New edition of ‘More than words can say – a view of literacy through the arts’

The 2019 edition of More than words can say is our gift to you in celebration of UNESCO’s International Arts Education Week and NAAE’s 30 years advocating for arts education in Australia.

Each art form chapter has been updated by the authors and NAAE members. It includes contemporary research and unequivocal  evidence that will help you understand what it means to be considered literate in the world today.


Robyn Ewing AM

A view of literacy through the arts
Joan Livermore

Visual literacy
Lee Emery and Adele Flood

Design literacy: process and product
Keith Russell, Kathryn Grushka and Howard Middleton

The language of dance
Ralph Buck

Music literacy in the information technology age
Margaret S. Barrett

The language of drama: Making and communicating meaning
Robin Pascoe

Media literacy and the information age
Roger Dunscombe and Colin Stewart

Afterword (2003 edition): The arts and literacy prospectively
Robin Pascoe

NAAE – A brief history
Julie Dyson AM


Robyn Ewing AM
Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts University of Sydney
May 2019

One of the delightful (and perhaps sometimes unanticipated) outcomes that regularly emerges in the arts community is that of collegiality, strong commitment, enthusiasm and authentic friendships. There is the sheer joy that is part of the fabric of a shared passion for, and engagement in, arts education. I feel both humbled and incredibly privileged to be writing this Foreword for a document that remains as eerily relevant more than two decades after it was first published in 1998. A call to unite and advocate for the arts is once again at hand!

Today there is unequivocal evidence that adds further credibility to the original edition of More than words can say. Quality arts education positively contributes to the shaping of both personal wellbeing and place in the world (Delphin & MacDonald, 2018; Hunter, Aprill, Hill & Emery, 2018), academic performance beyond the arts (Fleming, Gibson & Anderson, 2015; Eisner, 2002) and an understanding of the other.

Each arts discipline embodies distinctive ways of making meaning. Engaging in quality arts processes and experiences not only enhances students’ emotional and social wellbeing and artfulness – it fosters lifelong literacies. As Livermore wrote, all arts disciplines must therefore be understood as different ways of making meaning, different ways of representing reality – different literacies. And as Eisner (2002, p. 5) reminds us, each artform provides another way of being in the world: to experience, to understand, to express and represent meaning.

The Early Years Learning Framework articulates these understandings clearly. Published in 2009 after extensive consultation with early childhood educators, it states that literacy should be defined as:

… the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all its forms. Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, storytelling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. (DEEWR, 2009, p. 38, my emphasis)

Yet there is still no universally accepted definition of what it means to be literate today. UNESCO’s (2014, p.149) definition, however, proposes that contemporary literacy should be understood as ‘reading the world’ so we can ‘develop the capacity for social awareness and critical reflection as a basis for personal and social change.’ However, despite the ever-growing international and national research and consistent rhetoric, the arts continue to be marginalised in Australia. We must ask why.

Recently Evelyn Chapman, Brisbane Catholic Education Arts, used the concept of the Arts in Symphony for the Arts Big Day Out. The concept of symphony resonates strongly with me – the understanding that the need to synthesise and cross traditional discipline boundaries is integral to our future work together in, through and across the arts. We must combine the different and disparate, and ensure we dialogue to create a compelling understanding of the whole.

It is a given then that all children are entitled to a quality arts-rich curriculum that fosters the development of teachers’ and children’s creativity, imagination, self-confidence and identity. We must counter the simple ‘one size fits all’ approach to literacy and pedagogy that continues to pervade the focus of policymakers and bureaucrats. Improving our test performance and ranking in the world of benchmarks causes huge anxieties for many educators and their learners.

The potential of the arts in symphony to promote self-understanding and wellbeing and to make meaning to illuminate the advantages of viewing the world from multiple perspectives is limitless. Contemporary research, alongside multi-disciplinary and transdisciplinary arts-rich initiatives, underline that we must blur the boundaries while maintaining respect for the integrity of each arts discipline.

As MacDonald, Hunter, Ewing and Polley (2019) write:

Genuine collaboration is both critical and central and for enabling/empowering teacher knowledge and understanding. Working together, learning from each other and sharing new ideas grows experience and expertise and the professional dialogue nurtures the development of authentic learning communities. With such opportunities, teachers can build courage to embed the Arts in their pedagogies across the curriculum and to articulate their philosophies and processes.


Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.

Delphin, T., & MacDonald, A. (2018). Sanitising landscapes: Implications for meaning-making. Journal of Artistic and Creative Education 12(1), 3-17.

Eisner, E. (2004). What Can Education Learn from the Arts about the Practice of Education? International Journal of Education and the Arts 5(4).

Fleming, J., Gibson, R. & Anderson, M. (Eds) (2015). How Arts Education Makes a Difference: Research Examining Successful Classroom Practice and Pedagogy. New York: Routledge.

Hunter, M., Aprill, A., Hill, A & Emery, S. (2018). Education, Arts and Sustainability. Emerging Practice for a Changing World. London: Springer.

MacDonald, A., Hunter, M., Ewing, R. and Polley, J. (2018). Dancing Around Drawn Edges: Reimagining Deficit Storylines as Sites for Relational Arts Teacher Professional Learning Collaboration. Australian Art Education 39(3), 455-467.

UNESCO. (2014). Adult and Youth Literacy. National Regional and Global Trends 1985-2015.

Julie Dyson