How many people know that studying fine art not only enhances artistic skills, but also raises reading scores? Some 1500 third-graders from the Grand Rapids Public Schools do because it worked for them last year! And this year almost 2,000 8-9 year olds are making new visual and verbal connections in the Grand Rapids’ Art Museum’s Tour Program.
In a synergistic partnership, GRAM, Kendall School of Design, and the GRPS are into their second year of a highly organized curriculum helping 3rd graders improve both their visual-arts and reading skills. It all begins with the third-grade teachers and the art teachers in each of GRPS’s 26 grade schools.
This year GRAM chose six pieces of art depicting animals or birds for the children to learn about weeks before their Tour date. One favorite is the Stalking Panther bronze by American sculptor Alexander Proctor given to GRAM by Peter M. Wege.
When the GRPS bus unloads the 60 third-graders at GRAM, the docents – who have spent long hours learning the Tour curriculum – take over. “Why did the artist select this pose?” the docent asks and hands go up. “Why would an animal behave like this?” More hands.
After more questions and answers, the students use their new GRAM pencils to write down what they see happening in the sculpture. This becomes the middle of a story. Next, two students partner to create a beginning and an end for their collaborated tale about the panther. Thus the sculpture is teaching the third-graders about story and descriptive writing.
When the bell rings signaling time for students to move on, another docent is waiting to talk about comparison and contrast using two horse paintings by American artists Mathias Alten and George Hartmann. Here students write down what they see as similarities and differences in the paintings.
The Tour Program is triggering these third-graders’ young brains to actively make new synapses connecting what they see, hear, and write. Indeed, this literacy-visual connection is to powerful that teachers can actually project reading strengths just by looking at a young child’s drawings.
**Docent Judy Tyner (adove photo) demonstrates the muscular extension the sculptor of Stalking Panther captured during a recent Tour Program at GRAM.
(This video shows Barb Wisse, GRPS literacy coach, presenting Carlos Ramos from Cesar E. Chavez School with one of two Tour awards last May. Carlos reads the story he wrote explaining his drawing of Croc-Zilla, a combination of a crocodile and Godzilla)