Teach Literacy through the Arts in DC, MD, and VA

by Story Tapestries Inc.

Your participation in our projects to combine LIteracy and the Arts is making progress and showing instant results in each classroom we can connect with. Thank you so much for your continued support of these events and workshops. Here is an excerpt of our latest experiences, to read the FULL story go here Story Tapestries Blog:

"I look at this text and I feel like I just have to get through it" sighs a frustrated third grade teacher.
"My kids love goofing around and are very creative, I just need help fuzing their experience of an activity to comprehension of the subject" says an enthusiastic fourth grade teacher.
"This is very uncomfortable for me, but I know my students respond to these types of things, so I'm trying to make it work" says a hesitant media specialist, who works with various grade levels.

These are just a few of the comments made in my initial planning conferences with teachers at Sebastian Elementary in Sebastian, Florida. These teachers and I were about to embark on a week long embedded residency process to help them better be able to incorporate theatre arts strategies into their non fiction units. I don't think any of us anticipated what a rewarding week it would be! 

...In all three classes, we had grade level appropriate space and Earth sciences related texts. We looked at each text and each grade levels' specific literacy goals and together we extracted activities to support those goals. I spent time both modeling and supporting them leading these activities in their classrooms. I also gave the teachers tips and techniques to be able to implement the activities without me.




...We saw student successes in each classroom, each day. We saw small victories in engaging students who they tell me don't typically demonstrate such enthusiasm, and large victories in watching students who don't generally engage at all getting up and sharing something they just learned.  The teachers asked their students if they wanted to more activities like they had been doing this week and they were met with a resounding "YES!"  In fact, each one of them told me that they had already tried out at least one activity in another class, and one of the teachers had already set up a planning meeting with the other teachers in her grade team to collaborate around how they can implement some of the strategies in the next unit.


Showing Excitement in Learning

Showing Excitement in Learning


By the end of the week,  I saw the teachers go from hesitant, but curious, to enthusiastic and excited. They saw first hand the powerful impact the arts can have on engaging and empowering their students with standards based learning, and without taking time away from mandated schedule chunks.

"It's been eye opening. I can't wait to try this out with the next book" says the newly energized third grade teacher.
"Before I was clueless and excited, now I'm focused and excited. I'm excited about things that weren't really exciting to me before" gushes the thrilled fourth grade teacher.
"I just need practice. It helped to see how they responded. If you are in drama, you are using the same skills as reading" says the optimistic media specialist, making a commitment to push through her hesitation.

We as teaching artists can't be in every classroom, but if we can keep turning the light on, one teacher at time, then we can reach more and more classrooms, slowly shifting the climate. These teachers then become the best advocates for more arts integration in their schools, and the more we can empower them, the more that light gets sparked in their colleagues. And ultimately, the more students we can all reach and more fully engage in their own learning.

This is how we change our education system...one classroom at a time, with thoughtful, passionate and caring teachers who never stop learning themselves.


Thank you again for continuing to bring the Arts into the lives of our communities.


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What’s the best ways to teach students literacy through spoken word poetry? Have the mentors they look up to practice those poetic skills first. Recently, I led six Silver Spring YMCA youth workers through different strategies they’ll use to promote active reading, critical questioning, improvisation, differentiation, and peer review— and it was all done through the analysis and lens of spoken word poetry.

The morning began with mentors learning active reading strategies that they used to explicate and discuss a poem. Then the YMCA youth workers wrote, recited, and responded to their own poetry.

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Although many of the participants were uncomfortable at first (performing Spoken Word can be nerve-racking!), they quickly jumped into the activities that they themselves will be leading in February with their students. The youth workers got to feel the pressure of writing and reading and performing and also the success of creating work they could be proud of.

The activity that proved most rewarding (and the one the youth workers were most of afraid of)? The freestyle cypher. The Youth workers all circled up and were led through a series of exercises that culminated with them freestyle rapping and rhyming with one another. The goal was to let loose any pretenses of “good enough” and allow for spontaneous creation and collaboration. And as any good cypher session should end, it culminated with laughter and relief that something seemingly insurmountable was accomplished.


