Arts as Method

18 Nov 2021

Since August 2021 a specialized team of teachers, facilitators, lecturers and artists have been working together on The Arts as Method project for ASSITEJ SA. Funded by Business Arts South Africa (BASA) the project is the next logical step within the Kickstarter Creative Arts project, as it further ensures high-quality Arts based approach across subjects at South African primary schools.

This project originates from the Kickstarter Creative Arts project – an Educational teacher empowerment and artist in residency programme, designed originally as a case study to assess the impact of the Creative Arts at the Intermediate phase (Grade 4, 5 and 6) in South African primary schools. The Kickstarter project has been sponsored by Rand Merchant Bank since 2015, and won the Development Business Arts South Africa award with Rand Merchant Bank in 2017. It has been a dynamic and powerful engagement in South African schools, reaching three provinces (Kwa Zulu Natal, The Free State and the Northern Cape) and in 2022 will expand into Gauteng, with support from First Rand Empowerment Fund.

Through extensive research (two master theses have been written on the Kickstarter project), we have found that teachers ‘outside’ of the arts subjects at the schools where the project took place have been expressing interest in the methodology used to engage students and to create more lively, dynamic learning environments. Arts as Method is therefore expanding the methodology already applied in Kickstarter to develop lessons which use the Arts as a learning process across the curriculum. For example, the project explores how to use an arts-based pedagogy to teach subjects such as maths, social sciences, languages etc. The created materials form a pilot case study to launch, test and support the integration of ‘Arts as method’ approach to all subjects. This will considerably and authentically integrate the Arts within the South African education landscape and create embodied learning practices for all classrooms.

Jefferson Dirks Korkee, one of the collaborators, says of the Arts as Method project,
‘With this project, teachers are provided with creative and innovative methods to use when teaching, so that learners can enjoy the learning process. Learning is supposed to be fun, and it should ensure a safe environment. The Creative Arts methods that we are making use of give a sense of ownership to the teacher, but most importantly to the learners. With this Arts approach, the young ones enter the learning environment with an understanding that their prior knowledge matters, and what they obtain from their communities and on the playground plays a vital role in the classroom. Therefore, the learners feel somehow empowered and confident to participate in the activities no matter the subject area.’

Schoeme Grobler, another one of the subject specialists within the project, highlights her experiences in working with the approach: ‘When the pandemic hit and most of my artistic projects got cancelled, I found myself exploring some new pathways in my working with children. One was being a tutor at an extra mathematics facility. Maths? For a drama girl? I had to dust off my grade 12 mathematics knowledge and open some old folders in my brain. However, a few months later, I find myself part of the Arts as Method ASSITEJ project and for which subject? Mathematics! Coincidental, I think not! I can now use my experience of the mathematics topics children struggle with, and present it in a creative way by using drama, music, art, or dance as a tool. At first a frightening task. Where we as artists are more comfortable to jump head first into a solely drama, art, music or dance lesson, we now have to consider the other subject and then apply the artistic tool as method. For me it was so interesting how I started to approach mathematics differently. I now consider mathematics through the lens of drama/art/dance or music, and it is amazing to see how they can and do connect. Fractions become art and shapes become dance!’

ASSITEJ SA is creating a number of five-minute videos which each introduce a particular way of using an artistic approach to deal with a subject outside of the arts. Each video is accompanied by a lesson plan, which teachers can follow easily, and which is right on point in terms of the CAPS.
The focus is on Intermediate and Senior phase subjects in order to be able to test the materials in both primary and high schools. We intend to make the materials available to teachers more broadly, and will use targeted engagements such as educational conferences to promote the impact of Arts based approach and play pedagogy in the classroom.

‘It is interesting to observe the older students’ interest in the younger students’ creative work. “Teacher, what is that? What game did they play now? We also want to try it!” (This was a grade 6 student responding to a grade R mathematics worksheet!) From Grade R to Grade 3 there is still creative freedom within subjects such as mathematics; why do we lose that creativity thereafter? I believe we can still nurture the child’s need for play and exploration from grade 4 to grade 7. This need to play and to explore is present in the child no matter the subject at hand; why not tap into that and use it as a tool to learn?’ – Schoeme Grobler on the importance of play and game-based learning.

For more information, or to participate in the pilot research please contact Alison Green at ASSITEJ SA.

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