Joined-up thinking

17th November 2000 at 00:00
TEACHING INTEGRATED ARTS IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL. By Anne Bloomfield with John Childs. David Fulton pound;15.

This book is one of re-affirmation. It recognises that the literacy and numeracy strategies sometimes tend inadvertently to drive "soft" subjects from their rightful place on the timetable. But the authors have longer memories than many politicians and recall that we have always needed to make things as well as to be told about them. Their purpose is to justify that piece of classic wisdom and to find common teachable features among our different ways of creating with sound, gesture, language, shape and colour. They also set out to give teachers the confidence to make classrooms reflect their belief.

There are some deficiencies in the way they present the case. Academic rigour is welcome in discussions where sentimental assertion sometimes prevails; but too many phrases such as "enhancing understanding of other discipline areas" drape the true excitement of children's inventive grasp of new ideas in a dreary linguistic wrapping. And there is something po-faced about a footnote to an attractive account of work based on A Midsummer Night's Dream that reads "Shakespeare, W (1596)". Considered as a whole, however, the book's impact is positive and welcome.

There are chapters on drama, dance, music and the visual arts, topped by a theoretical argumet about how, why and when they should be conjoined, and tailed by a further chapter that gives practical examples of how to make it happen. Each individual art form is explored in a parallel manner. There is discussion of how children's knowledge allows them to participate, what repertoire they need to develop their knowledge, what critical skills they need to understand the intrinsic nature of what they are doing, and what contextual information from cultural and social history might inform their work.

Within each specialised chapter there is encouraging attention given to what raises enthusiasm with real children, and the expectations are high. For example, a scenario for a dance based on episodes from the Ramayana suggests achievable ways for pupils to use their bodies to enact not just the story but also the mountains, forests, gardens and bridges within which it occurs. A plan for work based on Milton's Comus is especially welcome. The masque itself, as Anne Bloomfield recalls, exemplifies the coming together of poetry, music, costume and dancing in the very ways her book recommends. It also, as she might have added, shows how even puritanical virtue, which sometimes seems to steer current educational policy, must acknowledge the bewitching power of "warbled song" and "adjuring verse" and all their magical accompaniments.

Tom Deveson

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