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Harold Burris-Meyer is a professor of theatre

at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton.
Charles Vicinus is an assistant professor of
theatre at the same university and was Deputy
Director of the Belle Glade project reported
on in this article.

"On the first day of Ch ristmas my true love

gave to me an o range in a big bowl. "

stories and verses and do arithmetic problems better than the average student of his
socio-economic group and age. Who taught
him? Other students. How? Together, they
dance and sing and draw and paint and w rite
stories and poems and play baseball (a spelling game) and charades. They write and
illustrate their own textbooks. In the standard
subjects for their grades they outperform children taught by their elders. That's because
kids communicate with one another.

On the second day of Christmas the lyric

called for two Christmas trees. Thereafter it
was three golden bells, four butterflies, five
candy canes, six birds-a-flying, seven teache rs
teaching , eight jing le bells, nine jumping
beans, ten keys-a-turning, eleven peoples eating, twelve flowers blooming.

Children and adults speak different languages.

The Dick and Jane books from which gene rations learned to read are pretty easy for
adults to understand but neither child nor
adult is likely to be "turned on" by them.
And such common and useful terms as curb

The lyric was composed by nine year old

Jesus Nunez who, when he 's not in school,
picks tomatoes with his family. He goes to an
elementary school in Belle Glade, Florida,
and he's never seen a partridge or a pear tree
and doesn't know what a supermarket is,
or a curb stone; but he can read and write

In an exercise from Rhythm/Meter different

sounds are musically made as these students
snap their fingers and clap their hands to the
dancers in the circle's center.
Photo courtesy CEMREL, INC., A National
Educational Laboratory, by Susanne Faulkner



. '.

or supermarket are just noises to children in

some groups, in this case, migrants. But
where verbal communication fails; singing,
drawing, writing stories and verses, dancing
and improvisational theatre succeed. In a
word , because art forms appeal at the emotional level , they are a universal means of
communication for the young.
In 1970 a team of researchers working under

a grant from the U.S. Office of Education

explored the path to increased educational
efficiency and effectiveness by infusing classroom procedures with art forms. The team
consisted of a behavioral psychologist, an
experienced classroom teacher and a theatre
director skilled in theatrical presentation
The Detroit Art Institute is working with the
Detroit Public Schools to devise ways of
making the resources of the Institute available and useful to classroom teachers. Here,
as part of a resource unit concerning Paul
Revere called Portrait of a Craftsman, children do a " voice-over" narrative of aspects
of Revere 's life.

techniques. They set up a program designed

to present lessons that would carry their own
built-in motivation. The Palm Beach County
(Florida) School Board provided a school with
a thousand students in grades kindergarten to
six. The chi ldren studied were white and
black, many of Spanish speaking parents, and
most of them were the children of migrant
farm workers. One half of the classes at
each grade level studied language skills
taught in the traditional manner. The other
half of the students were taught using lesson
plans built around art forms. All students took
the same examinations at the beginning and
end of the schoo l year.
Using the arts as instructional tools is really
noth ing new. Good teachers long ago discovered that they achieve emotional involvement
which makes the learning go fast and the subject stick. But the Belle Glade Project was
the first large rigorously controlled study of
the use of the arts through which subjects
other than the arts are taught.
To develop language skills the Belle Glade


