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Art as Experience, rather than
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Children and Media, 5:4, 471-474
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after the ﬁrst year. What room do we give experimental schools such as Q2L, who
encourage students in a gamelike scenario to “fail early and often,” to work through their
own bugs before rebooting the educational system for the umpteenth time?
Resilience will be the key to the success not only for Q2L’s students, but also for the
pedagogical model overall, particularly as Q2L plans an expansion for a Chicago school site
starting in fall 2011. The goal is not to replicate the New York City site, but rather apply the
strongest concepts and make changes that suit the local community. To fully under-
stand where a charter school model can go, it is important to understand where it starts.
This document provides an opportunity to take a look under the hood of what drives
this novel approach and offers insight for those looking to potentially model such
Wright, W. (2011). Probability space, possibility space. Lecture Presented at the Computer History
Museum, Mountain View, CA, USA. Retrieved from http://www.computerhistory.org/
Meryl Alper is a Ph.D. student in Communication at the Annenberg School for
Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Her research
focuses on young children’s relationships with analog and digital media, and the way
these practices are embedded within family communication. She is also currently
involved in various research initiatives with The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame
Workshop and the Annenberg Innovation Lab. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ART AS EXPERIENCE, RATHER THAN
New media literacies in the classroom
With the majority of our children in the United States continuing to be “taught to the
test,” schools like Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts (LFCSA) in Los Angeles are taking a
different approachto learningin hopes toprepare their students toacquire habits of mindthat
prepare them for jobs that do not even exist today. This is not an art school geared toward
teaching technique and preparing students to be masters of a speciﬁc discipline like dance or
visual arts. Instead, this is an elementary school that integrates arts across curricula to foster
experiences for students to be curious, collaborative, and persistent in whatever they’re
REVIEW AND COMMENTARY 471
learning. Skill building is the main focus for most elementary schools, but at LFCSA it is not
accidental that skills are learned through metaphoric thinking, rather than as rote knowledge.
New modes of meaning such as thinking through metaphors have emerged that
need to be taken into consideration when thinking about literacy (Kress, 2003). Though it is
important to know how to traditionally read and write, these “new” media literacies build
upon this knowledge and offer new forms of reading and writing through social interaction
with others. The new media literacies, a set of social skills and cultural competencies, are
not tied to traditional curriculum standards and practices, but instead are best developed
through creative and engaging projects. In his book, Understanding Media, Marshall
McLuhan (1964) says that a medium is “any extension of ourselves,” and uses the metaphor
of a hammer extending our arm. Tools we have today, such as the ability to sample music,
capture video, or edit media, encourage students to use that which they are comfortable
with to socially construct meanings of the world.
While visiting LFCSA, I follow a ﬁrst-grade generalist teacher as she guides her
students past shipping containers converted into classroom spaces to enter Nick Kello’s
music class. Nick Kello stands in the middle of the room strumming his guitar as it records to
the computer connected to it. The song increases in tone as more and more of the students
enter the room. Behind him, a stream of images extends the song’s metaphor on the TV.
As the class of twenty-eight students begins their session, Mr Kello pauses the rotating
images on a picture of a banana split and asks, “What’s in this type of sundae?” Kids shout out
“cherries, nuts, ice cream and bananas!” He poses another question, “But where do bananas
come from?” Answers from “the supermarket” to “a tree” to “a truck” to “a boat” are responses
that the students and their generalist teacher shout out. Together, they map the journey of
the banana in the banana split that passes through the hands of the different workers all the
way to the banana tree in Jamaica that shares its home with the tarantula that uses the tree
for shelter. With each portion of the journey, Nick strums his guitar to facilitate a new sound
out of his computer. In the end, the different layers combine together through the song of:
It’s six foot, seven foot, eight foot BUNCH!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Mr. Kello’s goal as a music teacher is to have the students learn Harry Bellafonte’s call
and response song. They learn about the difference between verse and chorus, and how to
sing and pantomime a song from memory. But at the same time, this song is the creative
string that ties back to the different themes of food, workers, animals and their shelters, and
transportation, learned across the generalist subjects the ﬁrst grade teacher oversees
during the day. Through this process, Nick and all the participants of the session actively
inquire and think about the message of Bellafonte’s song. Using the new media literacy and
transmedia navigation, Nick meaningfully uses the tools to tell the story of the song across
multiple forms of media to expand the thinking of the students and encourage them to
discuss the social and cultural implications of what the song means.
Music helps deﬁne who we are and is one of the top modes of expression for building
a sense of community, as shown in Nick’s lesson. We are in a paradigm shift in the classroom
where educators, like Nick, need to work in the gap between life and school. This provides
teachers an opportunity to offer learning objectives in their classrooms in a new way, while
at the same time offering students opportunities to read and write their cultural practices
that are central to their own everyday experience.
