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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Video Library K-5

Developing an Arts-Based Unit

A team of first– and second–grade teachers at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans plans a year–end project that will let students show what they have learned in science, math, and English. The students write and perform an original play, using a painting by Breughel and an opera by Stravinsky as their starting points.

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Students in the first and second grades create their own drama as a year-end project at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A team of first- and second-grade teachers at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, plans a year-end project that lets students show what they have learned in science, math, English, and the arts. Their classes work together to create an original, multi-arts performance based on works of art with similar themes: The Entry of the Animals Into Noah’s Ark, a painting by Jan Brueghel, and The Flood, an opera by Igor Stravinsky.

Teachers Geralyn Broussard, Megan Neelis, and Paul Reynaud meet with principal Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger to discuss what children will need to know to complete the project. They also organize each teacher’s responsibilities and discuss how the planned activities are geared to state standards.

In their classrooms, the teachers use arts-based methods to bring the project to life.

Members of the instructional team reflect on how the arts enhance instruction.

“The arts let you learn through so many different modalities,” says Broussard. “It becomes so much more tangible and real to them that it’s almost a painless learning experience.”

Featured People

Who’s Who
(In order of appearance)

  • Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, principal, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Geralyn Broussard, first-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana ( See interview below)
  • Megan Neelis, second-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana (See interview below)

Featured Schools

Lusher Alternative Elementary School

  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Principal: Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger
  • Assistant Principal: Sheila Nelson
  • Featured teachers and collaborators: Kathy DeJean, dance teacher; Marti Dumas, fifth-grade teacher; Carolyn Cunningham, fifth-grade teacher; Amanda Newberry, theatre teacher; Warren Irwin, visiting artist; Megan Neelis, second-grade teacher; Eve Gitlin, third-grade teacher; Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher; Geralyn Broussard, first-grade teacher; Nancy Lilly, fourth-grade teacher; Ann Rowson Love, curator of education, Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Louise Trimble Kepper, artist and student of Will Henry Stevens; Kathy Guidry, kindergarten teacher; Carolyn DuBois, fourth-grade teacher; Tricia Ruf, student teacher; Adele Brown, fourth-grade teacher
  • Grades: K–5
  • Number of students: About 500
  • Number of faculty: About 49
  • Demographic information: Thirty percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Two percent of students are English language learners. The student population is 49 percent Caucasian, 41 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American.

Lusher Alternative Elementary, a K–5 public school in the Orleans Parish School District, provides a student-centered curriculum in an atmosphere where each child is encouraged to develop academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.

Strong emphasis is put on a core curriculum with opportunity for development of individual needs and talents using varied teaching styles and strategies. Aided by the Annenberg-Getty Arts Partnership as an Art School Partner, Lusher upholds its school motto: “Celebrating Cultural Diversity Through High Academics and the Arts.”

Lusher’s Talented in the Arts program meets the needs of students who have exceptional ability in music, visual art, or drama. Students are referred by teachers and screened through an evaluation process by the school’s special education department. Students who leave their regular classes to take part in this program also are expected to keep up their regular class work.

Respect for the rights of others and oneself are of utmost importance at Lusher. Teachers use a positive approach to discipline through the Project Pride program. Project Pride’s four basic rules are: be kind, be responsible, do your best work, and respect people and property. At Lusher, the strong bonds of commitment and cooperation among students, teachers, administrators, and the community help provide a strong education for each child.

Information provided by Lusher Alternative Elementary School. Current as of February 2002.

Featured Approaches

Arts-Based Methods

Teachers ask children what they observe in the painting and how they would bring the characteristics of the animals to life. Students work in groups on dialogue, props, costumes, scenery, music, or other aspects of the production that interest them. In each phase of preparation, teachers look for opportunities to integrate arts-based inquiry with other art forms and subjects:

  • In writing dialogue, students role-play conversations with each other, assuming the roles of various animals and brainstorming what they might say. “The students are having the kinds of conversations that young kids need to have in order to grow and develop as good successful people and not just to be successful academically,” says first-grade teacher Geralyn Broussard.
  • Some students listen to the Stravinsky music while thinking of an animal in the Brueghel painting. They imagine how the animal would interpret the music, draw pictures of the animals dancing, and use vocabulary words to describe the dances.
  • Other students research how the animals act and move, then design puppets with those features. Second-grade teacher Megan Neelis challenges them to think about how the animals move — “How would you flap as a bird? What would you do as a jaguar? How would a rhino move?” — and come up with action words for their answers.


