Education Guide

Education GuideTools for Learning

Tools for Learning

Whenever people are very good at something, they seem to do it effortlessly. Masters of a traditional art form may have a particular talent, but they have also practiced long and hard. They spend countless hours observing and learning from someone in their family or community, then practicing repeatedly on their own. Not only do they replicate skills or products, they also create. Each time they tell a story, play a tune or make a basket, they have an opportunity to change, add or delete an element. Traditions are not frozen in time but are alive and part of an ongoing process. To be a master is to be creative.

National Heritage Fellows vividly recall the learning process, those who taught them, and the persistence required to master their art forms. This kind of learning does not happen in a formal school setting but in family and community settings. Parents, grandparents, siblings, religious leaders, community and tribal elders, neighbors, and friends are the teachers of cultural heritage. Likewise, Heritage Fellows are often teachers in their families and communities, passing on their complex, hard-won skills and knowledge through private community events; formal and informal apprenticeships; and public demonstrations, performances, and exhibitions.

As individuals, we are both active and passive tradition bearers. Some of us are visual learners, while others are auditory or kinesthetic learners. We hear stories and we tell our own stories. We view media projects created by others, and we, in turn, create our own. We observe others as models to emulate or reject, and we act as models for others to do the same. We read the written word and produce it. This guide emphasizes four general tools for learning that are applicable to our understanding of ourselves and the National Heritage Fellows.

1.  Oral Tradition

Listening to, evaluating, and producing oral stories; conducting and transcribing interviews; evaluating information transmitted orally; producing and presenting cogent oral directions and demonstrations

2.  Media and Technology

Analysis of various media, including the materials used by artists and the forms of representation and documentation; use of media and technology to create projects; research tools; influence of media and technology on artists; history of media and technology in relation to culture; and cultural transmission and preservation

3.  Life Skills

Practice and perseverance, learning and teaching, mastery and creativity, ingenuity, overcoming difficulties, prejudice and discrimination, cultural analysis, cultural preservation, interpersonal relations, passion for learning and for art forms, listening and understanding different points of view and belief systems

4.  Reading and Writing

Reading and evaluating an array of media, drawing conclusions from a variety of sources, community-based studies and ethnographic fieldwork, analyzing disparate written materials, transcribing interviews, synthesizing data, drawing on prior knowledge and producing written documents

The flexible components of the Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide allow many points of entry in various educational settings. Educators will find a wide array of ideas for using this guide. For example, Tools for Learning includes suggestions from teachers and librarians for longer-term overarching student activities and mini-lessons.

A set of activities targeting essential literacy skills ― Decoding Different Media ― may be used to launch further study of the guide, and teachers may choose to integrate these activities into their own curricula or other lesson ideas in this guide.

The artists, art forms and curricular connections in this guide dovetail with major themes in English language arts, social studies and the arts, including the following: America, diversity, community, family, migration and immigration, resilience, sense of place, mastery, creativity, art in daily life, traditions, culture, historic events, celebrations and heritage.

The guide contains three specific units, Sense of Place, Sense of Wonder and Sense of Discovery, which may be woven into a number of existing curricula or studied on their own. Some consistent themes and topics, ranging from the creation and preservation of traditions to historic events and from families to the environment, run through the lives and voices of this diverse group of master traditional artists. Teachers and librarians will design additional lessons that explore these topics and themes, fitting each to particular curricula or student interests.

To prepare for using this guide, educators should review it and also familiarize themselves with the range of possible media that students will encounter. Start website exploration by following as Heritage Fellow John Cephas guides first-time users in a short tutorial. For each artist, students will have access to these categories:

  • Artist Bio
  • Photographs
  • Audio (profiles, musical samples)
  • Video (a variety of segments)

Category filters allow users to find artists through last name, first name, tradition, culture, home state, and award year. As you peruse the website, think about ways that the lives and artistry of the Heritage Fellows can deepen your curricula. Comparing dancers, studying all the artists in one state or highlighting ethnicity are only a few of the ways that you and your students can learn.

Teachers Suggested Applications

Overarching Student Activities

Incorporating the Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide over a course of study opens opportunities to gain a much deeper understanding of culture as a process, ourselves as participants in and creators of cultural expressions and family and community members as important bearers of traditions and masters of local traditional arts. Teachers and library media specialists helped to develop the following suggestions to help students engage in ongoing in-depth applications.

