Sunday, April 28, 2013

Arts Inquiry: Applying Literacy to Arts

I have been exploring a great deal of language arts and humanities writing in search of connections to teaching in the arts.  Where are we doing the same things and how can we work smarter to help our students to learn?  Oddly enough in a quick glance at resources, I found only 3 brief mentions of art, and none of music or other art forms.  What surprises me is that there are so many learning strategies that will so easily lend themselves to teaching in the arts.  Furthermore, an artistic approach to these techniques could afford any content teacher an easy means of exposing their students to these strategies.

The first strategy I am going to cover is ReQuest.  This is an inquiry strategy developed by Manzo in 1969.  Essentially, when applied to a reading, through questioning, the teacher supports the students to investigate in three ways:

1.  On the lines
2.  Between the Lines
3.  Beyond the Lines.

In the first level of questioning, the teacher is asking for facts and information that can be found directly on the page.  In the second line of questioning, the teacher or students are addressing questions about what is implied by the facts, or what is suggested by the reading.  Finally, when looking beyond the lines, the inquiry turns to further implications or applications of the information and implied concepts to situations outside of the text.

One example in the book is on the life cycle and survival of cockroaches.  Without even reading the passage, the three different levels of inquiry are very well modeled.  Here are a few examples of questions:

1.  How long has the cockroach existed?  How long is it expected to exist?
2.  Why would the cockroach survive longer than humans?  
3.  What could we learn from cockroaches?  What could research offer humans in our desire to live and exist longer?

These lines of questioning allow the student to build a basic knowledge of the material and then develop that knowledge and evidence into material that can help them understand the deeper implications of a concept.

Very simply, this same strategy could be applied in the arts to get students to explore the deeper aspects of the creative process, and better develop ideas about artwork and the artists who create it.  In a music classroom, I may ask the following three types of questions:

1.  In the notes/lyrics.
2.  Between the notes/lyrics.
3.  Beyond the notes/lyrics.

In the visual art classroom:

1.  In the drawing/painting/clay/sculpture/photograph
2.  Between the drawings/paintings/clay/sculptures/photographs
3.  Beyond the drawing/painting/clay/sculpture/photograph, etc.

Essentially, the same concept could be applied to any content area and although a slightly more abstract approach that a text, it would teach the same principle.  Even in the literacy classroom, investigation of a popular piece of music could teach students how to begin finding evidence, using it to form opinions, and how to ask deeper questions.

Level 1:  What instruments do you hear?  Who is singing?  What do the lyrics state?
Level 2:  What is the singer trying to describe?  What emotion does the music make?  Why did the artist choose the lyrics or instruments they did?  How is this music affected by the time in which it is written? how is this music affected by who is listening to it and when it is heard?
Level 3:  How does this music describe a time period?  How can we use similar strategies in the way we talk or write to bring out similar emotions or make similar points?  How does this music connect to other types of art from the same time or in other time periods?

Needless to say, the applications of creative thought on behalf of the teacher will help students to better understand the process of inquiry.  Furthermore, it will allow the students to start asking these key questions that life-long learners develop in looking at things every day.

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  1. Thanks for this- nice connecting across curriculum areas.
    Writers imply ...
    Readers infer meaning- essential literacy strategy.
    Three level guides sound very much the same.
    Will now have a go using this structure in my Arts programme.

    1. Thank you for the wonderful feedback. I would love to know more about three level guides.


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