The following paper presents my findings from an arts-integrated practitioner research study that I conducted, involving over forty grade ten students in Toronto, Canada at a Jewish high school. In the study, students in my grade ten Bible classes were assigned an in-class arts-based project that asked for their interpretation of Chapter 12 of the Book of Numbers. Working in groups of three or four, students had the liberty to create using any medium of their choice and also crafted a written exposition detailing the thought process that went into their work.
Following the creation of the projects, I individually interviewed twelve of the students in order to hear explanations of their work in their own words and to have an opportunity to dialogue with them about the process of creating interpretive works through the arts and whether the process had any lasting impressions. Almost as an afterthought, I asked the students whether they thought I should repeat the assignment in future years. The answers were a resounding and emphatic yes. After each yes, I asked the student if they could explain why. In addition to their explanations about how the projects led to new insights into the text and regarding their emerging Jewish identities, the students began identifying pedagogic, psychosocial and cognitive explanations for the significance of the project. Beyond being caught off-guard by their answers, I was impressed and surprised by the detail and the self-awareness that students had towards understanding their own educational experiences and the relevance of learning through the arts. By analyzing this unexpected data, I wanted to understand what students felt they gained by learning through the arts, how it differed from their other classroom assessments, and whether learning like this should be continued.
This paper is an attempt to capture these dialogues and identify and analyze the insights students provided into the benefits of learning through the arts, in contrast to classrooms that are more conventional and traditional in nature. While previous studies make a compelling case, for the importance and value of learning through the arts, based on interviews with teachers and administrators, the data from this study introduces a new voice into the existing tapestry of educational stakeholders, namely, a student voice. The students in this study provide a fresh and insightful perspective that both adds to and extends the conversation about reasons for using the arts in education. Five distinct reasons for using the arts emerged based on the students’ responses to questions about whether they enjoyed learning through the arts and what they felt the arts offered. The explanations that students provided are that:
learning through the arts provides the opportunity to express creativity;
learning through the arts leads to better recall of text;
learning through the arts provides an opportunity to feel successful;
learning through the arts leads to collaboration which results in deeper thinking about the material; and that
- learning through the arts provides the opportunity to be challenged in a new way.