A Secret Plot, Using the Arts to Bring Test Scores Up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs artist in residence in North Charleston I taught kids and their teachers how to draw.  It was a simple mission.  People who believed that they were not talented achieved success and there were a lot of incredible epiphanies.  Kids who were failing in the classroom, suddenly came to life.  For the first time they could express what they saw and not feel helpless.  They began to have  something to write about.

So the idea came to me.  Why not use Art for Art’s Sake as a springboard into higher learning.  Rather than pounding writing rules into kid’s heads so they can learn to write about something interesting, why not come at it from the other direction?  Why not put arts in the schools, getting everyone involved in creating something evocative and compelling, stimulating and responding to the creative impulse,  and then letting the result of that interaction inspire and motivate better writing.  This is how to jump start a life-long cycle of passionate learning.   I know for me, I have no interest in writing, until I have something compelling to say about a subject that excites  me.  Of course, this is not a new idea.  But it is getting new legs in Charleston through a program called Engaging Creative Minds (ECM).  I am developing a presentation and will be continuing my mission with them in the coming months.

For 30 years, my big message in school presentations (and wherever someone is willing to listening) has always been:

Visual literacy is possible and available to everyone, no special talent or golden ticket to enter.

I have broken the drawing process down and made it simple enough that it can be taught in only one or two sessions. Usually at around age 10 if kids don’t learn the skills of drawing they decide at that point that they are not artistic.  That means they are not creative. That they are not original thinkers. They live outside the creative realm, which in my mind is a great human tragedy.  This moment is a crucial juncture in their lives.

Drawing teaches spatial relationship.  It teaches how to connect things together. Concepts like same and different, prioritization, finding groups and sub-groups, making connections between objects, all come into play  when one learns to draw.  I wrote a blog recently called “50 reasons why your kids should play musical instrument” as well as  “50 Reasons Why Your Kid should learn to Draw and Paint.”     Although my lifelong commitment to Art for Art’s sake has not wavered I am of late compelled to explore how the arts actually deepen a child’s ability to learn and have more academic success.  My presentation has evolved into  making a more deliberate effort to create opportunities for the child to understand and connect to a specific subject or topic in the areas of English, Social Studies, Math or Science.


The ECM Experience:  An experience that includes a multi-discipline approach combining the visual arts, theater and music to deepen the child’s written expression. Maniscalco enjoys the challenge of collaborating with teachers, taking the most difficult concepts and subjects, and infusing them with creativity and energy to create both a memorable and enriching creative experience.

This program can be adapted to deepen the child’s understanding in a specific subject or topic in the areas of english, social studies, or science.  I think it will be great for deepening reading/writing skills, particularly targeting 4-8th graders.  Motivating these kids to write is a real challenge.  Here’s how I will accomplish it:

mad beethovenI will perform a monologue from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that tells a vivid story.  Cassius is trying to convince Brutus to kill Caesar.  It’s very dense sounding when first presented to the kids in a performance, but when we go back and act out the intentions, breaking it down into beats (action events), and creating the descriptions of actions through movement and improvisation, and assigning roles for the various characters, giving them simple one line phrases, bringing kids up front to “buffet” a “roaring torrent,” “stemming it with hearts of controversy,” playing “a tired Caesar,” a ruthless assassin, a mortal carrying a God on his shoulder, etc., they begin to get into the language and the story.  Then in another session the kids are asked to retell/rewrite the scene in their own words and finally, to paint their interpretation of the scene.  In the painting segment, I could introduce some of the observational drawing/painting methods I’ve developed over many years.

Specific Activities and targeted benefits will include:

1.      The British technique of targeting which I learned in my study of Shakespeare, would be incredibly helpful in teaching kids to read more fluently.
2.      Learning how to assign and play an intention in a character, as both writer and actor.
3.      Effective use of persuasion to get what you want.  (my kid’s are masters at this)
4.      Identification of wants and needs and distinguishing between the two.
5.      Identification of the problem and possible resolutions. Social/moral issues such as when/if killing is ever justified, entitlement and what is in the common good.
6.     Inventing their own evocative, poetic language will increase their use of vocabulary and descriptive words.
7.     Using movement and sound to engage kinetic learners to the material at hand.
8.      Use of two word sentences (noun/verb) and building more elaborate phrases from those two words, using adverbs and adjectives.
9.      Distinguishing between right brain (perceptual) vs left brain (conceptual) processes.
10.  Physicalization of words, creating movement, using a chain of verbs will bring words to life.  Connecting visual description with actual visual images.
11. Deepen expressive vocabulary, distinguishing between archaic and the myriad of  more commonly used words.

Here’s the Cassius monologue I will be using:

“I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favour.
Well, honour is the subject of my story.
I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self,
I had as lief (soon) not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself.
I was born free as Caesar; so were you:
We both have fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he:
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Caesar said to me ‘Darest thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood,
And swim to yonder point?’ Upon the word,
Accoutred as I was, I plunged in
And bade him follow; so indeed he did.
The torrent roar’d, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy;
But ere we could arrive the point proposed,
Caesar cried ‘Help me, Cassius, or I sink!’
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar. And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.”


I’m also working on a filmmaking Project that is tied to key or difficult subjects which will help connect and motivate the students to deepen their level of interest in very tangible  ways.  If they commit to developing and writing a story and explore with me the elements of movie making, including, music, editing, acting, cinematography, etc,the result will be that they become a movie star.   Students will be motivated  to research and form an opinion about their chosen subject, organize their team and bring their idea to life.  Students will choose between a narrative (fiction) verses a documentary (truth) format.

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