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Last modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

IU School of Education and Ivy Tech faculty member named to national arts standards project

Feb. 29, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards has named Gus Weltsek -- coordinator of the IU Drama and Theatre in Education License Program and Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington Theatre and Arts Integration Curriculum Development Specialist for the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center -- to the team for its arts standards project.

Gus Weltsek

Gus Weltsek works with students as part of an ongoing IU School of Education partnership focusing on literacy skills with the Gary Community School Corp.'s Dr. Bernard C. Watson K-6 Boys Academy.

Print-Quality Photo

The NCCAS is a coalition of eight national organizations developing voluntary arts education standards to help guide teachers and those developing curriculum. Weltsek will serve on the 11-member Theatre Writing Team. Other teams will focus on dance, visual arts, and music curriculum.

The NCCAS chose writing team members for their breadth of experience and skills in teaching, standards and curriculum writing, assessment and leadership, as well as practical knowledge in their areas of expertise. The new standards will build upon the 1994 National Arts Standards and 2005 Standards for Learning and Teaching Dance in the Arts developed by previous coalitions of arts organizations.

"These new standards have the potential to serve as a model or a reference point for every state," Weltsek said. He said team members are looking over curriculum design from around the globe as well as efforts that have worked in the U.S. to determine paradigms that infuse arts-based learning into the curriculum across disciplines. "What's particularly important for this project is that people who are interested in the arts are stepping into this milieu to create accessible arts-focused pedagogical perspectives which teachers, politicians and policy makers can look at and say, 'Yes, we understand how this works and we will use this as we're considering, as we're battling along ideological lines about what education should look like.'"

Stemming from a pedagogy of social justice and equity, Weltsek has worked toward making the arts an integral part of the way people think about and understand education. Since joining the IU faculty three years ago, he has led pre-service teachers at the IU School of Education to form the Arts in Education Club, which hosts a series of arts integration workshops and dramatic performances demonstrating techniques for using the arts as sound pedagogy intimately connected to and across the curriculum. These included performances of "The Laramie Project," dealing with the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, and Anna Deavere Smith's play "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," confronting the issues presented by the beating of Rodney King and the riots afterward.

Weltsek has also used drama as a way of helping students in a Gary, Ind., school develop writing and literacy skills. Workshops on the "Theatre of the Oppressed" technique, designed to use theater as a tool to develop critical consciousness surrounding issues of social injustice, have been so successful that an institute is planned for this summer.

Weltsek is also organizing the Indiana 2012 Theatre in our Schools Mini-Conference, "Play-ing with Curriculum," on March 24. The full day of sessions and workshops allows educators to explore cross-curricular, practical research-based best practices in drama, and theater strategies that engage K-12 students in authentic learning.

The teams working on the curriculum standards are hoping to establish strategies and ethnographic assessment and evaluations tools that provide a clear way for educators to use the arts to teach any subject through the essential human qualities of play, creativity and imagination as well as simply sharing the arts for their own sake.

"We're trying to make these connections for teachers to see that art isn't a supplement, that it needs to be a part of the entire pedagogical practice that they're employing," Weltsek said. He added that while school arts programs have recently been among the first targets in recent budget cuts, such actions are counterintuitive.

"If the nation wants to be competitive and establish itself in the global market, it won't be through the manufacturing or service industries but research and development of new products, and new ideas and ways of thinking," Weltsek said. "We need to utilize that very powerful U.S. trait of creative and imaginative ingenuity. The standards team is looking at inquiry through the arts across the board as part of the teacher's entire methodology and approach to teaching."

Weltsek said recent research by him and other educators who infuse the arts into the curriculum has shown the benefit for the overall school curriculum. He cited a National Endowment for the Arts-funded study in which groups exposed to an arts infused-curriculum, the intervention groups, showed significant differences in school performance.

"We were only looking at literacy in language arts achievement, but as we looked at the data in our intervention groups, they were outperforming the control groups in math, science and history," he said. "Even after they left our intervention, a year later they were still outperforming the other students."

The standard writing teams began work last month. The NCCAS plans to have the new overall standards complete by early 2013.