Consider developing Masters of Traditional Arts Portfolios to hold students’ ongoing work. Accordion files or file folders work, as do shopping bags or binders. They should label their portfolios and may decorate them. Ask students to stash their notes, drawings, maps, written assignments, photos and audio and video recordings in their portfolios. They can keep a supply of release forms and other handouts from the guide so they are always ready for interviews. Find a portfolio rubric among the handouts.

Students may develop Masters of Traditional Arts research projects by focusing on Heritage Fellows of their region or another part of the country that fit curricular needs. Students can work individually or in teams to research a geographic region and its traditions and art forms. Encourage students to bring the “I” into the I-search process by identifying their own interests, determining their sources for research and creating end products uniquely suited to their content. They must synthesize and re-present their regional research.

Another option is for students to study the traditions of different Heritage Fellows by ethnic identity or ancestry, cultural group or traditional art form (music, dance, spoken word or craft genre). Students will find a selected bibliography, discography and filmography at the end of each artist bio on the website. Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide resources include a folklore in education bibliography, websites, list of Heritage Fellow films available online and suggested student readings. Students will use and evaluate nonconventional primary sources, allowing them to select and assess appropriate sources when conducting research either within or outside the classroom.

A Masters of Traditional Arts Museum could involve students working individually or in teams to become curators for individual Heritage Fellows and present their findings in different media to classmates or students from other classes or at a family night program. For success in this project, students must take information that they learn through their own research and their investigation of the Masters of Traditional Arts website and apply it to a unique task. They must tailor their content and conclusions to a particular audience, thus adding a focused edit to their manner of presentation and their implicit evaluation of source materials that they include or ignore.

Students can improve their technology skills by producing multimedia projects developed from their fieldwork research to identify and document local traditions and tradition bearers. Unit 3 Sense of Discovery provides tools for student fieldwork. Students can plan the fieldwork research; identify people to interview; choose documentation tools such as notepad and pencil, camera and audio or video recorder; practice interviewing in the classroom: and then conduct interviews and follow-up. Afterward, they must assess their findings; transcribe excerpts; edit writing, photos and recordings and create their culminating projects. Examples include written biographies and essays, photo slide shows, scrapbooks, radio shows, videos and web pages. Not only can students work from their own interests, they can also select the appropriate methodology, media and tools for researching these topics and shape their findings into the kinds of products used outside school settings.

Reading nonfiction and fiction related to the traditional art forms and themes presented in the Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide can deepen students’ literacy and inquiry skills. The guide includes a substantial bibliography of suggested student readings in Resources. You can ask the school librarian to create a reading list that draws upon the guide and provide other suggestions for students’ reading. Have the librarian gather all such books and present a short book talk introducing key titles. Then divide the class into four groups and give each group a few of the key titles and an equal number of the related books. Have each group categorize the books in some way (by craft, home state or literary genre, for example) using no more than four categories.

The librarian and teacher should both be available to help the groups when appropriate. When students have finished this task, they should be able to defend their categories and book placement. Create two large groups from the original four and have the students compare the categories developed in their original group. Have them combine categories, adopt new categories and reject original categories in the process of creating four categories that logically contain all the books from the original two groups. Repeat this process with the class as a whole, creating the final four categories that contain all the books. Students can also write short book reviews that give them practice in thinking like a critic, using bibliographic formats and analyzing illustrations as well as text.


The following lessons can be easily adapted throughout the course of studying the Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide.

1. Critical Reading and Viewing Skills

Ask students to consider what they can tell from a photograph. Ask them to reflect on composition (aesthetics) and cultural clues (context) by writing their thoughts in two columns: Composition and Cultural Clues. Choose a photograph of one artist and discuss as a group. Then ask them, working individually or in teams, to choose and examine other photographs (also see Decoding Different Media).

2. Summarizing

Choose an artist bio, audio profile, interview excerpt, music sample, video segment or photograph of one artist and ask students to pay close attention and then react in writing.

3. Vocabulary Development

Assign students to design a lesson for other students based on a written artist bio, audio profile or video segment. They should pick out any special terms that the artist uses and make a glossary. What should other students learn about this person? What are some good ways to teach about this artist?

4. Setting Purposes for Reading

Choose one or two artists for students to explore what they say about learning and teaching, practice and perseverance and the passion to maintain traditions and art forms. Ask them to write, draw or record their conclusions.

