Skip to main content Skip to main content

The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Fostering Genuine Communication

Arts teachers communicate with students, and students communicate with each other, in respectful ways that encourage communication of original ideas through the arts. In this session, participants meet a dance teacher whose students draw choreographic inspiration from poetry and sign language. A visual art teacher gives her commercial art class a fanciful assignment that enables them to communicate a concrete idea through several visual media. A theatre teacher encourages student interaction around the dramatization and staging of fables. Finally, a vocal music teacher asks her students to use "descriptive praise" to critique the performance of a fellow singer.

In This Program


A vocal music teacher models constructive criticism as students critique the performance of a fellow singer.


A theatre teacher encourages student interaction around the dramatization and staging of fables.


A dance teacher helps her students draw choreographic inspiration from poetry and sign language.

Visual Arts

A visual art teacher gives her commercial design class a fanciful assignment that enables them to communicate a concrete idea through several visual media.


Creating art is about taking an idea and finding a way to express it to an audience. Throughout the creative process, the role of communication is key. Artists need to develop their ideas, describe their work, and give and get feedback.

To foster genuine communication, teachers:

  • Nurture artistic expression
  • Talk with and listen to students
  • Encourage student interaction and collaboration

Learning Goals

The goals of this workshop session are for you to:

  • Identify communication challenges associated with each arts discipline
  • Develop activities that nurture students’ communication skills at each stage in the artistic process – creating, performing, and responding

Getting Ready

(15 minutes)

The Language of Collaboration

Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” is a well-known symbol of inquiry. The lone stoic figure depicts thinking as a solitary creative process. But many artistic and scientific creations emerge from the joint thinking, emotional connections, shared struggles, and passionate conversations common in collaborative relationships.

What special communication challenges arise in each discipline — dance, music, theatre, and visual art?

Read the question below that corresponds to your discipline, and try to formulate an answer for the group.  As you do so, share some ways you help students acquire the communication skills they need.

Dancers and choreographers move and talk while rehearsing. But during a performance, the dancers interact and adjust to each other without speaking.

What are some ways they communicate while onstage?

During an orchestral concert, the musicians individually create sounds that blend into music.

How do they communicate in order to play as an ensemble?

The development and performance of a play requires the combined efforts of a director, actors, designers, and technicians.

How do all these people meld into a company that shares a common vision of the playwright’s intent?

Visual Art
Several artists work together designing and painting a mural.

How do they agree on a style and employ their varying skills to create the unified picture?

Watching the Program

(60 minutes)

The information sheets below provide helpful background on the classrooms, programs, and schools featured in each segment:

Segment 1: Dance (PDF)
Segment 2: Visual Art (PDF)
Segment 3: Theatre (PDF)
Segment 4: Music (PDF)

Consider the following questions as you watch the program. You may stop the video after each segment to discuss the questions with your colleagues.

DANCE Mary Harding and Jennifer Rice Brandt Improvising from Poetry and Sign Language

  • How and why is the subject of communication incorporated into this project?
  • How do you help your students find creative ideas from unexpected sources?

VISUAL ART Jan Wilson Commercial Design Class

  • How does Jan provide opportunity for students to practice their communication skills throughout this project?
  • How do you enable students to communicate their own ideas through their artwork?

THEATRE John Fredricksen Directing Fables

  • What communication challenges do John’s students face in this project, and how does he prepare them to meet those challenges?
  • How do you encourage interaction and collaboration among your students?

MUSIC Janice Hunton Descriptive Praise

  • Discuss your reaction to the “Descriptive Praise” technique Janice uses with her students. What drawbacks are there, if any, to this method of teaching communication skills?
  • How do you encourage positive, constructive communication among your students?

Activities and Discussion

(45 minutes)

Thinking Made Public

In the arts, an important mode of communication is dialogue that makes thinking public. Throughout the creative process, students deepen their thinking about artistic choices by talking with teachers, interacting with other students, and reflecting on an audience’s response.

Supportive teachers encourage students to:

  • Discuss their approach
  • Explain their rationale
  • Defend their work
  • When students have to explain and support their ideas, that is, to make their thinking public, they are challenged to re-examine their own reasoning and clarify their own intent.

When and how do you encourage students to artistically express their own ideas, examine different perspectives, and refine and defend their choices? Print and distribute the worksheet titled Making Thinking Public (PDF). On it:

Identify typical challenges students face at each stage of the artistic process.
Fill in examples of how you might nurture students’ artistic communication and “public thinking” in your own discipline.
Use the descriptions provided as sample ideas to start your thinking.


Homework (On Your Own)

In your journal, describe a recent instance in which you observed two students having a meaningful conversation about their artistic work.

  • What was the context of the conversation?
  • Why was it meaningful? How was it initiated? What was the outcome?
  • What can you do to make these types of conversations more common?

Additional Resources

On the Web


A Basic Dictionary of American Sign Language Terms
A dictionary with both animated and text definitions


Arts High School Dance Department, Perpich Center for Arts Education
Select: Program Areas, then Dance
Information on the dance department where Mary Harding teaches

Nottingham High School
Web site for visual art teacher Jan Wilson’s school

Mamaroneck High School Performing Arts Curriculum Experience (PACE)
Web site for the department that includes John Fredricksen’s theatre program

Arts High School Dance Department, Perpich Center for Arts Education
Select: Program Areas, then Music
Information on the dance department where Janice Hunton teaches

In Print

Cooper, Pamela J., & Simonds, Cheri J. Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 7th edition. Publisher: Allyn & Bacon, 2003. ISBN: 0-205-35955-8

Explores a wide range of classroom communication issues, including listening skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, instructional strategies, ethical considerations, and racism/sexism in the classroom
Faber, Adele, & Mazlish, Elaine. How To Talk So Kids Can Learn. Scribner, 1995. ISBN: 0684813335

Book from which Janice Hunton drew the model for “descriptive praise.” Uses cartoon illustrations to show innovative ways to solve common problems such as coping with children’s negative feelings, setting limits, alternatives to punishment, and resolving conflicts

Ginott, Haim, Ginott, Alice, & Goddard, Wallace. Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication. Three Rivers Press, revised 2003. ISBN: 0609809881

Offers advice on how to develop empathetic yet disciplined child-rearing skills that place an emphasis on good communication

Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Ballantine Books, 2002. ISBN: 0345418786

A look at societal pressures on adolescent girls

Shandler, Sara. Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self. Perennial, 1999. ISBN: 0060952970

The compilation of essays, poems, and true-grit commentary from which Mary Harding drew the poem she used to inspire student choreographers

Smith, Wilma F., Gottesman, Barbara, & Edmundson, Phyllis J. Constructing a Language of Collaboration. Institute for Educational Inquiry, 1997.

Ideas for constructing a language of collaboration among school colleagues
Thorson, Sue Ann. Listening to Students: Reflections on Secondary Classroom Management. Allyn & Bacon, 2003. ISBN: 0-321-06397-X

Addresses classroom management techniques, including communication with students and communities, issues of diversity, and classroom environmental issues


Produced by Lavine Production Group, Inc., in collaboration with EDC's Center for Children and Technology and the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts. 2005.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-769-X