Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

School started for us here in Culver City this week. In preparing my first day’s speech to this year’s students, I decided to speak not only of the four domains of English language arts, but of eight domains, once you add in “The Arts.” “Language Arts is reading, writing, speaking and listening; everything else is details,” I say. So what about grammar? It is part of speaking and writing. To this I have added, woven in, and integrated, the four domains of The Arts: music, theater, dance/movement, and visual arts.

Students were thrilled to share with the class that they create music with instruments and/or their voices! I found that I had whole bands or orchestras of students in my room! A handful of students in each class already dance and/or do martial arts. Some of them play sports, and I told them that the “moves” or “plays” you learn for soccer, basketball or football can just as legitimately be considered a “dance.” No sooner did I question the dance aspect of baseball, than I found an article called “The Swing” in an issue of Sports Illustrated; we’ll read the article together before the end of this week in class.

I attended what was called a “collaborative arts” event at the John Anson Ford theater the other night. While there, I scribbled down these eight domains into an arguable hierarchy. My goal is to have students debating, in speech and/or in writing, about which domain is the “highest” art form out of: listening, music, speaking, theater, reading, dance/movement, writing and visual art; I put them in that order, from low to high. Care to comment?

I believe that it all starts with LISTENING. There was a child talking through the entire first half of the performance I attended, before his mother mercifully took him home. I realized that he was not in a capacity to take in most aspects of the show, other than seeing small, relatively static (except for the occasional dancers) figures on the stage. The way I see it, before any arts or language arts concepts can be comprehended, let alone appreciated, a LISTENING environment must be created. I find it interesting that this not only relates to school, but also to the business world. Whether you are a salesperson, or a CEO, your ability to listen to your clients and/or employees, is the attribute that will set you apart.

After listening, naturally, comes MUSIC. You can obviously listen to music, and sometimes must read notes in order to play it. You can dance or move to it, and use your voice to produce it. Music could almost be the first rung on this ladder, but, if music is not heard – if nobody is listening – is it music? If you think about it, music persists to touch every domain: of course there is music in theater, sometimes if only to create mood. Music is sometimes improvised, but often written down after or while creating. Finally, I always play music while students are creating art, and asking students to draw what they hear in music is yet another type of (excellent!) assignment.

As with the performance I just attended, and, in fact, most musical performances, music often is punctuated by speech. If not specifically sung to (singing being both a part of music AND SPEAKING), there are usually introductions and explanations between musical pieces. At another performance I attended at the Hollywood Bowl earlier in the week, some of the best parts of the evening involved violin virtuoso Itzak Perlman showing off not only his violin prowess, but also his sense of humor and warmth, as he narrated throughout the evening.

What do you have when there is a listening audience, and, perhaps, a cast of people listening to each other with music and speech (dialog and narration)? You have THEATER. Theater Arts incorporates virtually all of the arts/language arts domains: from the writing and reading of a script to the choreography of the movement of characters on stage, and the art of set design, lighting and costumes. Indeed, all of the standards can and should be interwoven into a tapestry of overlapping Venn diagrams. Some of my students are involved in musical theater, so when I asked them to describe their best experience ever in any ONE of the eight domains, they found it difficult to stick to only one. It is ultimately debatable, and depends on the part you play in the process, about whether musical theater could be classified under music or theater. The point is, it is a worthy debate.

READING is next. It is already part of almost all of the domains, but to even get to the theater, you must read a playbill or ad for a show. It can include research about the performance and/or its actors, writers, directors, conductors, producers. You read the show program during and after the performance, and then read more about the story you saw or the instrument played. Improvisational performances may not require the pre-reading and memorization of a script or lyrics to a song, but most people on a stage, from a politician’s speech, to an executive’s presentation, to a front-of-the-class social studies or science project, require the reading of source materials at first, and, eventually, notes.

The next three standards are the icing on the cake; they are, similar to certain parameters of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, the highest level of arts/language arts expression, both as support for the above four standards, as well as standing in their own right.

Next in line (pun intended) is DANCE and/or movement. Interpreting music, speech or something read into physical movement requires commitment of not only mind, but body. You must be able to listen carefully and break down music into parts, then create a meaningful representation of those parts, utilizing hands, feet, legs, arms, and other body parts to demonstrate the sounds. Even people who are hearing impaired, or deaf, can still enjoy a musical performance, if they can see dance and movement.

