Northwestern spotlights work by UW–Madison’s Halverson ‘using the arts to fix a broken system’

May 17, 2022

An article from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy spotlights the work of UW–Madison’s Erica Halverson and reports on a recent presentation she delivered at the school focusing on the connection between the arts and learning.

Erica Halverson

Halverson is a professor in the UW–Madison School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She is also a Northwestern University alumna, having earned both her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees there.

The article, headlined “Halverson: Using the Arts to Fix a Broken System,” begins by highlighting Halverson’s book, “How the Arts Can Save Education,” and clarifies it is not a book about arts education. “Instead,” the article explains, “Halverson uses arts practices to fundamentally rethink how ‘learning’ should be measured and to design learning environments and experiences that can serve all kids.”

“In my world, we are not teaching and learning the arts,” Halverson said during her presentation at Northwestern. “The arts are teaching and learning.”

According to the article, this distinction is critical.

“Instead of using education research ideas to explain the arts, I use the arts to explain how we ought to reimagine learning,” said Halverson. “It may seem funny to say that learning needs to be reimagined. But most of the problems with education reform stem from the assumption that learning outcomes are fixed.”

During her talk about Northwestern, Halverson also spoke about Whoopensocker, a six-week program she runs centered on creativity, expression, writing, and collaborating that brings teaching artists into elementary schools. In Whoopensocker, children are introduced to improvisation, which Halverson said she sees as “the backbone of teaching.”

Her favorite improv rule, she said, is “turning mistakes into opportunities.”

“Seeing mistakes as opportunities is a teaching strategy that values failure as an integral, necessary part of learning,” Halverson said. “Unfortunately, in modern schooling discourse, we use failure to describe the state of not doing something or not learning. We apply the word to schools, to teachers, and of course, to students.”

“By seeing mistakes as opportunities teachers and students can ask in the learning process, what happened here?” she added. “What did I mean to have happen? And how do these two things line up?”

Halverson offered three tips to help teachers quickly access arts practices and build connections between disciplines. These are:

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks;
  • Embrace identity and representation, but do not mistake one for the other; and
  • Take collective responsibility.

“I can’t promise you that embracing an arts-based vision for learning, teaching, and design will be easy,” Halverson said. “But I do know that using the arts and art making will bring joy to classrooms and can lead the way toward a more equitable and just educational future for all.”

To learn more, check out the full article on Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy website.

Anita Shire

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