YCMA Staff Leading and Participating in a Hip-Hop Cypher

One mentor said, “I can’t wait to see what our students will write. I’m really excited to share this with them.”

So am I! I look forward to seeing how the spoken word poetry strategies will promote students’ literacy and collaboration. Right on, YMCA!


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Literacy Music!
Literacy Music!

Happy 2015!

We hit the ground running this year and are already deep into building our programs and services bigger and better for the New Year. According to the National Council on Teachers of English Standards for the English Language Arts, “To participate fully in society and the workplace in 2020, citizens will need powerful literacy abilities that until now have been achieved by only a small percentage of the population.” The time is now for students master these skills!

While the nation’s overall dropout rate is declining, Secretary Arne Duncan has stated that the dropout rate is still “unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino, and Native-American communities.” This means it is more important than ever for us to continue moving forward in our work of  teaching literacy through the arts, especially for these communities who have limited access to such educational resources.

Truthfully, some days our work is a challenge....students are distracted, teachers over-burdened with testing, administrators taxed over managing the every-changing moving parts of the school system...BUT...every time we hear a positive response from a teacher about how our work has helped motivate them to think about old lessons in a new way, or every time a student gleefully proclaims the correct answer to a once daunting question..we remember, THIS is why we must go on! THIS is why we LOVE our work. 

But you don't have to just take my word for it, check out these quotes about Arianna and Story Tapestries.......

“She creates an environment where the children feel safe to take risks and grow from their mistakes. It is with her soft yet strong voice that guides the children.”

            -Franklin Wassmer, Principal, Washington DC

“Thank you for inspiring me to remember how I used to teach.”

            -Jen Flores, 1st Grade Teacher, Barrett Elementary School, VA

 “They sat in awe! She exceeded our expectations. We want her back next year!!”

            -Adrian Blount, Administrator, Ideal Academy, Washington DC

Family learning
Family learning
Deep in thought
Deep in thought

After a great day of teaching, I feel like there is no doubt that we can change the world through the arts. My students for the day light up when I'm there. They made new connections and their teachers were so impressed at what they had been able to accomplish in such a short time. Then I think about how much we could accomplish with more time! And I think about how many more classrooms there are in that school, and how many more schools there are that have no arts integration presence at all. And suddenly, it all just feels like there is too much work to be done. That’s when I realize that those teachers are really the key. They are there every day with their students, all year round, year after year with a new class. And if they had even a few of the tools I have to help them reach all their students in more meaningful ways through the arts, then the impact of the work we do will go on and on. This is why doing Professional Development Workshops through Story Tapestries is so important. The gift that keeps on giving!

Literacy is not just about teaching children & adults to read & write. It is about people discovering the power of the written word to help them reach for their dreams. If you agree with this statement, please re-post it! Share this project report with friends and family, or simply mention Story Tapestries in conversation. 

Wishing you all the best this Holiday Season! 



Over this past year we’ve worked with over 100,000 children and coached multiple teachers around the country. Administrators regularly show us that test scores have increased after we have trained their staff to apply the arts to their literacy programs.  Beyond embracing the quantitative results touting the positive results of education using the arts as one of the tools to teach, we do this work because of those light-bulb moments we often witness during our programming. Those electric moments when students and educators suddenly “get it”- when the math concept they’ve been struggling to grasp or present becomes clear through the visual art project they’re engrossed in, or when the writing exercise they’ve struggled for weeks to make sense of suddenly becomes second-nature. We believe in the value of the work we do because we so often witness these pivotal moments propelling individuals ahead further than they even thought possible, and continuing to have a positive effect long after our programs have ended.

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  - Margaret Mead


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Organization Information

Story Tapestries Inc.

Location: Germantown, MD - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.storytapestries.com/​
Project Leader:
Arianna Ross
Germantown, Maryland United States
$25,350 raised of $30,000 goal
572 donations
$4,650 to go
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