FPA prof publishes book series


Lisa Donovan, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Fine and Performing Arts Department, recently published a series of five books that she co-edited, which aim to bring the arts back into the classroom.

According to Donovan, who also co-authored three of the books, the arts are a natural fit with Common Core expectations, and engage both teachers and their students in learning.

"This series is designed so that teachers can begin reading anywhere in the book and be inspired and able to implement the flexible arts-based strategies using the suggested lessons, or in their own unique plans," she said.

Full of arts-based activities and strategies to use in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies instruction, the books help teachers gain a better understanding of why and how to use the arts to reach and engage students.

"The arts catalyze learning by providing new points of entry for exploring curricular ideas that move beyond worksheets and what teachers often refer to as 'drill and kill' exercises," Donovan explained.

For example, students in a fifth-grade class exploring Amelia Earhart's character traits used a drama technique called "tableaux," in which they created frozen pictures using their bodies to create scenes where Earhart demonstrated a particular character trait.

"Students returned to the text again and again to understand her character, and to decide on what traits she had and what evidence there was of these traits," Donovan explained. "They translated these ideas into frozen scenes that allowed them to discuss how to portray the characteristics, and engaged the rest of the class in deciphering the image.

"This is not only enjoyable, but leads to deep learning where students spend more time on task, develop ownership of the content, and also express their own ideas as part of translating ideas from the text into new form," she continued. "Students also are called upon to work collaboratively, critically reflect, communicate their ideas and use their creativity."

The series met with enthusiastic response among educators this summer as Donovan led a number of workshops that center around integrating arts into a variety of school curricula.

In June, she facilitated a series of professional development offerings throughout the region, including "Exploring Links between the Arts and Common Core," which she presented both at MCLA and at Berkshire Community College.

In July, she headed to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to present "Arts Integration: The Cure for the Common Core," and then to Westford, Mass., where she presented a two-day professional development course on "Integrating the Arts across the Content Areas" for the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"The arts allow students to translate their understanding into new forms, and provide many ways for students to investigate ideas and present understanding," Donovan said. "They allow students to show their skills in diverse ways, while strengthening their ability to write and talk about curricular ideas."

Published by Shell Education, the series includes "Integrating the Arts across the Content Areas" (2012), "Strategies to Integrate the Arts in Mathematics" (2013), "Strategies to Integrate the Arts in English Language Arts" (2013), "Strategies to Integrate the Arts  in Social Studies" (2013) and "Strategies to Integrate the Arts  in Science" (2013).