Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein, Teaching Artist

Teaching artists are the practitioners who join with classroom teachers, students, staff, faculty, or members of the community to create unique and innovative arts integration programs. One Chicago-based teaching artist is Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein who writes nonfiction and poetry. As a veteran teacher, her practice is varied. She uses different arts education approaches, such as arts integration and aesthetic education, and works with different organizations including Urban Gateways, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), Chicago Public Schools, and Project AIM, an initiative of the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College. She and CCAP’s Cynthia Weiss co-edited AIMprint: New Relationships in Arts and Learning, which tells the story of the CCAP’s arts integration mentorship program and offers a rich array of arts education teaching tools. In 2006, Lichtenstein presented as a teaching artist at UNESCO’s first World Conference on Arts Education.

Defining Arts Integration

Arts integration is the process of making meaning and creating “elegant fits” among ideas, concepts, and disciplines, Ms. Lichtenstein believes. Like many arts integration educators, Ms. Lichtenstein believes that deep learning occurs during instruction as two subject areas are being integrated. She has found this learning process to be more valuable than having students work throughout a unit to create a final product or performance. “Arts integration is about making audacious connections and relationships between and among disparate concepts, questions, people and places, thoughts and feelings,” she says, “and using them to arrive at new descriptions of a shared world and new expressions for complex ideas.”

Program Structure and Methodology

When creating a program, Ms. Lichtenstein draws from many sources of inspiration. “I approach teachers, students, community partners, my artist friends, and, of course, inspiring media, cultural, and political sources.” She synthesizes ideas and creates engaging hands-on curriculum that “invites provocation around big ideas and questions about those big ideas.” She plans dynamic processes and expects transformative results. “All projects begin with generative questions that change as we change. As we begin to grapple with materials to explore our questions, we change perspectives and we make new meanings.”

Putting the Program into Action

To put this practice and philosophy into action, Ms. Lichtenstein partnered with Project AIM/CCAP in a program to explore where and how rules are defined and made across disciplines. As a teaching artist she collaborated with math teacher Luke Albrecht to apply surrealist principles used by the Oulipo group. This group of experimental writers used mathematics principles to create poems and other writings. Oulipo writers created their own rules that changed traditional writing forms in order to explore new meanings. The teaching team designed a unit that achieved rich, elegant integration and fostered standards-based learning in the integrated subject areas. Ms. Lichtenstein observed clear benefits to this arts integration approach. “Shuttling across disciplines, students in eighth grade began to unravel the concept of rule making—by breaking and bending them.” The project led to an experimental book structure featuring poems based on mathematics.