Finally, there is the WRITING. Many will argue that writing must come earlier, perhaps even before music. Music is written, speeches are written, scripts and agendas manage theater, and anything read is written. Writing allows for creation, reproduction, and documentation. Writing is the highest form of language; it requires craft to produce, and, like visual art, it can be seen and touched. It is made to last forever.

Last, but not least, is VISUAL ART. This includes all manner of illustration, painting, photography, film making and viewing. It also includes crafts like paper folding, mosaics, crocheting, sculpture and many other forms. Either as an inspiration to spur all of the other seven domains, or, after the other standards have been met, or as a supplement to the other standards, visual arts is the requisite piece of the puzzle. I have taught a blind student in my regular Language Arts class, and I insisted on having him participate in my visual arts lesson about the Japanese artist Hiroshige and woodblock printing by having a few of Hiroshige’s prints translated into Braille. The student was able to “see” the detail of the paintings. Further, the Hollywood Bowl performance I attended, which also involved symphony music, violin solos and singing, did not include dance. One criticism among us was that an artist’s (for example, Chagall’s) work superimposed on the white background of the amphitheatre’s half dome, would have lended a music fuller experience. The performers kept talking about places in Eastern Europe that the composers of this or that melody had come from; photos, maps, artwork, would have made it more three-dimensional.

California state teachers are busy now aligning their curriculum with the new, so-called “Common Core Standards.” These may be the standards used for a new type of testing (less multiple choice, more short answer), but a rich, arts-filled, English curriculum will always enable students to meet these academic goals and then some.

The Actors' Gang


  1. I really like your article because it talks about what we are learning in school. I think my highest art form is theatre because I love to act and I can express myself creatively.

  2. Hello Ms. Morris,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. It has not only motivated me to incorporate more of the The Arts into my life, but also has made me realize the vastness of the various forms of arts. I like how you have related one form of art to another as if making a torus-linked chain. I believe that the first ring in that chain is reading as it is the key to the other seven doors that are listening, music, speaking, theater, dance/movement, writing, and visual arts. I place reading first because I think that one can learn much from delving into the work of experienced writers like you! Moreover, I think that reading is also the key to accumulating various different ideas that will help one to develop his/her writing. Although, I believe that we should expand the limits of the writing domain and make it an overall domain called expression of thought. Your way to express your idea should not be limited to only writing. Once it’s expanded, we can fuse the different arts into the list of expressions. This way, one can choose his/her desired approach and start customizing his/her accumulated ideas to perhaps make a film script, write a novel, or even make a painting to convey their thought to the world. This also condenses the eight domains into the four following: reading, expression of thought, speaking, and listening.

  3. i liked this article because it talked about what we are doing in class and that you named some of the 8 domains reading,listening,music,reading,writing,etc… My best one would probably be dance because i love to watch people dance and i love to dance with my family and friends. i liked that in listing you compared school to the business world.

  4. Hi Ms. Morris,
    After reading your article I realized that I use the eight domains daily. I can relate to your article because I play lacrosse. When you play lacrosse you have to do many dodges, moves, and fakes. In a real game you have to be moving nonstop either guarding or defending your girl or trying to get open to receive a pass. When you have the ball you have to do certain moves at certain times in order to make a goal. To a choreographer these moves can be part of a dance that a ballerina would do at a concert.
    I can argue with you that visual arts isn’t the “highest” art domain. In my opinion speaking and listening should be one of the top domains, then followed by dance/movement and so on. Speaking and listening should be one of the top domains because with these you can express your opinion and feelings and endure the information that is given to you.

  5. I really liked this article because it expresses the main domains(word play) of the arts.I especially likened this article because my English teacher was basically giving a detailed more lenghty version of the lecture ,she gave us. Personally I think that musical theater is a branch from theater.

  6. I liked this article because it talked about the eight domains. And how you taught a blind kid visual arts. I also like the title and the picture.

  7. I have never thought of Language Arts like this, so this is a foreign concept to me, but it is a very unique and creative way to approach English class.

  8. Ms. Morris, I liked your article and I think that a listening environment is important because distractions will make you not pay attention. I think visual arts is easier for me to understand, so that would be my highest domain.

