Arts-based learning in primary schools: connecting dance and visual arts

Image: Neža Oblak

By integrating dance and visual arts and seeking a meaningful synergy between them, Vesna Geršak, Uršula Podobnik and Nuša Jurjevič’s project helped young children to understand “industry”.

We were interested in how pupils in the 3rd grade (30 students, 8 years old) would respond to the model of learning through artistic experience, and whether their conceptual field, expressed in the drawings, would change after the activities. The project was evaluated by teachers through qualitative analysis of interviews and drawings, SWOT analysis and portfolios.

Pupils were encouraged to research the theme by exploring various elements of dance: space, time and energy, including direction, shape, path, size, rhythm and weight, which are also elements of the visual arts. The process aspect of learning was in the foreground, thus enabling the embodiment of visual elements, encouraging pupils’ creativity, extending their conceptual field, and enriching their artistic expression.

At the beginning the pupils were asked to draw a factory as they imagine it:

Dance And Visual Arts_Figure 1

Figure 1: A pupil’s drawing of a factory before (left) and after (right) the intervention. The initial simple rectangular building with a chimney was improved in response to the pupil’s expanded concept of a factory.

In the second phase, pupils visited a museum exhibition, where they acquired new knowledge about industry and factories.

Dance And Visual Arts_Figure 2

Photographer: Andrej Peunik

Afterwards, the artists (a musician, a dancer and a visual artist) entered the process and established communication with the pupils by exchanging experiences and ideas. Pupils were encouraged to participate in a dialogue with the artists, museum curator, teachers and their peers. In the dance and visual art workshops, pupils studied a line of controlled factory movement, space, installation, the role of light, free movement, and physical responses to sound stimulation and developed creativity, formed interpersonal connections, and investigated their influence on movement, formation of lines and connections.

Dance And Visual Arts_Figure 3

Photographer: Sanja Gornjec

The last part of the project was pupils’ performance in a dance and art story on factories (producing cotton).

Dance And Visual Arts_Figure 4

Photographer: Neža Oblak

The benefits of learner participation

The results showed that during the process of learning through an artistic experience, the pupils expanded their conceptual field of the topic (Figure 1, right). Pupils responded well to learning, and a positive classroom climate was established. Among the advantages of the project, the teachers highlighted improved group work, the collaboration of all participants, the strengthening of pupils’ self-esteem and interpersonal relations, and the children’s joy and well-being. They noted the importance of cooperation among school, university, museum and artists, which enabled the children to acquire knowledge from experts in an authentic way.

The cooperation with artists played a significant role in the teachers’ professional progress, as well. Collaboration between teachers and artists encouraged the dissolving of some of the generally established patterns, which enriches the pedagogical process.

Through the exchange of ideas, the creation of new concepts arises, which allows and sometimes requires a change of attitude. In this context, pupils understand that the artistic process is a “living” form of work in which the change of a given decision is possible and meaningful. Pupils and teachers realise that there is no need to fear change, because it is not a recognition of errors in their previous decisions but occurs simply because a better solution has arisen in the meantime. The final product, therefore, becomes the synthesis of the experiences, thoughts and decisions brought by the process. An essential part is the realisation that every piece of content in the artistic field has more than one expressive alternative, so that it can be seen in its own way, and that a certain decision can be changed if or when the need arises. And that is not limited only to the artistic fields but can be applied in other areas, as well.

This article by Vesna Geršak, Uršula Podobnik and Nuša Jurjevič is based on their paper:

Geršak, V. and Podobnik, U. (2020). Learning through an artistic experience: Connecting dance and fine art in the project ‘Movement and its trace’ in C. Svendler Nielsen, S. Burridge (Eds.). Dancing Across Borders. Perspectives on Dance, Young People and Change. Oxon: Routledge.

The project received financial support from the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Education.