Arts Enhance Instruction

“Every new artist we study, I have to do research on. … A lot of times, first-grade teachers don’t have to do that. If you have to go on the Internet and do research to share with your kids, then you remember what it’s like to be a learner,” says first-grade teacher Geralyn Broussard.

“There are kids who struggle academically, but feel good about themselves because we do other things,” says Broussard.

“Our kids have to learn how to take pencil-and-paper tests — and they have to learn how to take them well,” says principal Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger. “But that’s not how I measure the real learning going on. I think you can measure that by sitting in a classroom and watching the kids grow over the years and watching them take ownership of their own learning.”

Paul Reynaud likes the dual role that the arts play in his teaching: “In your classroom, you’re constantly looking for new things to make what you’re doing vivid and exciting and challenging and meaningful and fun — and the arts are good materials. … But part of what we do with the arts is say that the arts are valuable on their own.”

Who Should Watch This Program

“Developing an Arts-Based Unit” is a useful model for multiclassroom, multigrade, and multi-arts planning, though it also can be a model for single-classroom work. It can be used in professional development sessions for mixed groups of classroom teachers, arts specialist teachers, and administrators to develop more effective ways of sharing ideas and skills, planning a unit, and organizing tasks.

Before Watching

This group has developed projects together for several years and has learned to work together well. Look for instances where good communication among planning team members makes it easy to anticipate and avoid problems:

  • What barriers might you encounter in developing a project with teachers of other grades or subjects?
  • How could you anticipate and avoid these barriers?
  • How would you assess this kind of unit — by paper-and-pencil tests or other methods?




Paul Reynaud

First-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Paul Reynaud received his teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He did student teaching at Lusher, and began teaching there in 1990. Before teaching, he was a cook and chef in New Orleans restaurants.

Q. Describe the arts curriculum at Lusher. How was it developed? How are artists and artworks selected for each grade?

A. Each grade has a set of arts standards — five or six per year at the elementary level. Teachers in every classroom at every level are expected to include comprehensive arts education lessons in their weekly plans, using the arts standards to guide instruction. At the elementary level, there are even suggested activities and units for each standard.

Each grade level has five or six artists (or genres) in visual art, drama, music, and dance that teachers are expected to teach in class sometime during the year. Teachers can do other artists in addition if they choose. There are also about 10 or 15 arts specialists in drama, dance, and visual art who sometimes collaborate or consult with classroom teachers about arts instruction.

Q. How was Lusher’s arts curriculum developed?

A. About three or four years ago, a group of teachers at Lusher who were interested in broadening and strengthening the arts program were persuaded (with a little arm twisting from the principal) to spend some time creating an arts curriculum. We wanted a curriculum that would be fairly user-friendly, but that would also spell out very clearly what was expected from every teacher in every classroom. We wanted the curriculum to be continuous from kindergarten through eighth grade. We wanted a curriculum that would include a broad range of cultures and media.

We started with the state arts standards and the national ones … but we had to translate pages and pages of “educator-speak” into a more usable form of English.

Q. How are artists and artwork selected for each grade?

A. Those four or five teachers who lasted through all those meetings that summer just sat down with long lists of artists and assigned them. We asked for input from teachers as to which artists they really wanted. But for the most part, we just used our own good sense of what might work well, along with a good amount of whim and caprice. We’ve always considered the curriculum a work in progress, and every summer we revisit, revise, and retool it. In general, though, it’s really held up pretty well.

Q. Why did you select the Flood story, Stravinsky, and Brueghel for the year-end project?

A. Just before Mardi Gras, the first-graders went to a concert of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and heard Stravinsky’s Firebird. The parents of a child in my class were members of the orchestra (harp and double bass) and they had done a presentation for the first-graders about the upcoming concert. The kids loved that, and they loved the concert even more. They came back to school crazy about Firebird: They wrote stories about it, made pictures, wanted to listen to it over and over, etc. We decided to use Stravinsky.

Over the Mardi Gras holiday, I was going through the Stravinsky music I had at home on compact disc and I found The Flood. The Flood is based on an English mystery play, and mystery plays are one of our drama genres. I sort of remembered there being a Brueghel painting of the animals lining up to get on the Ark.

Pieter Brueghel is one of our visual artists and Stravinsky is one of our composers. I thought that the situation offered us some possibilities. It turned out that the Brueghel painting I was thinking of was by Jan Brueghel (Pieter’s son, I think), but by that time we were well under way. So we fudged. A lot of our performance pieces come together in this kind of fortuitous way. We always figure that, if they don’t work out, we can just start over again and find something else that works better.

