Full-time art specialist Jeffrey Cornwall infuses art into everyday student learning
May 21, 2019
After graduating from BYU in 2011 with a BA in art education, Jeffrey Cornwall taught art at Provo’s Edgemont Elementary School for six years in a position funded by the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTS-ALP). As a full-time art specialist, Cornwall followed the BTS-ALP format of integrating art with the core curriculum in Utah by using art-making as a tool for exploring concepts students studied in their main classrooms.
Each week, Cornwall spent 30-60 minutes with groups of students in kindergarten through sixth grade, expanding their understanding of academic subjects through various artistic methods. After regular meetings with classroom teachers to stay abreast of upcoming lessons, Cornwall brainstormed strategies for infusing art into student learning. The result was a collaboration between Cornwall and his students.
Cornwall shared an example of an exploration through which he led fifth-graders who were learning about volcanoes, earthquakes and erosion.
“Looking at the standards I noticed a bigger idea in there,” Cornwall said. “The standard was more about changes to the surface of the earth, but I also saw an opportunity to explore how change happens and the relationship of change to time.”
Considering this concept of change, Cornwall invited students to examine the impact of an event or series of events from their own lives through an art project. This led to a wide variety of artworks that utilized different mediums.
Throughout this process, Cornwall met with many students about their projects. One girl chose to reflect on the impact of her father’s death several years earlier. She told Cornwall that even though she felt good most of the time, sometimes she felt sad and struggled to regain a sense of happiness. The result of their collaboration was this video documenting her attempt to smile.
According to Cornwall, he wasn’t trying to make future artists of his students but rather to encourage them to learn in meaningful ways.
“Children have these really rich ideas … I just tried to give them space to flourish.”
“Students would present me with ideas and my job was just to provoke them and persuade them to go a little bit further and maybe a little deeper in what the project did for them,” he said. “Children have these really rich ideas and most of the time they could come up with way better ideas than I could. I just tried to give them space to flourish.”
For his dedication to teaching, Cornwall was voted the Utah Elementary Art Teacher of the Year by his peers in 2015. Several times throughout his six years of teaching at Edgemont, Cornwall’s position was in jeopardy due to lack of funding, but the community rallied to hold fundraisers in order to support the art program.
Several years into teaching at Edgemont, Cornwall completed the master’s program in art education at BYU while teaching full-time—an opportunity he said was great for practicing teachers because the balance of theory and practice accelerates learning. His thesis focused on individualized learning in a standardized culture of education.
Currently Cornwall is pursuing a PhD in art education at The Pennsylvania State University, in part to increase his capacity to share personal findings with other art teachers. His research interests include the ethical responsibility of teachers not to see children as less-than, but rather as social actors and producers of culture.