Five districts across the state are participating in an arts literacy project designed by the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The Anne Frank Bearing Witness Project blends the arts with literacy to help students learn about the Holocaust.
Jeff Jamner, senior director of education and community arts for the Kentucky Center, said the schools use a process called the Performance Cycle, which was developed by The ArtsLiteracy Project at Brown University.
Middle school students in the Bearing Witness classes read the The Diary of Anne Frank and high school students read Night by Elie Wiesel.
“It’s been such a unique way of looking at the material for me as well as the students,” said Linda Cottle, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Bate Middle School (Danville Independent). “It really opens up your eyes to see things in a totally different light and from a totally different angle.”
Bate Middle School students Sierra Young and Dante Hayden created puzzle pieces for part of the Bearing Witness Project. The puzzle pieces are to illustrate who the students are and how they can make a difference in the world. The puzzle pieces will be put together to show how different ideas can come together to create a unified form of expression. (Photo courtesy of Danville Independent Schools)
Cottle said students work on the project the entire school year. After reading the book, students work to create art related to the history and literature. Their art – such as poems, monologues or creative dance – helps the students better comprehend and relate to the history and literature. Eventually the students perform the art they created.
“We’ve been a district of innovation for a while so they’re used to getting out of their comfort zone a little bit, but this really took it to the next step for them. I think the whole idea of doing art in language arts or doing drama in language arts and vice versa, it was off putting at first,” Cottle said.
She said now the students are “enthusiastic” about the project and “they’re really getting a deeper understanding of what went on (during the Holocaust) and what that means for us today.”
Jane Dewey, the director of arts education for Danville Independent Schools, said the class “lets students’ understanding show beyond the page.”
“Through their artwork they develop understanding of themes in literature and they show those themes. They also connect to them in ways that are much more of a personalized learning experience than, for example, taking (tests) over that same kind of text, because as they’re creating artwork they’re putting something of their selves into it and art teachers have encouraged them to explore their own connection to the themes and the plots and the ideas that are within the text.”
The Bearing Witness Project, which is partially funded by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, is in its third year. This is the second year Bate Middle has participated.
Cottle said she had taught The Diary of Anne Frank in prior years and she can tell a difference and the students are “getting more in depth” with the book.