Q. How long did the Flood unit take, from beginning (development) to end (performance and assessment)?

A. Mardi Gras was in late February, and the performance and assessment were in late May, so 10 to 12 weeks.

Q. How did the students decide which parts of the piece — the flood, dialogue, and so on — they wanted to work on?

A. We had about three class sessions during which we explained the project, what it would involve, and what it would probably look like when we were all finished. We divided the drama/opera into four big sections: One was mostly drama with dialogue, the next was to be mostly puppet theater, the next was to be a dance, and the last was to be puppets and masks. Kids from all the classrooms involved would mix together to work on the section they were interested in. We told the kids to think over the weekend about what part they would like to be in. On Monday, we let them go to the group they chose, and we started working.

Q. Describe what the final Flood play looked like. Where was it performed? For whom? Did it have a title?

A. I think that we just called it The Flood. It was performed in our classrooms. The school was undergoing some major renovations last year, and all of the other possible performance spaces had been snapped up. (The performance was part of the school’s annual Arts Extravaganza, and a lot of performances were going on that evening).

The way the piece worked [involved these components]:

  • “Calling of Noah by God and Building of the Ark,” a drama piece with dialogue, props, costumes, etc., in my classroom;
  • “Entry of the Animals Into the Ark,” a puppet show with spoken introductions, in Geralyn Broussard’s classroom’
  • “The Flood” itself, a dance piece in Carolyn Riggle’s classroom; and
  • “The Disembarking of the Animals and the Rainbow,” a puppet and drama piece with masks, in Jan Zapalowski’s classroom.

The audience was supposed to move from classroom to classroom, but the classrooms were all so packed that there wasn’t much movement. Actually, the Ark moved from classroom to classroom as well, the audience was supposed to follow it. The audience was mostly parents and family.

Q. What was the schedule for working on the Flood unit? How often did teachers meet to plan? How did you find that time? How many times a week did students work on the project? For how long a class session? Over what time period?

A. We had two planning periods a week when all first-grade teachers could meet and, as I remember, we spent most of our planning time from March through May working on the Flood unit. The common planning time is part of our regular schedule — 45-minute periods when the kids are at library, music, or physical education. We created and rehearsed with the students at least two times a week from March through May. That is, we started out with two “rehearsals” a week and added more as needed as the big performance day approached. The class session we used was our Writing Workshop time, which is about 40 to 50 minutes every day, just before lunch.

Q. What kind of assessment did you do for the Flood unit? How did you create the assessments?

A. We did a lot of assessment through writing. Each child in first grade has an arts journal. After performances we see or after field trips to a museum or as part of an ongoing arts unit, students write reactions in their arts journals. As we were putting the piece together, we would pose questions or ask for suggestions from students about the piece. They would write their responses in their journals. In my class, we also did a little science/social studies unit about the recent archeological finds that link the Biblical flood with the flooding of the Black Sea. At the end of that unit, we had a little test about what we had read and studied.

Q. What are the rest of your classroom sessions like? Are they more traditional than the arts project?

A. More or less traditional… . I think of the day as divided up into discrete times — reading time, math time, etc. But I’m pretty broad-minded about what can go on during those times. Regular classroom sessions tend to have more of a routine and tend to produce a more predictable product. But most of the things we were doing as we created The Flood were things we did as part of our normal school day — writing stories or drama in small groups, collaborating on artwork, researching, etc. The idea was that we were going to take the stuff we had learned in first grade and make something fabulous out of it. So, it was supposed to be like our normal practice but … better.



Geralyn Broussard

First-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Geralyn Broussard began summer workshop training at the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts in the early 1990s. She has attended summer workshops in visual art, drama, and multi-arts. She also has attended leadership workshops, including one at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 1999. For the past two summers, she and Paul Reynaud have helped facilitate a visual art workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Q. Please describe the professional development that teachers at Lusher receive.

A. After receiving an arts grant from the Annenberg and Getty foundations, all of the teachers at Lusher were expected — and strongly encouraged — to attend week-long summer arts workshops. These workshops were first offered by the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts in Chattanooga, but later the Louisiana Center for the Arts opened and teachers could attend workshops there as well. When we first attended a workshop, the training was in one specific arts area: visual art, drama, music, and dance (a recent addition). After attending a workshop in a single area, we are encouraged to continue our development by attending a multi-arts workshop.

