Theatre Of Hearts / Youth First

Critical Thinking in the Arts: Inference, Creativity and Language Arts

Critical Thinking in the Arts: Inference, Creativity  and Language Arts

To collaborate with this provider, contact:

Gregg Johnson
Program Coordinator

672 S. La Fayette Park Place Suite 47
Los Angeles, CA 90057



213 384-6878


213 351-9883

Web Address:


Founded in 1987, in order to intervene in and prevent youth violence, Theatre Of Hearts/Youth First (TOHYF) promotes understanding among people through cultural and artistic forums and empowers local communities through Arts Education. TOHYF has established a select roster of over 50 Professional Artist Mentors who represent the diverse cultural communities they return to serve with an in-depth understanding of the needs of at-risk youth; the ability to connect and communicate with students and their families; and the credibility through personal experience to emphasize the importance of academics and how exposure to the arts supports enhances comprehension and critical thinking.

Program Objectives

Educators focus on creativity and critical thinking in the visual and performing arts to develop teaching strategies in arts-integrated lessons to reach art form and non-arts curriculum objectives. Each seminar is structured around a specific Enduring Understanding,e.g. Composers use sounds, shapes and words to express feelings. Student learning in the arts and improved literacy are achieved in participants’ use of critical thinking strategies and by providing opportunities for creative choice. Inference (drawing conclusions/making predictions based on a text or an arts experience) is the consistent lens through which students: experience the art form, reflect, and create original work.

Educators transform classroom dynamics, inspire students and create a supportive learning environment in which students are reflective about the art-making and evaluate work for expressive qualities. Arts integration techniques are used to guide participants in developing methods for establishing a student-centered learning atmosphere. A focus on 21st Century Skills emphasizes: responsibility, tolerance, respecting multiple points of view, imagination, visualizing new possibilities, persistence, sustaining concentrated attention, and self direction. Teachers learn new approaches to promote students’ self-expression and their ability to reflect what others’ work with constructive comments.

Educators employ CA Curriculum Frameworks and Visual and Performing Arts Standards to achieve district goals in each of the five sessions in dance, music, theatre, visual arts and creative writing. Each PD seminar’s theme is centered on an Enduring Understanding that is specifically focused to empower students’ creative choices in ways that a teacher can facilitate in the classroom. These become the basis for a set of measurable outcomes for student learning that reflect one VAPA standard and one ELA standard. Additional objectives in other academic areas may be included according to district goals as the workshops are customized for local delivery.

The TOHYF professional development seminar series links five thematically integrated modules. Each is custom-designed to provide educators with creative activities and arts integrated teaching strategies to promote critical thinking and improve ELA skills for at-risk youth. Educators engage in hands-on exercises and learning in the arts as the means to discover methods for empowering student creativity, self-expression and reflection on individual and class creations. 21st Century Skills are threaded throughout each module with a consistent emphasis on inference as the vehicle for constructing meaning and developing key habits of mind. The aim is to assist educators in their construction of safe learning environments that promote active participation and collaboration.


The TOHYF seminar series flexes to match a school or organization's resources and scheduling needs. The minimum time commitment is 3-hours for a single workshop, but the recommended format is comprised of at least 2 half-day sessions. This allows educators to engage in the process, produce original work and integrate with lesson planning. Any one of the 5 workshops may stand-alone or be combined in clusters to address specific learning objectives. For example, the creative writing workshop delivered in conjunction with music, dance, theatre or visual arts enables educators to explore approaches for connecting original written work authored by students with creative choice in any of those art forms. Each workshop comprises at least 3 modules that provide: experience of the art, guided practice, cooperative learning, reflection, lesson planning, and evaluations. When residencies are delivered as an extension of the PD, Artist Mentors provide side coaching to educators in their classroom.


TOHYF seminars draw on the ‘How People Learn’ model in the design of learner-centered environments that are modular and adapted according to interests and needs of the participating educators. Artist Mentors work in teams to facilitate a set of malleable approaches that enable educators to engage in a variety of roles that change as they become more expert. Each session utilizes arts integration techniques to meld pedagogy within the content of specific arts disciplines. Teaching strategies are sequenced to encompass four essential core elements: experiencing the art, understanding the elements of the art, connecting the art and becoming creative in the art. This is accomplished through modeling, guided practice, cooperative learning, performance and reflection. Particular attention is devoted to sharing best practices related to successful classroom management techniques and the need to address the conditions pertaining to learning environments for at-risk and incarcerated youth.

Participants' Experience

TOHYF professional development seminars enable educators to experience, apply and customize teaching strategies to apply in the lessons they create. Six key activities will be blended for this purpose: observing authentic works of art, direct instruction in the art making process, individual and team creative choice, connecting the art form to lifelong learning or academic areas, performing or exhibiting original work and process reflection. Sessions are team-taught by a TOHYF staff member and an Artist Mentor with professional expertise in the métier: creative writing, dance, music, theatre or visual arts. The seminar duration as determined by site administrators defines the scope of the objectives. Within full day and half-day sessions that stretch over two weeks, increased emphasis will be given to developing individual instructional materials and plans to be delivered by participants. Each participant receives a rubric for self-evaluation in their classroom applications.