5. Organizing Information and Setting Purposes for Reading

In studying the lives of several artists, choose one of these questions for students to address: What is the meaning of traditional arts and culture in a changing society? What is the relationship of traditional arts and culture to family, community and region? How do artists maintain their traditional identity while relating to mainstream culture? How do traditional artists adapt to change?

6. Comparing and Contrasting

The diverse artists and art forms on this website allow students many ways to compare and contrast. For example, you might ask students to compare an ensemble and an individual artist, a musician and a craftsperson, a male and a female artist, artists from different regions or a recent immigrant and a long-time resident artist. Or they can study and compare the music and/or crafts of a cultural group such as Anglo Americans, African Americans, European Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asians or a region such as New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, the Northwest or the Far West. Another option is to compare a musical genre, craft or instrument across time and regions. Examples include blues, ballads, a cappella singing, gospel, polka, drumming, dance, the guitar, the fiddle, the accordion, basket making, needlework and other traditional crafts. Students may start with a Venn diagram and then summarize their observations in a short essay, poem, drawing or word cloud. A Venn diagram is an organizational tool consisting of overlapping circles to chart similarities and differences.

Decoding Different Media

When we hear the word “media,” we often think of television, advertising and the Internet. In this guide, the word “media” also describes the materials and means with which an artist creates as well as the ways in which we document and present cultural traditions. A visual artist may choose oil paint or watercolors; sculptors work in stone, metal and other media. While some Heritage Fellows use everything from feathers and beads to wood and cotton to create their art forms, others use various musical instruments, vocal phrasing or choreographed movement. Through the documentary media of text, photography, video and audio, students can research the cultural process and forms of creativity as they navigate a wide range of media to build an understanding of different ways of presenting information. All forms of documentary media frame reality from the producer’s point of view. Who we are determines how we take a photo or write an essay, for example. In this guide, students will find clues to identity, culture and point of view as well as opportunities to analyze context and subjectivity in various forms of media.

Studying Photographs

  1. Choose a photograph of a Heritage Fellow for the class to “read,” or analyze, before students read the artist profile or listen to the artist’s audio samples. You may print the Photo Analysis worksheet or they may use notebook paper. Project the image and ask students to sit quietly and look at the photograph for one minute. Next, ask them to write down everything they see ― for example, facial expression, hair and clothing styles, background, objects, gender, age, possible ethnic group, mood, light and shadow. After sharing answers, ask students to study the photograph again and add details to their list that they previously missed. This exercise will prepare students for close photo analysis on their own.
  2. Questions to ask: What kind of photograph are you studying? Is it a posed, formal shot? An informal shot? Who do you think made the photograph? Ask students to compare the kind of information that styles of photographs can give: formal individual portraits, group photographs or informal photographs.
  3. Questions for students: What clues to this artist’s life or art form do you read in this photograph? Do you think that the mood of the photograph says anything about the artist? What more do you want to know? Ask students to jot down thoughts about where the artist might live, what his or her art form might be, what might be going on just outside the photograph.
  4. As a class, examine all the media for the artist: written artist bio, audio profile, audio and video segments and other photos. What did students surmise correctly? What did they miss? How well does a picture tell this artist’s story? Point out any visual clues to this context that a viewer might experience upon first seeing the photograph in an exhibit or a book.
  5. To sum up, ask students to write what journalists call a cutline, or short description, for the photograph. They should share some of the context, or story, of the artist’s life and art form that they have learned from further investigation into the artist bio, audio profile or interview excerpt or video segment.

Reading Artist Profiles

  1. Choose a written artist bio of a Heritage Fellow for students to learn about the artist and his or her art form. In addition to basic information such as name and birth and death dates, they will find interesting stories about the artist and probably learn about an art form that is new to them. Students may read the first paragraph aloud or silently and write down any words that are new to them. You may print out the Vocabulary worksheet for them or they may use notebook paper. Some new words may be special terms related to an artist’s music or craft,such as types of music or tools necessary for a craft; other new words may belong to a specific cultural group based on region, religion, occupation or ethnicity.
  2. Students should continue to read each paragraph of the artist bio, adding words to their vocabulary lists. As they learn the meaning of special terms in the artist profile, they should write down the meaning and make a Masters of Traditional Arts glossary. They can look up other new words in a dictionary or online and create two word lists: New Vocabulary Words and Special Cultural Terms.
  3. Questions for students: What more do you want to know about the artist? Write down at least two questions that you would like to ask the artist. Also write down something that you learned from reading the artist bio. Make up a title for this biography that expresses something about the artist.
  4. Create a clerihew. A clerihew is a four-line (two couplets), humorous poem about a famous person. The first line of the poem always ends with the name of the individual, while the remaining three lines list characteristics or accomplishments of that person. (Find a full explanation of clerihews in How to Write Poetry, by Paul B. Janeczko, Scholastic Reference, 2001.) Allow students the option of writing a clerihew as a way of summarizing the short artist bios of Heritage Fellows. Older students may write an autobiographical poem.
  5. Assign students to write a short biography of someone they know. They will need to interview the person (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools). They should take notes and consider recording the interview. They can illustrate the biographies with photographs or drawings.

