Building literacy through the arts

November 25, 2019
By Sabrina Cataldo

Regina Catholic Schools and local artists recently worked together to provide diverse dance and music programming to kindergarten students at St. Kateri Tekakwitha School.

The school has a large number of English as an additional language students. “Self-expression through dance and music transfers to their vocabulary development,” Regina Catholic School Arts Education Consultant Sophia Yannitsos observed. “Students learned literacy outcomes, but instead of doing it through books, they did this through kinesthetic awareness and music.”

Dancing the globe is part of the Artists in Schools program at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Elementary School in the Regina Catholic School Division. (Photo courtesy of RCSD.)

The innovative pilot program was funded through a $10,000 Artists in Schools grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. It engaged professional artists who specialize in theatre, music and First Nations dance to enable students and teachers to explore their creative capacity as they developed fundamental skills.

There are five modules to the program: a cultural awareness and sensitivity workshop for teachers, creative dance, First Nations hoop dance, Ghanaian dance and drumming, and international Orff Pedagogy barred instruments such as the xylophone.

Students were completely engaged and built their self-confidence over the course of the project. One said “I was nervous about dancing with five hoops. I didn’t think I could do it. But, look, I can use all the hoops!” At the end of the project, board members, other schools and guests were invited to a student performance.

“When they performed and the crowd oohed and aahed and clapped at their dance, I got tears in my eyes. It was so powerful to see how they had connected with the audience and were able to share their learning,” teacher Michelle Dizy offered.

The Saskatchewan kindergarten curriculum focuses on developing a child’s opportunity to learn about themselves and the environment through spontaneous play. The music and dance program met all three of the goals for the K-12 arts education curriculum: cultural/historical through learning music and dance from around the world, critical/responsive through dialoguing with teachers and artists about learnings, and creative/productive through the final performance.

“We’re not teaching them to be actors or singers or dancers or hoop dancers, but we’re using art forms as a vehicle for physical expression, for building social relationships, for gaining knowledge and understandings,” said artist Chancz Perry.

“The learning that occurred during this project cannot be mandated by curriculum or planned in a long-range plan. This is learning that happens through the magic of music and dance. This is learning that touches the soul and changes a child. This is the difference that art makes.” She goes on to say, “When a child says, ‘dancing the Gahu dance makes me feel brave,’ when something like that happens, it’s magical,” Dizy stressed.

The Saskatchewan Arts Board’s Artists in Schools program offers schools a chance to enhance arts-related activities that are linked to educational outcomes through partnerships with professional artists. For more, visit www.saskartsboard.ca/ais.

Artists in Schools is supported by funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture Inc. through the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, and the Government of Saskatchewan through the Ministry of Education.