Teaching Grit through the Arts

Posted by Katie Keddell, Mar 13, 2014 4 comments

Katie Keddell Katie Keddell

On Saturday, February 1, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch Young Audiences/Arts for Learning teaching artist, Max Bent, work. We were not in a classroom and we were not in an official Young Audiences program at a school or community organization. Instead, we were joining our neighbors, Single Carrot Theatre, in welcoming the neighborhood to our new home at 2600 North Howard Street in Baltimore. Max was offering a musical demonstration to anyone who walked in to say hello and hear more about Young Audiences. After an hour of recording sounds visitors played on a small steel drum and various other eclectic instruments, Max created a symphony of sounds by layering impromptu measures of four beats on top of each other. As he taught, I was struck by one phrase he kept repeating: “We have to re-harness the things that happen by accident.” I instantly connected this idea to my research as a graduate student.

As we talk about the young people in our state and across the country, one major trend is the desire to teach our students what one popular researcher calls, “Grit.” As defined by TED Talk speaker Angela Lee Duckworth:

“Grit is sticking with your future—day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years—and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

Watch the full Ted Talk here

Passing a paper test with a singular focus cannot teach this tenacity, but overcoming a challenge does. In 10 minutes, I saw Max demonstrate how he teaches grit through the arts-integrated programs he brings to Maryland schools. Our guests saw the value of sticking with the exercise themselves and heard the physical evidence created by their instruments. Each individual walked away with a small but powerful example of success through staying with something despite no prior knowledge of the steel drum or the technology Max was using to record and layer sounds

Before Max joined Young Audiences, he did not see a connection between his art and the school curriculum. Max applied to participate in the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI), a training program for artists developed by Young Audiences in partnership with Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS) and the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), to deepen his knowledge of how the arts can naturally connect to the curriculum and engage students in learning. After successfully completing the program, Max now has a collection of lessons that connect beatboxing and music to a multitude of subjects, such as probability, fractions, graphing, and phonics.

That’s what excites me most about Young Audiences: the belief in arts integration. For me, it’s not only about teaching the future generation aesthetic appreciation, it’s also about finding the ways that divergent thinking and practical application speak to the future of what our children learn and believe they can achieve. It’s about giving all students a chance to explore their talents, giving them a safe environment to take risks, to make mistakes, to achieve, and to persevere. It’s about teaching grit.

Read more about how Young Audiences artists are bringing arts-integrated programs to Maryland classrooms on our blog.

4 responses for Teaching Grit through the Arts


Bob says
March 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

"... it’s not only about teaching the future generation aesthetic appreciation, it’s also about finding the ways that divergent thinking and practical application speak to the future of what our children learn and believe they can achieve."

Exactly, you have said it well. After 40 years in public school classrooms I can safely say we have too often lost our way in thinking in the alive active ways that children use to think and learn. Bravo to Young Audiences.

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Chris Mortenson says
March 14, 2014 at 8:09 am

Well written! Art is all around us, in the things that we do and the events in our lives I once told a child that art is within you and his response was "kinda like farts"? Well, yes, I guess so.....It's ok to make mistakes along the way and to learn and continue to grow from them. It does take grit and tenacity to be creative and it does take a great deal of passion..after 20 years in government work we are starting to come around and see the power of creativity and grit and yes....farts as well.
Thank you for the thought provoking post!

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Karen says
March 16, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful blog and for the link to Angela Lee Duckworth's TED talk. As a college advisor for the last 8 years, every day I see evidence that the students who achieve college success and fulfill their dreams are the ones who are excited about learning, think critically and understand the importance of persistence and hard work. Imagine the difference that Young Audiences will make in the lives of their students if they internalize these values! Great work, Young Audiences, keep it up!

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Shelly says
March 16, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Inspiring and well written piece. It evoked a memory of being in the auditorium in my junior high listening and watching my first opera performance by professionals who were bringing the arts to the public schools in New York. I don't think I appreciated how lucky I was back then but I do now, and it was just the beginning of a love for the arts that has lasted a lifetime. The work of Young Audiences is so important. As a therapist, I've witnessed the many ways people express themselves,discover who they are, and connect to others. If Young Audiences can give them the tools to do that and contribute to a love of learning, we will all be richer for it.

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