friends. The program provides students, particularly those most disaffected by traditional curriculum and materials, a chance to discover themselves in literature and the arts.

Jennings, R. (1993). Fire in the Eyes of Youth: The Humanities in American Education. St. Paul: Occasional Press.

Project Co-Arts. (1993). Safe Havens. Cambridge: Harvard Project Zero.

Redfield, D. (1990). Evaluating the Broad Educational Impact of an Arts Education Program. Los Angeles: UCLA's Center for the Study of Evaluation.

Williams, H. M. (1991). The Language of Civilization: The Vital Role of the Arts in Education. Presentation at the Plenary Meeting XXIV of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. New York: The Century Association.

Pamela Aschbacher has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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