NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Bethel College education class gives education majors a unique classroom experience – by going into an elementary school classroom.
Rather than just talking about how to integrate music, art, P.E., drama and writing into classroom instruction, these future teachers practice it. “Getting to help students is a much better learning experience than observing,” says Maggie Stephenson, junior from Little River.
Bethel’s Teaching Expressive Arts class, newly restructured this year, is taught by four Newton teachers: Denetta Denno, Brian Postier, Gail Pryce and LaDonna Voth (Denno, Pryce and Voth are Bethel graduates themselves). Pryce teaches fifth grade at Northridge Elementary, the site for Teaching Expressive Arts. Voth, Postier and Denno teach art, music and physical education, respectively, at Northridge as well as other Newton schools.
Denno explains that she and the other instructors were already practicing integration together. “Integrating other subject matter is a way to balance all of the emphasis on state standards,” she says. “Adding expressive arts subjects is like providing a liberal arts education for elementary students.”
Pryce, Voth, Postier and Denno have also involved other Northridge teachers. At the beginning of the school year, they asked the grade level teachers what topics they would be studying this semester and with which lessons they could use help.
To receive help from the Bethel students, teachers were challenged to find ways to integrate the expressive arts into their curriculum.
“Teaching [the expressive arts class] at Northridge is a win-win situation for everyone,” says Denno. “The Northridge teachers appreciate the extra adults helping with instruction in their classrooms. Individual attention is beneficial to the students at our school.”
The Bethel students also liked the structure of the class. “The main reason [I enjoyed this class] was that we spent the majority of our time in actual classrooms doing activities with the students,” says Hannah Born, junior from Newton. “So many other classes are textbook-based, and I felt that this was very hands-on.”
Daniel Klaassen, junior from Whitewater, agrees. “Being in a school all the time, interacting with the students is much more helpful than sitting in a classroom being lectured about the theories of how to teach. By allowing us to teach lessons – both short and normal length – they have given us valuable experience that we haven’t really had in any other class.”
Postier explains that one of the goals of the class is to help education majors see expressive arts skills taught holistically rather than in isolation.
Voth adds that the aim is to “preserve the integrity of the subject area and at the same time show how to integrate” it with other expressive arts or classroom disciplines.
Through integration, teachers are “teaching to the whole child,” says Postier, since all of these parts are “naturally part of the whole child.”
In addition, this integrated approach fits well with the idea of multiple intelligences, the idea that different students learn through different means. “I’m not a great singer,” says Pryce, “but I have students who learn that way.”
“I think the most valuable lesson that I have come away with is to look for ways to integrate several subjects into each lesson,” says Klaassen. “By integrating [these subjects], we offer help for students who have different learning styles and we diversify our teaching methods.”
The class assignments have pushed the Bethel students to practice thinking in this holistic manner. “We have worked hard on integrating more than one idea into each lesson,” explains Born. “For example, a math lesson can easily turn into a new game that gets kids moving and active. A writing lesson can easily be paired with reading and art.”
Stephenson adds, “We have really learned how to integrate the arts – music, art and physical education – into the general classroom. Not only are we lectured on how to do this, but by being at Northridge, we get to see and experience the process of integrating these things into the classroom.”
Through this class, Denno says she has seen the Bethel students grow professionally as they gain valuable experience working with children.
The four instructors also model this integrated approach in their teaching style, often sitting in on each others’ lectures and interrupting to add information. “We all bring different things to the table,” says Pryce.
Bethel students have found this approach helpful. “These teachers all are experts in their areas and also work together on a regular basis to integrate their curriculum,” says Born. “It was nice to see this process in action.”
Klaassen also felt the team-teaching worked well. “Each of the teachers was very knowledgeable in their own subject,” he notes, “but they did not see the need to force their subject on us as more important than any of the others.”
“I have really enjoyed this class so far,” says Stephenson. “It has kind of given me a look at what it’s like to be a teacher behind the scenes. It is more than just shadowing or observing a teacher – getting to be hands-on and creative puts us in the teacher’s position.”
The classroom involvement not only benefits the college students but also the elementary students who enjoyed the additional attention. “The children in the classroom light up when [the college students] walk in,” explains Voth.
In addition, Voth notes, this new partnership strengthens the connection between the larger community and the college.
Pryce, Voth, Postier and Denno say they hope to get the chance to teach this class again. They are already thinking of ways to improve the curriculum for next year.
Other members of the Teaching Expressive Arts class include Kelli Kroeker, senior from Hutchinson, Joe Santos, senior from Smithville, Mo., and Cara Turybury, fifth-year student from Wichita.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.