Building Reading Comprehension Through Inclusive Arts Learning

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Many students need support in developing their ability to read confidently. VSA Intersections conference presenters Arianna Ross and Suzanne Richard have developed arts integration learning strategies and activities that engage learners with disabilities and support reading with comprehension. Ross and Richard combine elements of dance, storytelling, visual art, and drama for their professional development workshop, which they call Embodied Storytelling.

Embodied Storytelling, according to Ross, is using the body and voice to help students tell, plan, and comprehend a story. She emphasizes that the process utilizes all arts genres to embody the story, and that greater reading comprehension comes from that experience. Richard describes the Embodied Storytelling process as, “…breaking down the story, then beginning to read it, then embodying it in group and collaborative work.”

Arianna Ross headshot

Arianna Ross

Ross and Richard each bring their own unique perspective to Embodied Storytelling, which together create a valuable professional development experience for educators. Ross’ background as a multi-disciplinary teaching artist, along with her knowledge of arts integration and Common Core State Standards, offers an understanding of multiple arts genres, teachers, and school systems. Richard adds her personal and professional expertise in inclusive education, through her years as a teaching artist and accessibility specialist and through her own experience as a person with a disability.

According to Richard, the Embodied Storytelling workshops model a focus on ability rather than disability. “We find out what students can do and then expand on that idea,” says Richard. “Also what they love to do,” Ross adds, continuing, “If they like to draw but the teacher thinks they cannot, we suggest they use a modified strategy to bring that in.”

Suzanne Richard headshot

Suzanne Richard

One inclusive strategy frequently utilized in Embodied Storytelling is gesture partners. “For kids who don’t talk, a physical and voice pairing allows everyone to work together with their strengths,” says Ross. Group work is an important part of the Embodied Storytelling approach, so strategies for successful, inclusive collaboration are discussed in the workshops.

Since October 2014, Ross and Richard have led professional development workshops on Embodied Storytelling for over 100 special education professionals. These three-hour workshops focus on arts integration and reading comprehension, with an emphasis on nonfiction reading. Ross says the idea for their upcoming Intersections session came from the positive reactions they have received during these recent workshops.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

At their 90-minute Intersections session, participants will learn specific exercises that they can immediately apply in their own community, as well as strategies for adapting their own activities. The interactive workshop will include opportunities for hands-on learning and questions. Ross and Richard will also discuss the process of how the two of them co-taught together and how you can work with an inclusion specialist in your community.

Ross and Richard will present their Intersections session, “Harnessing the Power of Arts Integration: Using Interactive Arts Integration Strategies to Build Reading Comprehension,” on Monday, August 3, at 2:30 PM. Visit the VSA Intersections website to learn more and to register for the conference.

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