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Interdisciplinary Meaning Making: Linking Literacies and the Arts

Date: 21 March 2022

Arial view of students and teachers in a Design and Technology lesson.

Individuals navigate the world through the senses and textures of life, grounding us in our common humanity. Linking literacies and the arts encourages fluidity between disciplines, creates space for multiple forms of meaning making and prompts flexible thinking across disciplines. 

In line with the Arts Education Partnership’s Arts and Literacies resource, we consider both arts and literacies to be pluralistic with multiple ways to interpret, create, share and represent ideas. Literacies are more than skills; they are meaning making interactions purposefully embedded in social goals and cultural practices.

Arts and literacies foster authentic and creative expression

Making and discussing multi-media arts enables learners to gain confidence in their creative and interpretive abilities. Through sharing, learners come to know themselves and each other. The Creator’s Co-Space, hosted by the University of Arizona, is an open collaborative community that supports learning with, from and alongside others — centering equity and inclusion and generating Principles for Equity-Centered Design In STEAM Makerspaces. Discussions that occur throughout the creative process help learners feel empowered to embrace cultural and social experiences that extend beyond their own.   

Through participation in the CRAFT network, a nationwide consortium of educators, we embrace multiple literacies and creative learning experiences. Our work in Community Making encourages engaging and sharing many literacies through arts-based programming. We incorporate discussion and active listening using semi-structured discussion protocols that make space for everyone’s voices and choices. Teaching active listening helps learners explore multiple perspectives and works to ensure there is not a dominant single narrative or interpretation that stems from instruction. 

Arts and literacies anchor relationships

Meaning making is a human endeavor that celebrates creativity and encourages appreciation for different perspectives and interpretations. As humans, we crave spaces to share ideas and talents in ways that are historically, linguistically and culturally affirming. Meaningful engagement stems from an understanding of the many people around us, each of whom brings a unique perspective on our shared world. 

As educators, we teach in ways that value learning by doing in collaborative networks to incorporate multiple pathways for inquiry and learning. In addition, we encourage learners to explore multiple modes and literacies to express themselves about socio-scientific issues that are important to them. Sharing broadly helps all learners take part in creative work and encourages them to embrace self-expression. These discussion threads illustrate that creating together involves supporting one another and celebrates learning collaboratively in an open environment that is free from judgment. 

Arts and literacies encourage multiple perspectives  

When arts and literacies are taught together, they mutually enable learners to make meaning from what they observe, create, engage and interact with, and to discuss and interpret their experiences. Acknowledging and appreciating all perspectives and stories supports learners’ interdisciplinary thought and intentional connection-building. By weaving together artifacts and reflections, learners make connections that cross multiple boundaries and domains of knowledge.

Through the Film School for Global Scientists project, we teach in ways that respect and honor all perspectives and linguistic backgrounds. Linking arts and literacies encourages collaboration and affirms and elevates learners’ multilingual and multicultural identities. Expanding learning through multimodal composition demonstrates that all perspectives, voices and backgrounds matter; every story has a place and space. We embrace critical thinking and self-expression in multiple forms and show learners how to think outside of binary systems to interpret and understand creative expressions and artifacts that are all around us. In the process, we interconnect literacies and the arts. 

Take Action

  • Celebrate all literacies; many individual literacies practices may differ from our own. 
  • Encourage learners to explore all modes of meaning making. 
  • Be cognizant of different literacies and strive to incorporate them into learning experiences.
  • Embrace cultural knowledge to open space for multiple connections.
  • Be curious, learn about the world and express yourself.

This post is part of AEP’s Continuing the Arts and Literacies Conversations blog post series. These posts expand on key ideas and topics from our Arts and Literacies Thinkers Meeting Series and from the resulting interactive resource. Through sharing their personal reflections and work experiences, guest authors explore a range of topics that span disciplines, age levels and education environments. You can read the first post in the series here

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits