Amid shrinking funding for such fine arts classes as music and drama, Meg Dickinson is getting creative.
The future of education, she said, involves integrating art into classroom courses typically not associated with the field. As a new adjunct professor at Ottawa University, she’s getting her opportunity to put that theory into practice.
“The awareness for fine arts integration is growing, and it’s two-fold,” Dickinson, Ottawa, said. “One is because it’s a whole new approach to teaching children. Part of it is project-based, just helping children to be able to experience learning in different ways and primarily through the fine arts — literature, visual art, dance, drama and music.”
The push for integration stems largely from decreased funding, she said.
“Unfortunately a lot of funding for arts in school has diminished, and a lot of it is falling onto the general education teacher,” she said. “Any way we can help equip them is beneficial.”
Dickinson’s passion comes from her musical background, she said.
“I have been teaching elementary music for the last five years and I have my undergraduate degree in vocal performance,” she said. “I went through a program to get certified to teach and got my master’s degree in education, and through this process I got contacted with an associate professor at OU and they were interested to work with me as a subject matter expert in the area of fine arts integration.”
Her class primarily is for elementary education majors, but Dickinson said the course is great for anyone going into education.
“We teach everything from the philosophy of why and how,” she said. “How do we integrate art and what’s the benefit? What does it look like practically and in relation to current trends in education? What does it look like with Common Core? From a research standpoint, what is the value and benefit of integrating fine arts and practical tools?”
Most of the students in her class are sophomores and juniors, she said, so they have yet to experience what it’s like teaching in the classroom.
“I want to equip them to be able to step into the class and take over their own classrooms to effectively be able to do that,” she said.
The common saying of arts integration is “Heads on, hands on, hearts on,” she said, so her class is just that — hands on.
“I approach some aspect of the context we’re reading about differently,” she said. “We’ll dialogue about it, get up and do things around the room. We’ll have some interactive song to put the content into our mind and do some sort of pantomime to act it out.”
With music as her forte, Dickinson said, she sometimes invites in other professionals who connect with the arts in a different form to help students learn different ways of integrating art into teaching.
“There’s a misconception that in order to enjoy art or share art with other people, you have to be an artist,” she said. “My goal is to grow my students in confidence and have them integrate themselves even if they don’t view themselves as an artist and expose their students to a wide variety of arts, even if they don’t identify themselves as an artist.”
Making sure students learn about art is important, Dickinson said, because art is interwoven throughout lives.
“The way we live isn’t segmented into certain areas — it’s integrated with family, school and the community,” she said. “Making those connections helps bring in those other art pieces and helps students make connections beyond the textbook and classroom with what real life looks like. I think art helps people to empathize with others and helps us all to remember the humanness that exists in all of us and helps students to be able to connect with other people who are different than them.”
Though her first semester teaching the course has just begun, Dickinson said she has high hopes for the class and would like to extend it to other areas.
“I haven’t had a chance to dialogue with the [Ottawa school] district about this, but I think it would be awesome to offer workshops to help equip our teachers here in integrating the arts,” she said. “I’m sure in many capacities they’re already doing that, but it would be a fun thing to explore a little bit further.”