Lusher was not an artistic void before we received this grant, however. We have participated in a program in our school district, which provides schools with artists-in-residence for the specific purpose of training teachers to continue using the arts in their classrooms independently. This program was already established at Lusher when I began teaching there around 15 years ago.

Q. Where did the funding come from for the training?

A. The funding for the training came from an arts grant we received from the Annenberg and Getty foundations. When the funding for the grant ended, the Lusher Parent-Teacher-Student Association provided some help.

Q. What input or influence did arts specialist teachers have on the work in the Flood unit?

A. Arts specialist teachers had little direct input on the Flood unit. The classroom teachers basically planned and executed this unit on their own. However, it was because of our previous work with the arts specialists that we could do this on our own.

Q. Describe the curriculum design for the Flood unit. What were the arts and general curriculum standards the unit addressed? Did the unit meet your expectations in this regard?

A. After several planning meetings, which were mainly to decide what we were doing and how we were going to do it, we got a little more specific, and somebody even brought along a copy of the first-grade content standards. We noted which language standards we were working with and which seemed to be addressed naturally in our unit so far:

  • Standard 1 — Students read, comprehend, and respond to a range of materials, using a variety of strategies for different purposes.
  • Standard 2 — Students write competently for a variety of different purposes and audiences.

Both of these standards were addressed heavily in our unit, as well as many others.

Q. Were all of the first-grade teachers required to participate in the Floodunit? In what way did they participate? Do other grades do similar projects?

A. The first-grade teachers were not required to participate in the Flood unit. Each of us could have come up with our own arts idea for an end-of-the-year performance. However, we tend to work and plan well together. Paul Reynaud, our resident genius, seems to naturally lead the group, but each of us has something to share and participates fully. I would say that no other grade level did a similar project to this one simply because no other grade level has teachers who work as closely as ours. In the Flood unit, each child in the first grade (all 90 of them) got to choose the art form he or she would be working with. This took lots of teamwork and cooperation.

Q. Why was there a first grade and a second grade in the same classroom?

A. It would be nice if I could say that there was a first-second combination solely because Megan and I thought it would be beneficial for the students and that we wanted to convince the rest of the staff of the validity of looping. It would be nice, but realistically the combination was more due to a lack of classroom space because of our school renovation project. Megan and I had agreed to share a classroom for a year!



Additional Resources

Related Video Library Programs
Watch these programs for more information on ideas explored in “Developing an Arts-Based Unit”:


Web Resources

Print Resource

  • Where’s the Bear? A Look-and-Find Book, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997 (which includes a reproduction of Brueghel’s “The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark”)

Arts Education Standards


  • Content Standard 2 — Understanding choreographic principles, processes, and structures

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Improvise, create, and perform dances based on their own ideas and concepts from other sources
    • Content Standard 7 — Making connections between dance and other disciplines

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Create a dance project that reveals understanding of a concept or idea from another discipline


  • Content Standard 6 — Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Demonstrate perceptual skills by moving, by answering questions about, and by describing aural examples of music of various styles representing diverse cultures
    • Content Standard 8 — Understanding relationships among music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with those of music


    • Content Standard 1 — Script writing by planning and recording improvisations based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Improvise dialogue to tell stories, and formalize improvisations by writing or recording the dialogue
    • Content Standard 2 — Acting by assuming roles and interacting in improvisations

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Assume roles that exhibit concentration and contribute to the action of classroom dramatizations based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history
    • Content Standard 3 — Designing by visualizing and arranging environments for classroom dramatizations

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Visualize environments and construct designs to communicate locale and mood using visual elements (such as space, color, line, shape, texture) and aural aspects using a variety of sound sources
    • Content Standard 4 — Directing by planning classroom dramatizations

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Collaboratively plan and rehearse improvisations and demonstrate various ways of staging classroom dramatizations
    • Content Standard 6 — Comparing and connecting art forms by describing theatre, dramatic media (such as film, television, and electronic media), and other art forms

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Compare how ideas and emotions are expressed in theatre, dramatic media, dance, music, and visual arts

Visual Arts

    • Content Standard 2 — Using knowledge of structures and functions

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Describe how different expressive features and organizational principles cause different responses
    • Content Standard 6 — Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Identify connections between the visual arts and other disciplines in the curriculum

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.

Source, Dance Standards: This article/quote is reprinted from National Standards for Arts Education with permission of the National Dance Association, an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The original source may be purchased from: National Dance Association, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1599;
or phone 703-476-3421.