472 REVIEW AND COMMENTARY
There are two methods happening in this experience that sets LFCSA apart from
other schools. The ﬁrst is a pioneering method LFCSA requires of their generalist teachers,
which is to participate alongside their students in the art-specialized classes. And the other
method is the ﬂuidity of subjects that converge in a single experience with the awareness
and recognition that media and art gives people a language to understand complexity.
Karin Newlin, Principal of LFCSA, realized both these needs through participation in
an eight-year visual arts curriculum project with The J. Paul Getty Trust. From that project,
she observed that transfer of knowledge from the arts specialists to the larger curriculum
wasn’t happening because teachers took their breaks during the time their students
participated in the extracurricular courses. If the generalist teacher lacked artistic training or
never experienced art ﬁrst-hand, then integration back into the classroom didn’t happen.
So, with the establishment of Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts ﬁve years ago, this
approach became part of the ethos of the school.
From my experience observing the classroom, this has proven to be a win-win for the
students and the teachers participating in the lessons. For Mr Kello, who is not certiﬁed in
elementary education, this offers him a chance to learn from the generalist teacher strategies
on classroom management as well as gain a better understanding of the psychology of the
students, especially since he only sees them only once a week where the generalist teacher
sees the students every day. For the ﬁrst grade generalist teacher, she realizes the importance
of experiencing the combined media and art forms and has a deeper understanding of how
to make meaning of it in order to conduct that type of learning in her own classroom.
Moreover, Mr Kello has come into this learning experience with no set assumptions of
what the students can and cannot do. This allows him the freedom to push them further and
take risks in what they are capable of learning, encouraging the new media literacy of play—
the ability to experiment with their surroundings toward a form of problem solving. And for
the generalist teacher who is observing Mr Kello, there is a deeper respect gained for her
students’ abilities to understand and learn.
With LFCSA practicing this method now for ﬁve years, Karin Newlin has witnessed that
the generalist teachers who have been with the program from its inception are now
collaborating with the art teachers from the beginning, creating metaphoric techniques and
discussions that span across the different classroom sessions such as using rhythm to explain
punctuation in a sentence, as much as timing of a song. Teachers have had a shift in mindset
that has loosened their style to be more open to process rather than directive. Karin shares,
This is messy learning, one where projects evolve and change and both students and
teachers need to work ﬂuidly alongside each other in order to complete a project. More
and more each year, teachers are pooling their subjects together into themed tracks with
an emphasis on learning by doing. (Personal communication, April 2011)
This is the ﬁrst year in their new building and LFCSA has seen an increase in student
enrollment with the additional space they now have. New students in every grade have
The LFCSA teachers have had to work really hard this year at bridging the creative thinking gap
between the returning and new students, especially in the older age groups where the kids are
frozen in their creativity as they are more focused on knowing what teachers want rather than
jumping in and exploring, messing around and coming up with a project.
LFCSA is a practiced, “on the ground,” example of the importance of putting arts and
media at the center of learning. Even more important, research shows that encouraging
REVIEW AND COMMENTARY 473
creativity in a child’s learning process helps them to grow into “creative people and possess
an ability to adopt a number of different stances or perspectives . . . and master a
vocabulary that enables them to assess their work in multiple dimensions, so that they can
pass more qualiﬁed judgments than just ‘good’ or ‘bad’” (Lindstro¨m, 2006, p. 57).
Incorporating the new media literacies into the classroom allows for a blurring of
boundaries between informal and formal learning and harnesses a new form of literacy that
helps teachers encourage our students to read and write in new ways. This shift changes
the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement, where creativity
and active participation are the hallmark. And it makes it increasingly important to
understand and be competent in the skills of citizenship, art, and expression of social
connectivity (Jenkins, Purushotoma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robison, 2009).
Putting arts and new media literacies at the center is not about appreciation. This is
not an act of doing that can be turned on and off like a light switch. When you truly put art
and media at the center, you learn to embody and embrace the task of hard learning and
explore a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world we live in, and LFCSA is
preparing our children for just that.
Jenkins, H., Purushotoma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the
challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA:
The MIT Press.
Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Lindstro¨m, L. (2006). Creativity: What is it? Can you assess it? Can it be taught? International
Journal of Art & Design Education, 25(1), 53–66.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Erin Reilly is Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for
Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications &
Journalism. Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary,
creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation
with emergent technologies. Erin consults with private and public companies in the
areas of mobile, creative strategy and transmedia projects for children. e-mail:
Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media, and the vampire franchise
M. A. Click, J. Stevens Aubrey, & E. Behm-Morawitz (Eds.), 2010, New York, NY: Peter
474 REVIEW AND COMMENTARY