NEA Arts Magazine

Training the Trainers

Helping Teachers Integrate Art into the Classroom


participants work on integrating tableaux into their lesson plans

Bringing Theatre into the Classroom participants work on integrating tableaux into their lesson plans. Photo by Scott Koh, Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Concentration, self-confidence, imagination, communication -- all these are invaluable qualities nurtured and developed in children by the arts. Recognizing this vital connection, the NEA provides support to projects that train classroom teachers to successfully incorporate the arts into their curricula.

During 2005 and 2006, the NEA awarded 16 grants for Teacher Institutes -- five-day summer workshops hosted by arts organizations and designed to train educators to incorporate and deepen arts learning in their classrooms. Presented in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Western States Arts Federation, the institutes engaged more than 400 teachers in immersion programs in a range of artistic disciplines. At Maine's Portland Museum of Art, for example, middle and high school teachers studied Winslow Homer's seascape Weatherbeaten in seminars ranging from a discussion of the influence of special locations on Homer's work to a lecture on Weatherbeaten from a local artist's point of view. By the end of the institute, each teacher was able to create a five-day curriculum unit based on an artwork of their choosing.

The NEA has continued to support arts-based professional development programs through Learning in the Arts grants. In FY 2007 Seattle Repertory Theatre received a grant of $75,000 to support Bringing Theatre into the Classroom (BTiC), a partnership project with Seattle Children's Theatre designed to help K–12 teachers integrate theater into their curricula.

BTiC begins with a weeklong summer workshop for approximately 40 educators at which each participant receives a sourcebook of individual lesson plans aligned with the state-mandated theater arts curriculum.Working with teaching artists, participants cover performing arts elements that can be used in the classroom, such as movement, oral history, and playwriting. Each teacher then chooses a teaching artist to visit his or her classroom for a weeklong residency following the workshop. After observing the classroom, the teaching artist collaborates with the teacher to plan and instruct classes that incorporate the arts elements learned over the summer.

Through the summer workshop and followup residency, teachers gain confidence in the practical application of arts learning techniques to their classrooms. For instance, Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Blankenship always had read multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man to her students. After a BTiC session on adaptation, Blankenship decided instead to have her students write their own version. Through this added element she noticed her students had an increased understanding of the story elements, points of view, and vocabulary.

Overall, teachers have noticed that, after incorporating concepts learned during the BTiC sessions into their curricula, their students not only have a greater grasp of theater skills and knowledge, but the students' participation, enthusiasm, self-esteem, and ability to understand text have increased. In short, they're learning and having fun.