An arts-based approach to literacy

In her second contribution to the Alt Ed Austin blog, art educator Heidi Miller Lowell discusses one of the inspirations for the new arts-based literacy program she is co-teaching this fall. You can read more about Heidi’s work on The Austin Artery website and blog, where an earlier version of her essay appeared.

Five years ago, I snuck into a crowded room in a Baltimore hotel, unaware that my ideas about education would be forever changed. Researcher Beth Olshansky became one of my heroes, as she introduced me to a constructivist model of education. I wished someone had taught me writing and reading in such an exciting and low-pressure way.

Beth Olshansky is the author of the book The Power of Pictures: Creating Pathways to Literacy Through Art and numerous published articles based on her years of research at the University of New Hampshire. She observed children who had minds filled with vibrant imaginings and stories but who did not like writing and reading.

This arts-based literacy program integrates children’s visual imagery into every stage of the writing process. Classes study the illustrations of famous authors and are introduced to art materials from the first day of class. Unlike traditional methods, this gives students a chance to tap into visual, kinesthetic, and verbal modes of thinking. Many children who have a hard time writing in other classes find that words come to them as they create art pieces for their books.

Children are motivated to finish the entire writing process so they can then create hand-bound books, complete with their own photographs on an author’s page. Each finished book is presented to the class, and the learner is invited to share his or her work in an author’s circle.

Research has shown that the learners in the arts-based literacy program display fuller expression than students in control groups. Personally, I have used this model to teach camps over the last several years, and I have been amazed with the results. Parents and students are often astonished by the quality of work produced in this program.

and The Austin Artery are excited to announce Austin’s very first arts-based literacy program beginning at Four Seasons Community School this fall. The lindergarten and first grade students will spend their Tuesday and Thursday afternoons splitting time between a quiet writing space and the art studio as they produce their own hardbound books and plays. There will even be an option for a limited number of homeschool students (grades K–2) to join me and my co-teacher, Jen Bradley.

For more information on arts-based literacy programs, you might want to check out visit Beth Olshansky’s website. You may also contact me at The Austin Artery for more information.

Heidi Miller Lowell