Our focus: LETTA

In a gist

The Learning through Teaching the Arts (LTTA) model developed in Canada over the last 20 years promotes the infusion of the arts directly into the general curriculum. Teaching content matter through the arts has proven to exert a beneficial influence on cognitive, social, and affective skills as well as on the acquisition of knowledge required in various disciplines. The educational success of the LTTA approach reported in empirical studies encourages extending the model also to the field of foreign language learning. The goal of our Intenstive Programme is to investigate the potential applications of the LTTA model in the education of English as a foreign language (EFL) in European classrooms.

Our Intensive Programme encompasses collaboration between German, Polish, Lithuanian and Turkish university students pursuing educational degrees in EFL, their trainers, researchers in the field of EFL teaching and in-service EFL teachers. In addition, LTTA experts are invited to participate in the programme. Our main activities include performing a thorough comparative EFL needs analysis based on the curricular standards set in each of the countries and observations of teaching practice, followed by attempts to develop and evaluate innovative classroom resources based on the LTTA model.

From LTTA to LETTA

LTTA originated in the mid-1990s in Canada as an “artist-teacher-institutional collaboration” (Elster, 2001: 19), which aimed at the infusion of arts directly into the general curriculum in a way that could support the acquisition of knowledge required in various disciplines. The effectiveness of the program has been subjected to an extensive empirical investigation, which points to a beneficial emotional, physical, cognitive and social impact of involvement in the arts on learning (Upitis & Smithrim, 2003). This result is corroborated by other studies, which show that involvement in the arts is correlated with (Eisner, 2001): (a) higher academic achievement (e.g. Catterall, 1998; Deasy, 2002); (b) development of analytical, thinking and problem-solving skills (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Greene, 1995); (c) development of natural curiosity (Pitman, 1998); (d) an increase in the relevance of learning for students with diverse cultural backgrounds (Pitman, 1998); (d) an emphasis placed on the connections between academic areas and events outside the classrooms (Miller, 1994; Drake, 1998); (e) enhancing teamwork (Pitman, 1998); (f) strengthening the ability to use and acquire information and to master different types of symbol systems (Abbott, 1999; Gardner, 1999); and (g) enhancing the process of making meaning of learning (Greene, 1995). Furthermore, in a synthesis of 685 studies, Hattie (2009) shows that creativity programs, which try to foster fluency and flexibility in thinking and in responses to questions or problems (Cohn, 1986), exert a strong influence on student achievement outcome that can be compared to those taking place during one typical year of schooling. A similar effect could be observed for educational programs that incorporated play (Hattie, 2009).

Based on its success, the LTTA model can prove to be a valuable tool for teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in Europe. In the field of EFL, the dominant paradigm over the last 30 years has been the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach. It assumes that foreign languages are learned best through the exposure to comprehensible input, in collaboration and in settings that support the development of thinking skills and learner autonomy. In addition, modern EFL/CLT-based classrooms should involve teachers, who are co-learners, and place an emphasis on the expression of meaning, possibly through curricular integration (Jacobs & Farrell, 2003). In Germany, for example, the federal educational standards (Bildungsstandards) recognize these principles and prescribe that foreign language classrooms engage learners in linguistically and cognitively challenging and stimulating tasks that foster the understanding of and active participation in the sociocultural, literary and aesthetic processes. The application of LTTA in foreign language classes hast the potential to fulfil all these goals. 

What can we gain?

The Intensive Programme provides an opportunity for the target groups to learn about, to co-create and to improve the process of design, adaptation and evaluation of innovative LTTA-based EFL teaching resources and procedures. In addition, our collaboration can foster a deeper understanding of European curricula and learner educational needs in the field of EFL leading to greater transparency. Extensive cross-cultural collaboration among in-service teachers, university staff and teacher trainees encourages the development of communicative competence, cultural awareness, as well as collaborative and organizational skills. Extending the project to ICT means (e.g. website documentation, forum discussions, blogs) encourages maintaining contact, communication and cooperation beyond the scope of the project.

The University of Oldenburg, the University of Wroclaw, and Bogazici University currently offer B.A./M.Ed. programs that train EFL teachers. The syllabi of the programs require and encourage students to engage in dialogue with each other, with the instructor as well as with in-service teachers, and to evaluate various teaching tools and methods critically. On most occassions these discussions remain within the bounds of the respective institutions. Our Intensive Programme will broaden these dialogues to a multilateral arena where various points of view, ideas, thinking and learning styles, languages and cultures meet, giving the participants a unique chance to share their experiences, to evaluate the potential of LTTA for European EFL classrooms in an objective, thorough and reflective way, and to create practical solutions for European classrooms as a joint venture. Furthermore, the Intensive Programme will offer a chance for these different agents active in European classrooms to compare and contrast their perspectives on issues involved in EFL teaching, encouraging transparency and learning from one another. 

Outcomes, products and expectations

The main expected outputs of the project involve an online corpus of LTTA-based examples of classroom resources developed and evaluated during the course of the project, a series of blogs by the participants documenting their collaboration and progress, and a criterion catalogue for further development of LTTA-based classroom resources.