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Folk Arts in Education offers important pedagogical tools, resources, and content for classrooms of all kinds. Yet, many classic texts from the field are hard to find or out of print. Local Learning offers many of the texts here in our digital library as a service to the field. Most are available for download for educational and personal use. To recommend authors and articles for the Local Learning Library and Archive, please contact us and put “Library Resource Recommendation” in the subject line.
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Local Learning: A Folk Arts Integration Handbook
This 24-page handbook outlines how to incorporate folk arts and folk artists into arts integration programs.
Artists as Educators
Our featured artists consider educating young people essential to their lives as artists. Their stories of sharing a specialized skill or passing on knowledge of a culture or tradition offer insights into effective practices and ways of teaching and learning that are underutilized. They collective make the case for preserving pedagogical diversity in education. Read the 34-page issue, which features color photos.
Teaching with Foodways
The study of foodways offers compelling ways to explore local and world customs and cultures through an accessible, universal, everyday practice. The foods we eat provide a firsthand, sensory experience that can build an appetite for learning in any subject and offer opportunities for active, experiential education. Read the 28-page issue of the popular 2010 CARTS Newsletter.
Clara’s Song: Writing Songs from Interviews
In City Lore’s Songwriting Artist Residency, students write songs inspired by their interviews with family, school, or community members. This article focuses on one interview with an immigrant teacher and the students’ songwriting process.
A 4th-grade teacher in Vermont introduced her students to the concept of community teachers, people who the children learn from in everyday life. Their resulting interviews and art projects helped students see how they are part of history and a community.
Interviews: The Heartbeat of Our Inquiry
A 1st-grade teacher demonstrates how much even young children can learn from interviewing. “Books and the Internet are useful, but perhaps the most child-friendly and exciting way for young people to find answers is by interviewing people in their community. Information and concepts children can discover at an interview often go well beyond what they can read.”
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and a consortium of organizations developed Kentucky Remembers to train students to collect stories of human rights movement activists. The project demonstrated that through the folklore of our daily lives we can articulate what is strong and beautiful in our cultures and also what we hope to change.
Listening Is an Act of Love: The Power of Storytelling in Education
StoryCorps has inspired thousands of Americans to share their stories. Here a StoryCorps advisor shares tips for bringing personal storytelling into the classroom.
The Art of Work/The Work of Art: Interview with Brad Bonaparte by 4th Grade Students at PS 78, Long Island City, New York
Occupations are a perfect topic for student interviews. People like to talk about their jobs and how they learned them, what their skills are, what they contribute.
The Artful Interview in Documentary Production
An Oregon folklorist who has guided many young people to document community culture through video shares her framework for producing successful video projects. See the reprint of this article in the 2019 Journal of Folklore and Education.
Carriers of Culture: Teaching and Learning Native Basketry
This extensive project examines the contemporary state of Native American weaving in the U.S. and the ways Native baskets—and their makers—are carriers of culture.
Diversifying Arts Education: A Conversation with Sarah Bainter Cunningham
NEA’s Arts Education Director describes her interest in traditional pedagogy as well as ethnography. She says, “The folk arts remind us, teach us, and train us in context. This is vital to our aesthetic lives, to the living heartbeat of our local communities, and to the success of our citizenship within a democracy.”
Norma Miller: Stompin’ at the Savoy
This Heritage Fellow grew up in Harlem during the 1920s and as a young child loved to dance. She was among the original performers of the Lindy Hop and is renowned among swinger dancers worldwide today. Alan Govenar compiled text from his interviews with Norma to create a picture book of her life. Here we reproduce an excerpt.
The Power of Informal Learning
The NEA Heritage Fellows can inspire young people to investigate the masters of tradition in their own families and communities.
A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.
A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.
Weddings are very familiar rites of passage, yet each differs. Cajun wedding traditions provide a window for researching this life passage.
Cemeteries may seem unlikely fieldtrip destinations, yet they offer rich possibilities for engaging students in primary research.
Rangoli: Traditions of the Threshold
Threshold traditions offer a concrete form for exploring how rites of passage help practitioners make a transition between two states, such as secular to sacred, outside to inside, child to adult, and so on.
The Life Cycle: Folk Customs of Passage
“In an age when it is easy to live vicariously through t.v. shows and other popular media, attention to the life cycle returns the focus to ourselves and our families, the arenas in which the real work of life takes place,” writes the Director of City Lore.
Welcoming a New Life: Yoruba Naming Traditions
By exploring what names mean and how different cultural groups have special naming traditions, students have a lot to learn about themselves, their families, their community, and the world.
