Teaching through the arts

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Teachers take part in three-day seminar

By Jesef Williams

Discussion of drawings, paintings and poetry isn’t being restricted to just art classes.

Melanie Rick Layne wants educators to know that the arts can be used in all disciplines to help students learn and achieve at a higher level.

Layne, who works with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, facilitated a seminar last week for teachers in the Lancaster County School District and Rock Hill schools.  

The three-day seminar, titled Looking the Write Way, guided the 60 participants through a process to analyze art that teaches students the critical skills of observing, inferring, inquiring and writing.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the seminar was held at the Carole Ray Dowling Center at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. The seminar wrapped up Friday with a visit to the Columbia Museum of Art.

“We want to teach kids how to slow down and see the world around them,” Layne said. “How to look at art, talk about art, think about art and write about art.”

The teachers looked at visual art and read poetry during the first two days. They divided into smaller groups to discuss what they observed and ways their students could reflect on it.

Charisse Witherspoon, who teaches English and theater at Lancaster High School, said the activities allowed the teaches to closely interact and build partnerships.

Being able to describe and analyze what’s around you is important, especially in an English class, she said.

“To be an observer,” said Witherspoon when reflecting on what she gained through the seminar. “We need to take time to fall back and pay attention to our surroundings.”

David Platts, arts specialist for Lancaster County School District, was thrilled to have Layne visit Lancaster.

“I think this is an incredible benefit for teachers,” Platts said. “It gives them a new vehicle to teach creative writing and poetry.”

About Melanie Layne

Layne, who lives in Virginia, is a course leader and program consultant for the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program in Washington, D.C. She helps artists develop and evaluate workshops presented at the Kennedy Center.

Layne is a National Board-certified teacher and a certified reading specialist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Clemson University and her master’s in literacy curriculum and instruction from Virginia Tech.

She has 15 years of experience integrating the arts with general education, special education and English language learners in elementary and middle school classrooms.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152