Listening to Audio

  1. Choose an audio profile, interview excerpt or music sample from a Heritage Fellow for students to learn more about the context, or background, of an artist and his or her art form. You may print the appropriate Listening Log (Audio Profile or Musical Elements) or they may use notebook paper. As they listen to the artist’s voice, ask them to try to learn what regional accent or languages the artist uses. They may hear instruments, songs or the sounds of an artist at work. Play the sample more than once. The first time they listen, ask students to try to picture the artist and write down any special terms or words that they don’t know and later add them to word lists they began while reading the written artist bio.
  2. The second time students listen to the audio sample, ask them to write down words, phrases or sounds that give clues about the artist, the art form, the place where the artist grew up or considers home. Assign them to write a short paragraph about one of the following questions: How did the artist learn his or her art form? What do you find the most important part of the story? The most interesting? Is there humor in the audio profile, interview or music sample? Sadness? What points led you to answer as you do?
  3. Choose a short excerpt of an audio profile for students to listen to and transcribe, or write down word for word, as folklorists or oral historians would do to preserve and share the words of people they interview. Students must listen to the sample several times. Wearing headphones improves concentration. They should write down exactly what the artist or announcer says, including hesitations and pauses. Students can pair off to listen to the story segment and proofread their transcription before using a word processor to type it or neatly hand-print it. Older students may transcribe a longer portion of an artist’s audio profile or record and then transcribe their own stories.

Viewing Video

  1. Choose a video segment of a Heritage Fellow to view as a class. Ask students to watch the artist in action and think about how the medium of video contributes to their understanding of the artist’s identity and art form. Most video segments of the 26 artists featured in this guide come from the annual concerts that honor the Heritage Fellows artists. Some videos are excerpted from full-length documentaries. Each year, different emcees introduce the concert and ask the artists a few questions. Musicians and dancers then perform one or two pieces and artisans and craftspeople explain their work to the emcee as the audience views slides of their artworks. View each video segment at least twice and ask students to jot down observations on a “double-entry ledger,” shown below. To make this ledger, they can draw a line across the top of a piece of paper and another line down the middle, labeling the left side “Facts” and the right side “Responses.” On the left, they should write facts they learned from the video, such as the artist’s name, gender, art form, name of a tune or type of craft. On the right, they should note observations and questions ― for example, thoughts about the artist’s movements, voice and mood; reactions to the artist and the art form; and any questions about what they’ve seen. The objective facts go on the left; the subjective opinions, thoughts, and questions go on the right. They should add facts and responses each time they view the video segment. Double-Entry Ledger
  2. Discuss students’ responses on the right of the double-entry ledger. Are they more accustomed to fast-paced music and YouTube videos, for example? Do they belong to a cultural group that shares this tradition? What preconceptions did they have about this artist, art form or cultural group? What surprised them? What did they bring to the process of observation that might affect how they viewed the video, the artist and the art form? Ask them to add personal notes to the Responses side of the ledger. What facts can they add on the left? Assign students to use information from both sides of the ledger to “free write,” then edit and refine the free writing to create a polished paragraph or essay about the experience of watching the video, the artist and the art form.
  3. Unlike footage that folklorists or documentary filmmakers shoot during fieldwork or that friends and family members make to document an artist, many of these segments show public situations. During rehearsals, professional videographers plan camera angles, study the lighting and set sound levels. Ask students to pretend to be the director of this video segment and create a storyboard to show sound engineers, lighting technicians and the camera crew what to do and in what order. A storyboard shows the sequence of a plot, or story line, as well as technical requirements. The space on the left is for images and sketches, and the space on the right is for the story line and directions. Story Board
  4. Direct students to create a storyboard for a short excerpt of a favorite movie, television show, advertisement or music video. Then ask them to compare and contrast this video excerpt and storyboard with the video segment of one of the Heritage Fellows. They should consider camera angles, lighting, pace, mood, the kinds of culture being shown, point of view and the people or characters depicted. They may start with a Venn diagram to map comparisons and expand reflections to a written paragraph or a poster to illustrate their findings. A Venn diagram is an organizational tool consisting of overlapping circles to chart similarities and differences.
  5. Traditional art forms differ from popular culture music and images, but all popular music has roots in traditional music, and many images in mass media refer to cultural expressions that are common to certain cultural groups. For example, rap is rooted in African American blues and pre-blues traditions, and cartoon characters such as Bart Simpson are trickster figures that are part of ancient oral narrative traditions found among Native Americans and African Americans. Choose a video segment of one of the Heritage Fellows that demonstrates the “roots” of a popular tradition for class discussion. Then assign students to research the history of one of the traditional art forms that appeals to them.
  6. Ask students which of their traditions they would like to document through video. They should decide which aspects of the tradition would best contribute to a three-minute video ― the process of making, singing or telling; preparing for the tradition; the reaction of observers; or an artifact, for example. Assign them to create a storyboard for videoing their tradition and, if possible, make a video. A team could choose one student’s tradition to video and work together as a production crew. Students should share their final storyboards and videos with other classes and family members or on the school Website (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools).

