Dwindling school resources, as well as pressure to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, have led many schools to narrow the curriculum, leaving behind arts instruction. But, through carefully designed integrated curricula, educators can still provide students with arts education.
In the United States, some schools and districts have had to let go of visual art, music, dance, and drama instructors due to shrinking budgets. At the same time, administrators bemoan the fact that they can no longer find room in the school day for classes outside of core content areas because so much time must be spent preparing students for standardized state assessments.
Despite these woes, arts education advocates argue that while teaching art for art's sake is certainly beneficial for all students, studies also show that participating in the arts can actually boost student achievement in other academic areas. Therefore, arts groups are partnering with schools to provide professional development for teachers interested in integrating arts instruction across content areas.
Making the Connection Between the Arts and the Brain
In 2004, the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium assembled neuroscientists from seven U.S. universities to study how arts training can enhance academic performance. The findings, detailed in Learning, Arts, and the Brain, The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition (2008), show that young people interested in "doing" art—studying and performing music, dance, and drama—may also demonstrate increased motivation to learn in other subject areas, which leads to improved cognition.
Learning to play a musical instrument can also have a significant impact on students, according to the study.
Learning, Arts, and the Brain shows that music training can bolster young people's memorization skills, providing them with the "ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory." Music training can also help children make gains in math and reading classes. For example, the study noted links between children's "practice of music and skills in geometrical representation" and correlations "between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning."
Because, as research shows, music and arts training can help students in other academic areas, educators are finding creative ways to integrate arts instruction into a variety of classes. Arts integration curriculum design gives all students—not just those identified as "gifted and talented"—the opportunity to express their creativity and to learn critical-thinking, problem-solving, and innovation skills. But sometimes integrating art into the curriculum is easier said than done. Developing and implementing a curriculum that meaningfully integrates arts instruction (and meets identified standards) requires a great deal of professional development and planning, collaboration, and teamwork among educators.
A+ Schools' Arts Integration
Using arts-integrated instruction and incorporating Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, the A+ Schools model combines "interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to learn through all the ways in which they are able," the A+ Schools Web site explains.
Based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), the A+ Schools program was established in North Carolina in 1995, and now there are 42 A+ Schools across the state.
Gerry Howell, executive director of the A+ Schools program, argues that many subjects have gotten left behind due to NCLB's narrow focus. But through the A+ Schools' reform model, students learn rich content, master skills and standards, and still engage in fun and exciting arts instruction that enhances their understanding of content. Howell says arts instruction supports the A+ Schools' philosophy of educating the whole child: "Our view is that the arts honor and support the needs of the whole child and they support the natural ways that children learn."
When a school applies to be part of the A+ program, staff must undergo a three-year training process. Howell says schools should set as their goal to have four art teachers—visual art, dance, theater, and music—and form partnerships with local artists and art organizations, agencies, and councils that can enrich classroom instruction. A+ Schools also benefit by receiving training and resources from UNCG.
Although outside partnerships are important, the true key to a successful arts integration program is collaboration among teachers, notes Howell. "Training consists of curriculum mapping; everybody is involved in doing it: arts teachers, PE teachers, media specialists—everyone."
Teachers look at the mapped curriculum and decide where gaps and conceptual connections are, Howell adds.
Working in teams, they then develop thematic units, integrating all the subjects.
To enhance arts instruction in North Carolina's rural schools, the A+ Schools program sends short-term teaching artists to work with students and classroom teachers. "Even when rural schools have the funding to hire arts teachers, they have difficulty finding them," says Howell. Therefore, the program has developed an initiative to train and dispatch 44 teaching artists to rural districts throughout the state.
Howell believes arts integration can prepare students with skills they will need as adults. "The workplace is not just about math and science anymore. The arts teach creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation," she says.
Instituting the Arts in Alabama Schools
The Alabama Institute for Education in the Arts (AIEA) is a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive arts education professional development services to schools throughout Alabama. The organization trains classroom teachers and administrators about the philosophy of arts integration. "By combining knowledge and thinking in different disciplines, students learn to apply knowledge learned in one area to challenges in another area—a skill that will serve them well—both in school and in real life," says the AIEA Web site.
To assist educators in developing and implementing arts integration programs, AIEA offers extensive professional development, says Executive Director Linda Dean. Administrators, teachers, and arts specialists can participate in a one-week summer institute in Montgomery, Ala., where they can learn from discipline experts. The training institute includes integrated curriculum design workshops that focus on integrating arts standards with standards in other subject areas.
Like the A+ Schools program, AIEA helps to bring the arts to rural schools. The organization receives funding through the Dana Foundation to train "teaching artists" for work in rural areas. AIEA's cadre of Dana Teaching Artists includes a potter, a puppeteer, a quilter, a blues guitarist, an opera singer, a painter, a woodcarver, dancers, and actors, explains Dean. In addition to one- or two-day workshops in schools, the teaching artists also conduct two four-week residencies, where they work with classroom teachers to plan lessons that will meet standards in one or more subject areas.
"As most rural schools in Alabama do not have arts specialists (and probably will never have them—especially not one in each art discipline), a fundamental of any arts integration must be to find the correlation between core subject and art area standards and content," explains Randy Foster, AIEA program director. Working together, classroom teachers and artists create lesson plans, learning objectives, and assessments that address each standard and content area, says Foster.
(Out)Laws & Justice
The (Out)Laws & Justice program, based in Los Angeles, Calif., is a great example of how to integrate arts instruction across several content areas. Geared toward middle school students, ages 11 to 14, the program's interdisciplinary curriculum meets national learning standards in history and social science, English language arts, and theater arts. The program strives to increase students' literacy, critical thinking, and conflict resolution skills and prepare the students for adult life. Students conduct research about the frontier society of the Old West to write and produce plays that relate the issues of that time to the conflicts they face today in their own lives.
"(Out)Laws & Justice employs educational drama to teach about the American West in ways that require students and teachers to examine the meanings, relationships, and conflicts that shaped key historical events and processes. Students investigate, interact, and reflect on issues directly through dramatic contextualized experiences provided in the classroom," explains Lisa Citron, the program's founder and executive director. "The plays deal with tough questions close to home, about life in the Old West and their own families and schools, then and now."
To train teachers to use the (Out)Laws & Justice curriculum, the organization leads a five-day institute for classroom teachers and teaching artists, in which participants learn to integrate the necessary content, teach drama skills, and work with reluctant students to help them take ownership of their learning. "Teachers learn to guide students to do the thinking, talking, decision making, and problem solving, all the while keeping clear learning outcomes in mind," says Citron.
Pushing Past the Paper
The benefits of arts instruction cannot be measured by standardized tests, but students can certainly use the skills they gain in areas outside of the arts. If the point is to increase students' academic achievement, then providing a rich, creative curriculum will serve that end.
"Statistical research ([by] Americans for the Arts) indicates young people who participate in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, perform community service, participate in math and science fairs, and win writing awards, and three times more likely to win school attendance awards," says Dean. Integrating the arts just may help to keep students interested and involved.
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