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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Critical Contributions

This article introduces readers to the articles featured in Volume 4, Issue 1.


Performative Inquiry: Arresting the Villains in Jack & the Beanstalk

From flower arranging to negotiating with a willful cow, an educator stumbles across the threshold into a performative space of learning that invites her to pay attention to what matters when a teacher encounters her students. Performative inquiry in the classroom brings to the curriculum a spirit and practice of inquiry, critical and creative thinking and reflection, and embodied engagement. The ambition is not to simply “put on a play” or expose children to the arts, but to use the arts as an active means of critical and creative inquiry in pedagogical engagements across the curriculum.

Performative inquiry provides a theoretical underpinning that supports the use of the arts as a viable vehicle for learning across the curriculum. Performative inquiry in the classroom calls for cross-curricular explorations that are embodied, relational, and intimate. Bringing performative inquiry into science, language arts, social sciences, or other disciplines opens new ways of working with students that encourage student agency and empowerment. Integrating the arts through performative inquiry engages students in meaningful curricular explorations, thus enlarging the space of the possible.

Drawing on David Appelbaum’s conceptualization of the stop, a moment of risk, a moment of opportunity, the author calls us to attention, to listen to the embodied texts that we create through our engagement in the arts. It is in the listening, the critical and creative thinking, and the reflection that is our inquiry, that performative inquiry in the classroom offers a powerful means of engaging students in meaningful ways of learning through the arts.

Creating an imaginary world through role drama—working with visualizations, tableaux, soundscapes, and improvisation—invite metaphor, symbolism, imagery, relational engagement and communal awareness and reflection. These are the possible embodied literary engagements that performative inquiry brings to the pedagogical spaces of the Secondary English classroom. Performative inquiry encourages a rewriting of curricular texts that perform us—texts that have as yet to be imagined. Performative inquiry encourages a critical reading and re/interpretation of how we come to understand our worlds of relationship and engagement.

We come, each of us, with our own questions, biases, motivations, experiences, cultural and social perspectives; but we come also to engage critically, reflectively, responsively, playfully, creatively. We write together an emergent new curricular text of engagement; a performative text that lends itself to interpretation, reflection, revision—a gift of presence and curiosity permitted by an embodied communal inquiry that engages us intimately.

First Graders Constructing Meaning Through Drawing and Writing

This eight-week study supports the view that literacy learning is multimodal (Berghoff et al., 2000). It contributes to existing research (Dyson, 1986; Gardner, 1980; Hubbard, 1989; Hubbard & Ernst, 1996; Olshansky, 2007, 2008; Skupa, 1985) on the communicability of drawing and writing as vehicles through which children make and share meaning. In the traditional classroom where language is privileged over other ways of knowing, opportunities to construct meaning through art diminish as learners progress to higher grades and reading and writing therefore shift to the more common curricular resources of the classroom. While some learners are ready for the new shift, many comfortably linger in other forms of expression such as drawing to show their comprehension (Eisner, 1998a).

In first grade, varying abilities in writing abound. Exposure to and the personal construction of visual text may provide young writers opportunities to develop and reveal some of their own literacy strategies (Albers, 2007). Simply put, there is power in children’s use of art and, when it is valued as a conduit for understanding how children construct meaning, understanding children’s literacy processes is also expanded.

Empowering Elementary Students’ Ecological Thinking Through Discussing the Animé Nausicaa and Constructing Super Bugs

Ecological teaching models and evidence of success in public schools may be lacking. We created a constructivist ecological model using the animé Nausiscaa with fourth graders in a Scottsdale, Arizona school. The animé involves the epic adventure, good and evil battle to affect the future of the human race. We documented results using questionnaires, photographs, and students’ written final statements. An art teacher introduced the animé, followed with students’ analysis of action sequences, demonstrated how to make three-dimensional super bugs, and questioned students about ecological concerns. Our major research question was how did discussing the animé Nausicaa and making super bugs empower children to reinterpret bug powers and learn about ecology. We offer explanations of surface and deeper influences. While most responses regarding bug powers were bad--offensive and defensive, two emerging good categories related to ecology were recycling and pollinating. Students showed some empathetic understanding and constructed a few ecological connections between their inner and outer worlds.

