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Different Strokes

By Jessica Tabak

Alida Anderson Special Education

No two children are exactly alike—so their classroom lessons shouldn’t be, either.

That’s the idea behind an innovative teacher training program led by special education professor Alida Anderson. Operating out of a local arts-based charter school, the program trains teachers to incorporate arts into the curriculum to reach “multiple intelligences” in the classroom.

Visual learners may best retain something that they see, auditory learners something that they hear, and kinesthetic learners something that they do. The idea, Anderson says, is to give all kids an opportunity to participate in classroom activities that are most appropriate to their learning styles.

“There are many teachers out there who believe that in order to teach to all of your students, you need to develop activities that speak to all the intelligences at once. But it’s really about presenting diverse classroom opportunities that allow students to express themselves in their favored intelligences,” says Anderson. “So in essence, through this professional development, we’re helping teachers to become conductors of an orchestra of multisensory, arts-based approaches for use with their students.”

Sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, this year-long professional development program operates in conjunction with the School for ARTs in Learning (SAIL).

This D.C.-based public charter school (grades K–8) uses arts integration to teach its students, 65 percent of whom have an identifiable disability.

Seven core staff members will complete a five-course certificate in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis on incorporating arts, as well as special education and technology, into the curriculum. They will subsequently come back and train the rest of the SAIL faculty.

“This is not just a program for seven teachers,” says Anderson. “By sharing what they are learning with the rest of the staff, this core cohort will give the program a sustainable life of its own at the school.”

Given SAIL’s mission, Anderson sees the partnership as a unique opportunity for the School of Education, Teaching, and Health to maintain the legacy of the late Sally Smith. In 1967, the AU professor and special education pioneer founded the Lab School of Washington, an innovative, arts-based school for children with learning disabilities. 

“I think she would really like seeing her arts integration work being both continued and developed further,” Anderson says. “She was one of the founders of arts-based integration and of everything that has followed.”