Comparing Media

  1. After studying the artist photographs, reading the artist profiles, listening to the audio samples and viewing the video segments, what have students learned? Ask them to write down some phrases that come to mind, choose one on which to elaborate in a paragraph or drawing and then share in a class discussion. What more about the artist or art form do they want to know? Generate a list of questions, including how to undertake more research on the artist or the genre. What one medium would they use to present their new findings, and why?
  2. Ask students to consider from which of these four media sources they learned the most: written artist bio, photography, audio samples or video segments? Which one medium would they choose to present research about someone in your community? Why? If they were to combine media, what two would they choose? Why?
  3. Have students return to their initial notes about an artist’s photograph after they have read the artist’s bio; listened to the artist’s audio profile, interview or music sample; and viewed the artist’s video segment. Ask them to make a chart to compare their theories, or inferences, about the artist with what they learned. What clues did they miss in their first reading of the photograph? What did they infer correctly? What do they still want to know about the artist? How would they conduct further research?
  4. Collect a variety of reviews by professional critics in newspapers, magazines and online to introduce students to media criticism. What do they think qualifies someone to be a critic? With which reviews do they agree or disagree and why? Ask them to pretend that they are a music or art critic and write a review of one of the following: an artist profile, a video segment, an audio sample or a set of photographs of one or more of the Heritage Fellows. They should use imagery to describe the mood and artistic content of the work and try to include words of the artist. They should also discuss the technical qualities of the medium and compare the work with others that they have experienced. Students may debate their reviews in a class discussion and post them in a class blog or on the bulletin board.

Creating Multimedia Presentations

  1. Assign students to study one Heritage Fellow through all the media provided for the artist and then interpret the material in a multimedia presentation to the class. Students may work in teams or individually. They must use at least two forms of media, which may include spoken word, audio, video, drawing, maps, drama, music and poetry. Again, a storyboard will be useful scaffolding. The media will have different points of view, so students must decide from what point of view they want to tell the artist’s story. They might choose a childhood story from the artist’s bio to re-enact, for example, or they might pretend to be a folklorist interviewing the artist. They can combine writing and artwork to make a picture book about the artist, as folklorist Alan Govenar did in Stompin’ at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller (see suggested student readings).
  2. Depending upon available resources, students may produce audio or video podcasts focusing on the artist to share in class or on the school Website.
  3. Documenting local Masters of Traditional Arts grounds students in family and community culture through interviews, audio and video recording, drawings, photography and mapping. Working with the school librarian and media specialist, students can build a multimedia platform such as a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, podcast or Website to present their findings and help preserve local traditional culture. Unit 3 Sense of Discovery includes interview strategies and tools as well as links to more in-depth guides.
  4. Each student will contribute different points of view, skills and interests that influence their learning through media and their use of media to re-present learning and to create primary sources. As they review and create multimedia work, ask students to reflect on which formats they prefer for both processes and why. They might love looking at photos but find making an iMovie a more satisfying creative medium. Such reflection helps build self-identity and confidence.