At Home In the World
If membership and identity remain such vexing issues in our country, what can educators do to help students not only cope with the problem but also take action to resolve it? Written by Jim Carnes, editor of Teaching Tolerance, a national education project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
From Imagine! Introducing Your Child to the Arts
Find a chapter dedicated to folk arts education in this publication, including tips for parents on the best ways to interest children in art--helping them explore connections between their own life experiences and the artistic processes of others.
May I Borrow?
30 teens from across the country gathered at the University of Maryland for an intensive two weeks of dance and composition classes, rehearsal, and creation. They were African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian. They studied diverse dance techniques, from jazz and modern to salsa and traditional Hmong. Some were dramatic, some were shy. Some skateboarded, some studied the Bible. Some liked hip-hop, some liked punk. And despite or maybe because of their differences, they really wanted to like each other…
More Than Feathers and Casinos: Rethinking Native American Education
“….The most difficult thing to impress upon your students is that there is not one standard of Native American culture, dress, art, language, or experience. Over 400 native groups in the U.S. have very different realities. Our cultures are as different from one another as Japanese culture is from Polish culture…”
“I was in the sixth grade when I started writing poetry. I had never realized how special poetry was to me. I started writing not just as an assignment, but almost as a way to let myself be free from everything around me. As I grow older, my poetry seems to evolved from blue hummingbirds to the dark and sorrowful days of oppressed Palestine….My experience as a poet had been great but got even better when I started workshops with the Def Jam Poet Suheir Hammad and City Lore as part of a program called Poetry Dialogues.
Walk in Another’s Shoes
“The trim, silver-haired man sits ramrod straight, a legacy of his former military training. Sitting close by, not quite as still or straight, his eight-year-old Swapping Stories partner’s smile reflects his own. After the storytelling session, the former Mr. America finalist states, ‘Even though there’s a 75-year difference in our ages, we’ve had very similar experiences.’ His young African-American female partner describes their exchange as ‘talking to him like he was my father.’ How did two former strangers build a bridge of understanding that spanned their cultural, racial, age, and gender difference? They participated in Swapping Stories, an intergenerational/intercultural project I created for….”
Words Are Serious, Words Are Divine
Taking students to visit community sites can provide rich, authentic experiences that inspire powerful personal responses. Often young rappers are—as freestyler Toni Blackman put it—”stuck in style” so writing about dramatic new experiences forces them to experiment. African-American high school students who participated in City Lore’s Poetry Dialogues project worked with poets Toni Blackman and Kewulay Kamara to write poems based on their experience of visiting St. Augustine’s Church, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where slaves and former slaves were separated from White parishioners in a ‘slave gallery’ above the main sanctuary.
Luanne McLaughlin, a parent at PS 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, shares a family mapping activity that works in any locale.
Fieldwork Builds Learning and Community
Elementary school teacher and folklorist Mark Wagler shares fieldwork methods he uses with his classes. The article includes exercises and inspiration for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum. “I am convinced”, he says, “that the single most important factor for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum is for teachers to think of themselves, and act, as fieldworkers.”
How Deer Came to the Kodiak Archipelago
Josh Wood, a student from rural Alaska, writes about an unusual relationship between people, animals, and place.
La Trace du Boudin
An engaging profile of Acadiana and Lafayette High School students who prepared the “Guide to Acadian Stores and Meat Markets That Sell Boudin.” The guide, a French and English tourism brochure, explores the boudin, a Cajun sausage made and sold in small family-owned markets all over South Louisiana.”
Sense of Place
“What is a ‘place?’ Is that strip of grass between the lanes on the Interstate highway a place? Is a Web site a place?” Michael Umphrey, a poet and former principal, who currently directs the Montana Heritage Project explores the many notions of place. Umphrey also provides examples for how students can learn the skills of documentation, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and presentation by studying history, nature, and folklife in the towns and neighborhoods that surround them.
Cowboy Poetry Adventures
“Imagine herding 21 high school students from the coast of Oregon to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada over nine days in the middle of the school year….” Join Paddy Bowman as she chronicles the literary adventures of two teachers and 21 students (cowboy poetry resources provided).
Fieldtrips to Find Poetry
The Handbook of Poetic Forms published by Teachers & Writers Collaborative regards a ‘found poem’ as a piece of writing that was not intended as a poem, but is desclared to be by its ‘finder.’ Poetry can be ‘found’ in everything from newspaper articles, store signs, lists, scraps of conversation, and other everytday uses of language. Steve Zeitlin explains the ‘rules’ of found poetry and offers images and examples for you to begin your own fieldtrips to find poetry.
Poetry Contests and Improvisations
An international and historical overview of poetry contests and improvisation.
Poetry Slam in the Classroom
A detailed description of poetry slams and the pros and cons of hosting them with young people in a classroom.
“‘What are the blues?’ Well, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, cousin to the blues, ‘Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.'” That said, folklorists, Amanda Dargan and Steve Zeitin provide a brief history of blues poetry—with examples.