  9. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I think you are very right about the theater having all the domains of language arts. In response to the last paragraph, I couldn’t agree more. I also agree that reading and writing is involved in theater, even though most people don’t realize that reading and writing is, In fact involved with theater, not only for the playbill, but for the script. You are right about how listening is envoled with music, because of course a person must listen to listen to music.

  10. I enjoyed reading this article because I learned more about the eight domains of Language ARTS in great detail. I also liked reading this article through a teacher’s eyes. I think the most important domain of Language Arts is Listening because through Listening you are able to learn more. Listening is the first step to learning and using the eight domains. When you listen you are able to hear other people’s perspectives and opinions. I also love your title ” Ruth’s Truths.”

  11. HI I think this helps us learn because we are talking about ho dance is also like sports, karate and games

  12. Dear Ms.Morris,
    Thank You for sharing the article with us. I enjoyed reading it and the opportunity to reflect and think about what I regard as the most important domains. I believe they are all important. However, I would have to say that I would regard Listening and Reading are the most important ones in terms of priority.

  13. Dear Ms.Morris,
    Thank You for sharing the article with us. I enjoyed reading it and the opportunity to reflect and think about what I regard as the most important domains. I believe they are all important. However, I would have to say that I would regard Listening and Reading are the most important ones in terms of priority.

  14. Dear Ms. Morris,
    I really liked your article because it just shows how interwoven all the arts are. Every domain that you talked about here is in some way connected to another, which is another reason why groups of people who do the arts get along so well! I think that all of the domains are very important and help many people to express themselves, but above all, theatre, because it incorporates all of the domains. Music, for either musical theatre or background music, reading, for scripts, writing, for the screenwriters and directors, dance, for musical theatre again, speaking, of course for lines, reading for reading of the scripts, visual arts, for set design, and listening, because the actors have to listen to one another. There are arguments for other domains, but in my opinion, theatre is the highest.

  15. Hi Ms.Morris
    I really enjoyed reading this artical because it talks about the eight domains but in a teachers point of view.I also liked it because it talks about what were learing in class.

  16. Mrs. Morris, you are such an amazing writer and just so descriptive about everything, to the eight domains and the arts how they are all similar but different in their own way. It’s also very creative, new, different and reflects a new meaning to language arts. Thanks so much for writing this and I can’t wait for more.

  17. Hi Ms.Morris,
    Thank you for sharing such an interesting article with us. I really enjoyed the details of each domain you explained. The domains I most relate to are reading and visual arts. I’m a “visual” learner. I also like to create art in many forms: watercolor, pastels, and pencil. I totally agree with your statement that art would have made your experience at the Hollywood Bowl more three-dimensional. Visual Arts bring everything to life.

  18. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I really liked your article on what L.A. really meant. Out of all the teachers I’ve had, I think that none of them really incorporated the arts and the language part together. I also loved the details of the 8 domains and how all of them are necessary, but different and unique. In my opinion,everyone has all the eight domains, but some people have a little more of some than others. For me, though, I like writing and reading, but I also like music, and theater, too. I hope that you will write more of these articles in the future, because I would love to read them.

  19. Mrs. Morris, you are such an amazing writer and just so descriptive about everything.
    I really liked your article on what L.A. really meant.I enjoyed reading it and the opportunity to reflect and think about what I regard as the most important domains. I enjoyed reading this artical because it talks about the eight domains.

  20. Ms. Morris,
    I think that your article on the domains of English Language Arts. I agree with you on the part that once you add the “Arts”, it really means something totally different. I look forward to reading more articles of yours on CCCR.

  21. Hello Mrs.Morris I really loved this article and how you explained everything so nicely. It was a really good and really understanding.

  22. Usually language arts is kind of boring, but since you added the actual arts, it has become more fun and enjoyable.

  23. Ms. Morris,
    i do swimming and each stroke is like a mini dance. When you swim your arms are the part that will feel like a dance. All of the strokes are hard but if you think of it as a dance then it will not be so hard.

  24. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I am so excited to be in your class this year. my dad was in your Japanese language class a couple of years with you, and he told me you were a great teacher. I am very very interested with love with Japan. I also, have been taking Japanese since kindergarten and i am continuing the language. I also play volleyball and ion the varsity team. I can’t wait for the exciting subjects we are going to learn this year. Thank you!

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