Effects of Drama on the Use of Reading Comprehension Strategies and on Attitudes Toward Reading

The purpose of this research is to study the effects of drama and traditional methods on primary school students’ use of reading strategies, on their attitudes toward reading, and on their perceptions of the drama method. A pre- and post-test experimental design with the control group was employed for this study. The drama technique was used in the experimental group and traditional teaching methods in the control group. The research was conducted on 5th grade students (experiment=28, control=26) of a Turkish language/art course at a state elementary school in Izmir, Turkey. Research data were collected through semi-structured interview technique and “The Scale for Attitudes Toward Reading”, both of which have been developed by the researcher. The data analysis indicates that the drama method is more effective than traditional methods with respect to strategy use. There is no significant difference between the groups in terms of attitudes towards reading. In addition, it has been determined that students in the experimental group have positive perceptions of the drama method.

Dual Diaspora and Barrio Art: Art as an Avenue for Learning English

This study examined student artwork as free expression in order to conduct an analysis of diaspora as related to urban, middle school students learning English. Subjects consisted of middle school students representing a variety of countries with Spanish being the primary first language of the majority of participants. Using a qualitative approach and following an action research framework, the researchers collected a variety of data. Analysis of the data included coding, categorizing, and re-examining in order to identify specific recurring themes. Findings indicate that through opportunities for free expression students were able to communicate naturally, develop language skills, and emerge with a strong, cultural voice. Findings were utilized to inform and improve practice.

The Balancing Act: Arts Integration and High-Stakes Testing

This study describes three teachers and their experiences of an arts-integration reform model amidst the high-stakes accountability movement. Their struggle to practice arts integration within their school district, a culture in which high-stakes testing is prioritized is described by way of a circus metaphor. Through the theoretical lens of Self Determination Theory (SDT), we use our metaphor to uncover a circus whose performance rings are guided by three ringmasters or school administrators who have different management styles and expectations for achieving district mandates. When examining the data, we found that the way in which each school responds to the high-stakes testing demands seems to have a direct relationship to the level of teacher self-regulation. The teachers are described thematically as Susie, characterized as Cracking the Whip, who exhibits controlled, externally-regulated motivation; Mary, identified as Walking the Tightrope, represents self-regulation through identification; and Fiona, described as Flying the Trapeze, displays an integrated self-regulatory style.

Teaching Writing through the Arts in Urban Secondary Schools: A Case Study

This article explores commonalties between literacy instruction and learning to understand the symbolic languages of the visual and performing arts. A detailed case study of an urban professional development program for secondary arts teachers looks at the learning initiated by writing assignments that prompted students to reflect on arts experiences. Evidence of the effectiveness of integrated arts and literacy instruction is provided by a quasi-experimental study, which showed that the expository writing skills of the students of participating teachers improved significantly.

A Preliminary Stage Theory of Teaching Artists’ Professional Development

Nationwide, many public school districts are struggling to keep arts education available for their students. One response to dwindling arts instruction has been the use of teaching artists. A teaching artist is at once a practicing artist and an educator. The formal empirical research on teaching artists is limited. This study used a mixed-method design, incorporating both surveys of and interviews with teaching artists, to develop a better understanding of the experiences and impact of teaching artists. A sequential quantitative-qualitative analysis process integrated two different data sets into a comprehensive whole that was able to suggest the beginnings of a stage theory of teaching artist professional development. Participating artists were from all four art areas (dance, music, theatre & visual arts) and had done teaching artist work in a k-12 public school.

Teaching artists appear to begin at an improvisational stage when their approach to the work is spontaneous. Some move to a “rowth stage where they actively and enthusiastically explore and develop their teaching artist work. Lastly, there was evidence of an established stage where teaching artist work is focused and refined and artists were veteran practitioners of both art and teaching. Some artists, however, did not move through the stage theory but struggled with teaching work in a K-12 environment and were at the mismatched stage. There also appears to be two different orientations of teaching artists – art-oriented and teaching-oriented. These findings have implications for schools and arts organizations in their use and preparation of teaching artists in public schools.