Classroom Relevancy

Participating educators are provided with a cohesive set of arts integrated activities and teaching strategies, but the goal is not that these be replicated in the lesson plans they create. This structure is intended to provide a basis for educators to customize instructional materials, create new plans, and assess student learning according to the standards they select. The emphasis is critical thinking, creativity and 21st Century Skills. Planning tools include a lesson plan template for sequencing classroom activities in five key areas: experience the art form, understand art form elements, connect with academic learning, create original work and reflect on the process. Ideally, educators will have an opportunity to progress through the entire set of five seminar workshops to gain insight into the interdisciplinary nature of the professional development suite. Every workshop focuses on the means to construct learning environments and to conduct self-evaluation along the way.


Seminars feature project-based learning with direct instruction, cooperative learning and creative choice applied to generating original work in the five disciplines that comprise the entire suite of services. Educators are encouraged to explore elements of the art form, understand the specific terminology they will apply and engage in hands-on activities led by professional Artist Mentors.

Cooperative Learning

The cooperative learning modality figures prominently in both the workshops for educators and the teaching strategies to be applied in the classroom. This takes the form of "table teams" in which two or more persons are collaborating in an encounter with a series of creative choices in order to generate original work. One salient benefit of working together to create a performance or critique works of art is the natural way in which a vibrant learning environment can be established in the classroom. This is a necessary counterbalance to conventional learning environments in which individualistic, competitive, and independent decision-making permeates the social development of our students. Arts integrated activities cultivate teamwork, community-building, and leadership skills.

Effective Teaching Strategies

In the full series of professional development seminars with workshops extending over consecutive weeks, every participant practices the delivery of teaching strategies for arts-integrated lessons. These include: leading students in an experience of the art form; guided practice; cooperative learning; performing, reciting or exhibiting original work; sharing reflections; and conducting assessments. Each stage in the process of applying these strategies in a classroom learning environment is demonstrated in ways that empower participants in creating lessons and units, constructing rubrics for self-evaluation, and assessing student outcomes. Each participating teacher receives direction from the Artist Mentors, side coaching as they practice and templates for creating customized approaches.

Lesson Planning and Unit Design

Educators are guided in the production of arts integrated lessons. Components of lesson plans in the TOHYF template with which educators will gain fluency include: Art Form; Art Form Technique; Enduring Understanding; Objectives; Duration of Lesson; Number of Lessons in Unit; Measurable Outcomes; California Visual and Performing Arts Standards; California Academic Content Standards: 21st Century Skills; Art Form Terminology; ELA Vocabulary; Materials/ Arts Supplies; Handouts / Visual Aids; Overview/Description; Previous Student Learning; Sequence; Introduction; Experience of Art Form; Guided Practice ; Cooperative Learning and/or Independent Practice: Performance/Recital/Exhibition; Reflection Questions; Assessment Instruments.


The intention for the composite suite of professional development sessions is to enable educators to design creative learning environments in which students integrate language arts learning within the production of original work. Each performing and visual arts seminar is designed to satisfy one ELA standard. The creative writing seminar relates to visual arts learning. For example, one CA ELA standard to be applied is: GR 9-10 2.0 Writing Applications: Students combine the rhetorical strategies of narration, … and description. . 2.1 Write autobiographical narratives. This is connected to VAPA Standard: GR 9-12 Proficient Derive Meaning 4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, …influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

Social and Emotional Learning

Each seminar embodies LifeLong Learning components for at-risk youth. The populations served by TOHYF live in the kinds of communities most in need of innovative solutions for tolerance, problem solving and cultural understanding. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation argues that the intrinsic stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.

Special Populations

TOHYF is a leader in program design to serve at-risk and incarcerated youth. Substantial evidence supports the view that arts programming in educational settings delivers a variety of benefits to at-risk students, including improved interpersonal skills, academic performance, and 21st Century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. For at-risk students, arts programs are often the last and only means by which our educational systems impart valuable lessons in perseverance, organizational teamwork, and tolerance for cultural diversity. The arts by their very nature embody the knowledge that "failure" is a critical element of discovery and learning. Integrating the creative arts into all learning experiences enhances academic, social, and personal developmental outcomes.

VAPA Standards

Each seminar in the series is constructed to focus on measurable outcomes related to a specific VAPA standard that directly relates to the enduring understanding of that module. As educators progress through the suite of five seminars, each session provides a lens through which educators become familiar with the VAPA standards and methods for applying new VAPA frameworks in the lessons and units they generate. Creative choice is included as a central feature in every session. One example of a VAPA standard employed is: MUSIC Standard GR 9-10 Proficient: CREATIVE EXPRESSION Compose, Arrange, and Improvise 2.6 Compose music, using musical elements for expressive effect.