Creating, Cultivating, and Sustaining a Culture of Achievement
September 27, 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 26
Table of Contents
Arts Integration Program Uses Collaborative Culture to Improve Student Learning
A common lament about our schools today is that teachers rarely have a chance to collaborate and think outside their own "silos," whether they be content areas, classrooms, or traditional ways of teaching.
In fact, collaboration can be a powerful tool to transform instructional practices by providing "opportunities for adults across a school system to learn and think together about how to improve their practice in ways that lead to improved student achievement" (Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2004, p. 2).
The Perpich Arts Integration Project is finding out what happens when teachers join forces with resourceful licensed arts educators to collaboratively deliver arts-integrated lessons based on best practices. With support from the Minnesota legislature and the state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the Perpich Center for Arts Education is working with 40 K–12 teachers in west-central Minnesota to increase student learning through arts integration. Now in its second year, the project employs several effective collaborative strategies.
Planning and Delivering Arts-integrated Lessons Together
Teachers often do not have the opportunity to study standards in content areas outside their own disciplines, but moving beyond one's own discipline is central to this project. Teachers create lesson plans that align state standards, learning goals, and assessments for K–12 classrooms. Science teacher Shana Pazdernik-Hensch and visual arts teacher Tammy Olson at New York Mills High School collaborated on a lesson in which biology students photographed ecosystems, described and analyzed the human effect on them, and communicated their understanding of various visual arts elements and principles within their photos (e.g., value, form, texture and repetition, pattern, balance).
"It takes time to create a really good lesson when collaborating, implementing standards, and making sure to assess the standards, not just content learned. I have a greater appreciation for the arts by applying them to my classroom. We learned that art and science have terms that cross over, such as symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial, so using similar terms will help students understand in different classrooms and life settings," says Pazdernik-Hensch.
Collaboratively Reviewing Student Work
Using a protocol process, teachers across different schools, grades, and subjects serve as peer reviewers. Teachers begin by recording individual observations about student work. Then they share their observations with others and respond to the question, "What student learning do we see in this sample?" Next, the teachers examine the alignment of benchmarks, classroom learning goals, assessment activities, and evaluative criteria. The group then uses the evaluative criteria to collectively score the student work. The presenting teacher shares his or her experience with the review process. Finally, teachers discuss the quality of the arts integrated lesson in terms of balance of content, rigor of learning, authenticity of instruction, and richness of connections.
Partnering To Assess Student Learning
In the first year, teachers represented four different arts subject areas (media arts, music, theater, and visual arts) and eight subject areas outside the arts (Advanced Placement psychology, English language arts, family and consumer science, history, math, science, social studies, and technology). They provided evidence about the effect of the project on student learning by rating the proficiency of student work produced during the arts-integrated lessons. Over 86 percent of the 1,268 students submitted work that teachers considered to meet a level of proficiency or even better—exceeding their proficiency expectations.
Students demonstrated proficiency in many ways, such as creating artwork to express ideas related to the Civil Rights movement or by describing how technology has historically created demands for new scientific knowledge or mathematics. Students also used literary and narrative techniques to create mythological heroes who would solve problems in their community, such as animal control, use of fertilizers, and bringing back railroads to transport agricultural products.
When teachers have opportunities to plan and deliver arts-integrated learning and reflect on student performance, the process comes full circle. Gina Hoffarth, a 1st grade teacher at Osakis Elementary School, called the collaboration between school professionals and those of the Perpich Center for Arts Education "a positive experience" that produced effective, standards-based lessons.
"Our planning sessions were always centered around what was best for our students based on what was developmentally appropriate and what would provide a rich learning experience," said Hoffarth.
Annenberg Institute for School Reform. (2004). Professional learning communities: professional development strategies that improve instruction (PDF). Providence, RI: Brown University.
Christa Treichel, president of Cooperative Ventures, is an independent consultant who evaluated the Perpich Arts Integration Project.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 26. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.