“One of the toughest tasks for educators teaching young writers is to get them to see that poetry is everywhere in our lives….The “site” of the Work Poem is a good place to engage young writers to focus on a specific subject matter and to encourage them to explore the language that surrounds the jobs and work they do daily…”
A Child's Salute: Iowa's Project Honors Newcomers
Information on how teachers can identify folk groups and then incorporate the exploration of these groups into the classroom learning experience.
Capitalizing On Diversity And Immigration
How a Virginia elementary school uses the diversity of their students to enrich their learning experience and multicultural understanding.
Sculpting the Face of Immigration
Using art to tell a story of immigration, George Zavala creates works of art with several different 4th grade classes in Woodside, Queens.
Teaching teachers acceptance and respect through training that begins with the teacher examining their own culture and then expanding to the cultures of other people. For a similar approach with students, see "Engaging Diversity: A Teacher Talks about Folk Arts-Driven Educational Reform" by Susanne Nixdorf
The Florida Music Train: Moving to the Sunshine State
Using traditional music as a window into the increasingly diverse migrant population in the United States.
A Community Celebration Of Place
A program brings rural Alabama communities together when students interview community elders and get the stories to music.
A Patchwork of Our Lives: Oral History Quilts in Intercultural Education
How oral history can help young people develop intercultural and intergenerational competencies.
Among Folk: Using Folklife To Build Partnerships With Students And Their Families
A folklife curriculum bridges the generational gap between students, parents, and grandparents and aids in student's quest for their own identity.
A Teacher Talks About Folk Arts-Driven Educational Reform
How a rural Pennsylvanian school district taught about diversity and respect for other cultures through a folklife/folk arts program.
Finding Folk Arts in Teachers' and Students' Lives
How teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experienceHow teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experience. .
Folk Culture Inspires Writing Across The Curriculum
Two folklife activities that encourage writing across the curriculum: reading cultural objects and fieldwork about Halloween and Day of the Dead.
Holidays and Schools: Folklore Theory and Educational Practice, or, Where Do We Put the Christmas Tree?
How an Ohio parent and folklorist successfully engaged the issue of holiday celebrations in schools by integrating community study, family folklore and social studies curricula.
Mining Values in the Montana Heritage Project
Through asking her junior English class to investigate an old building that was once a gym, Rasmussen "discovered the joy of using cultural heritage in the classroom."
That Zora Sure Could Write
Looking at the work of Zora Neal Hurston, Anokye examines how oral discourse can be transferred into writing. He argues that Hurston's work provides a model teaching tool for preserving oral traditions through writing. Also includes a short biography of Hurston.
Writing the Range
Reflections on the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada by student participants.
American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures
Folklife is community life and values, artfully expressed in myriad interactions. It is universal, diverse, and enduring. It enriches the nation and makes us a commonwealth of cultures. The traditional knowledge and skills required to make a pie crust, plant a garden, arrange a birthday party, or turn a lathe are exchanged in the course of daily living and learned by imitation. It is not simply skills that are transferred in such interactions, but notions about the proper ways to be human at a particular time and place. Whether sung or told, enacted or crafted, traditions are the outcroppings of deep lodes of worldview, knowledge, and wisdom, navigational aids in an ever-fluctuating social world.
How to Teach Folk Arts to Young People: The Need for Context
In a a speech at New York University, Chalmers challenges the practice of "aesthetic scanning" by providing art teachers with ways to teach students the social context in which art is created.
Negotiating Pitfalls and Possibilities
Kodish and Westerman outline the steps taken toward understanding folk art and locating it within communities. They also explore how students come to understand the history, economics, style, culture and traditions of people through folk arts.
Storytelling at the Crossroads
Teaching storytelling: the power, importance and influence of the storyteller
Passing it On
Excerpts from the now classic folk arts-in-education book, Passing It On which explores collaborative programs between classroom teachers and folk artists/community educators. We have excerpted four sections that map the New Jersey Main Road School's sixth grade residency with auctioneer Andrea Licciardello. Licciardello worked with classroom teacher Glenn Christmann to present a study of auctions within a frame of regional socioeconomics. Excerpted sections include: “The Context—New Jersey, The Garden State,” “The Artist—Andrea (Henry) Licciardello, Auctioneer”, “The School—Main Road School’s Educational Program,” “The Curriculum,” and “Collection Projects & Artifact Documenation (Ideas & Tips)”
An Accessible Aesthetic
The folk artist is very much like a curator and the community is a living museum. In unpacking this metaphor, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores how the folk artist learns various traditions and then teaches adults and children to develop strong ties to their communities and cultural history.
Folk Arts in the Classroom: Changing the Relationship Between Schools and Communities
The publication of this article launched Local Learning in 1993.