students write their own text and reading

books. For example, Fernando uses a tape
recorder to tell t he story of how he and his
fami ly pick tomatoes. Then Billy, who writes
better, transc ribes t he story from the tape.
Fernando and Billy then have a conference
with the teacher, who assumes the title and
role of editor, and discuss the written version
of the story. Th rough this conference the
teacher discovers skill strengths and weaknesses and a place to start in individualizing
instruction for the chi ldren. When teacher
and students fully understand all the corrections that need to be made it is time to go to
press with the book. Billy or Fernando or
another student may make some illustrations
for the story which has been broken down
into segments. Another student may type out
the story on a primary typew riter. Still
another may translate it into Spanish. When
the various pieces of the book are completed
the book is laminated with the pictures facing the text, spiral bound, and placed in the
school or room library. The original tape is
made available so that the students may
listen to the tape as they read the story.
Peer production of books is, of course, only
part of the system. For example, the spelling
program for the week may introduce the
words to the children by having them act out
the verbs and find the nouns. Then the children may make up sentences using the words
and then illustrate the sentence. During the
week the written work is passed to a higher
grade for peer proofreading. The older group
circles the errors they find and then return it
to the original authors for correction. The
psychological benefits of such a system are
obvious and the resu lts spectacular.
In a series of tests at the end of the school
year, the control group , those not given the
benefits of arts enrichment, showed a drop of
a twenty percent in errors in using titles at
the end of the year. On the other hand, the
experimental group, which did have arts
experiences, reduced its erro rs by seventy-five
percent. The control group cut errors in
using correct words by a quarter; the experimental group by one-half. While the control
group got worse by thirty percent in using
capital letters, the experimental group improved by five percent. In spelling, the control group improved by only fifteen percent;
the experi mental group by si xty-five percent.
In the number of word s written, the control


group actually went down by fifteen percent

and the experimental children rose by twentyfive percent. The experimental group
increased the average number of sentences
written by five percent ; the control group
decreased by ten percent. Verbalization is a
big problem for the migrant. An increase in
this area is therefo re important.
To summarize, the overall effect of the arts
program on the language arts development of
the experimental classes was one of increasing the quantity of the students' writing while
decreasing errors.
To what degree the peer proofreading contributed to the final success of the experimental program cannot be ascert ained from the
present study. It wou ld seem, however, that it
must have been a significant factor since this
process, of necessity, encouraged school
unification via intergrade peer-to-peer communication to an extent not previously experienced. Proofread ing served to guide and
teach each child in the techniques of self
valuation and en cou raged him to compete
with himself. The thrust of the prog ram was
oriented toward the peer-produced book.
From the inception of the prog ram students
at all levels were encouraged to become
authors. The creation of books provides an
immediate and positive creative experience
for the child and for the teacher an extremely
valuable diagnostic and evaluative tool.
From the creation of simple sentences and
drawings in the spelli ng lessons, students
moved to writing and illustrating their own
books at the end of the year. It is impossible
to measure, but observers could not mistake
the pride in achievement and creation that
developed in these young authors as they
wrote books that were eagerly read and
understood by their peers.
Not all benefits show in statistics. For example , there was one situation where a child
was thought to be retarded-he had been
read ing at the third grade level. When he was
busy illustrating a book, his own creation, in
both English and Spanish, he achieved sixth
grade proficiency. And the benefits to the
whole school were no less impo rtant. One
teacher in the experimental program was
thoroughly disliked , and he had serious discipline problems. At the end of the year, discipline was no longer a problem, the students

liked him, his disposition and his health

improved. Throughout the school tardiness
and truancy decreased.
Perhaps the most important result from the
present study is the strong support for the
proposition that teaching through the arts can
be successfully used by all teachers at all
grade levels. Specific teacher t raining was
not employed in the Belle Glade test, and
could not, therefore, have been an absolute
necessity. The arts have always been associated with emotional and motivational
involvement, and all the teacher really needed
was the concept and at the outset, some professional guidance. Finally, the economy of
using the arts as a teaching medium is of
great significance. The child, supplied with
paper, pencil, and crayon, becomes an artist
in his own right, achieving nonverbal communication to rival the most advanced technology. And with the growing emphasis on
the arts at all levels of education, the child

who is immersed in an arts environment

throughout his schooling is well on his way
to being the kind of person our educational
system wants to turn out-knowled geable in
facts, but sensitive to the emotions and feelings of his peers.
PETER PANNIN G. Here the accent is on
imagination and imitation. These children
become the body and voice of the character
represented in the colorful face-mask selected
at random. The emphasis is on expressing
emotional traits via body movement and
voice. Anything goes-no strings attached.
"Cre ating Characterizat ion" is one of several
multimedia aesthetic educational packages
published jointly by Lincoln Center for the
Performing Arts, CEMREL, Inc., a federally
supported national educational laboratory,
and The Viking Press.
Courtesy Lincoln Center for the
Performing Arts
Photo by Susanne Faulkner Stevens