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Social Emotional Learning with the Oklahoma Arts Institute

Art has the power to engage and inspire students of all abilities. Whether it is the visual arts, theater, dance, music, or new media, creative exploration has been known to help students reach learning and behavioral objectives in productive and innovative ways. In early October, Youth in Arts Staff travelled to the Quartz Mountain in Oklahoma to lead a 17-hour professional development with teachers from across the state through the Oklahoma Arts Institute. Together, we explored arts integration strategies and techniques for addressing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals with students informed by student-centered frameworks such as Culturally Responsive Teaching and Universal Design. Over the course of three days through visual arts, dance, music, and theatre, educators learned about the five competencies of SEL framed by the following asset-based questions:

  1. Self Awareness: Who Am I?
  2. Social Awareness: Who am I in relation to the world around me?
  3. Self Management: How do I fit in to the world around me?
  4. Relationship Skills: How do I connect, listen and communicate with diverse people?
  5. Responsible Decision-Making: How do I make informed choices while considering how this will affect me and those around me?

Participants began by thinking about our personal identities and how they are informed by our experiences and our chosen and inherited family values. Following our daily warm-up and introduction, we created accordion culture books to give us a baseline for thinking about self awareness, and continued working on these books throughout the workshop. In order to take time to appreciate the process of learning and consider our work so far, we participated in a group gallery walk and reflection.

During our unit on Social Awareness, we performed our oral family histories through storytelling and embroidered mapping. After ruminating on the ways in which our divergent and personal stories gathered together at our point of contact – Oklahoma – teachers choreographed their collective family stories and performed them for the rest of the group. It became clear during reflection that building a culture of community becomes possible through the sharing and receiving of stories, and that we learn how to connect in the process of realizing what makes us different and what makes us similar. Additional theatre and movement-based activities were utilized throughout the workshop in order to offer kinesthetic and embodied ways to reflect on and engage in the core competencies of SEL.

Over the course of our sessions on self management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making, we explored multiple techniques for self portraiture using methods such as recycled collagraph prints, transparency portraits using lines that make our faces unique, and empathy portraits on vellum. To help build our visual arts skills, we practiced observational drawing techniques and considered the ways in which visual signals like lines could be characterized using all of the senses. At the end of the workshop, we layered our portraits in different mediums together to create a cover for our culture books.

On the final day of the workshop, participants reflected once again on the characteristic of storytelling utilizing graphic novels and Visual Thinking Strategies, as well as theatre activities such as The Moment Before. We then participated in a large-group Circle Story, pulling vocabulary from value words and personal characteristics that we had shared previously in the workshop. We added depth and meaning to the story by re-telling our narrative and introducing colors and emotions. We completed the workshop with an experimental painting activity in which participating educators were asked to create abstract, mixed-media artworks by following a series of instructions without knowing the expectations for the project’s end result. Following the activity, we reflected on what the process had felt like by discussing how decision-making is impacted by circumstances, and how we can help to empower and prepare our students to make impactful decisions knowing that they will not always know where those decisions may lead.

We closed the activities with a final group performance, utilizing performance-based techniques and strategies learned throughout the institute in order to communicate their closing thoughts and experiences. The process of learning and engaging was captured by facilitators and participants collaboratively through a Learning Wall, Youth in Art’s adaptation of the Making Learning Visible (MLV) process. Participants left the institute with access to arts-based resources created to help engage educators in practical skills for developing and fostering communication and collaboration, thereby creating more opportunities to empower student voice and identity in any classroom. 

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