Google “integrating the arts into the classroom curriculum” and the first few entries cite research on integrating the arts into the curriculum for “gifted and talented” students. In her article “Integrating the Arts into the Curriculum for Gifted Students” Joan Franklin Smutny cites studies that have shown that “the arts can significantly advance gifted students’ academic and creative abilities and cognitive functioning…[and that] when integrating the arts into the curriculum, teachers can design experiences that are tied to the unique needs, interests, and abilities of gifted students and challenge them to perform more complex and sophisticated tasks” (Smutny, 2002). If the visual and performing arts “significantly advance” the academic, cognitive and creative abilities of gifted students, then it can be implied that the arts would also enhance the academic, cognitive and creative abilities of the median, struggling, disengaged and disadvantaged students by tying into their unique needs, interests and abilities, as well.
In Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, a broad theme emerged from the research findings: the arts are not distinguished only because they promote learning in specific arts disciplines or because they support learning in other disciplines. Instead, the individual studies seem to suggest a more vibrant, less either-or model for arts in learning and the learning process. The arts act more as a rotary, or traffic circle, with many entrances and exits, than as a linear one-way street. It is this rotary of learning, in which learning in one domain supports and stimulates interest and learning in another
domain which results in heightened achievement (Fiske, 1999, p.10).
We will define “integrating the arts into the curriculum” as students attending an arts class with an arts specialist, the classroom teacher extending study through the use of the arts, and the exploration of an arts project with an outside arts consultant (artist-in-residence).
There is a body of research available that presents compelling arguments for the “why” of integrating arts into the curriculum. Engaging in the arts – visual arts, dance, theater, music or another discipline – nurtures the development of multiple cognitive, social and personal skills and abilities.
The arts enhance the process of learning. The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning (Jensen, 2001, p. 2).
The arts have the power to express meaning in ways that no other medium can match, and students need access to the power of individual expression that the arts give. Some students may not find academic success without it. All students deserve exposure to the arts as a fundamental part of our culture (Tilney, 2001). The arts reach the unreachable, serve the underserved, inspire the uninspired, enlighten the enlightened and allow us to learn where we are. The arts are mankind’s gift to mankind.
• The arts reach students not ordinarily reached (Fiske, 1999).
So-called “hard-to-reach” students used to drop out. As our graduation rates have risen from about 25% in 1920 to close to 70% today (NCES, 1998 ), students who used to drop out of school because of financial needs, behavior and attention disorders, poor memory, pregnancy, weak social skills, household violence, or a host of other problems, are now in schools. As our educational agendas have become more inclusive, we are committed to helping these students stay in school and to succeed. There is evidence the arts are the best vehicle available to do that job (Jensen, 2001, p. 9).
One student in a low-income, minority school walked into his art teacher’s class, looked at his teacher’s art and asked him, “How’d you make that?” The teacher allowed him to study arts (though it took special permission). Over the next two years, the student’s motivation and grades went up and up. He later enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. Successful in his career, [he] is an architect and now a trustee of the University of Pittsburgh (cited in Jensen, 2001, p. 63).
• The arts reach students in ways not ordinarily used (Fiske, 1999).
Students considered classroom failures, the ones who often “act out” because the conventional classroom practices don’t engage them, can become high-achievers in arts learning settings because the arts tap into different styles of learning. Success in the arts became a gateway to learning and eventual success in other learning areas (Fiske, 1999).
At a middle school where in which a significant number of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a wide variety of students compose the art class. The majority of students have some diagnosed learning disability or psychological problem…
The current lesson requires students to draw their backpacks…As the drawings near completion, she asks the students to continue to work but also to listen to excerpts from The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien…The teacher leads a discussion as the students continue to draw…What is a tangible object? What is an intangible object? What are the tangible and intangible things that you carry? The students pull out lined binder paper and begin to write.
One boy in the class, failing academically and regarded by the other teachers in the school as having a severe behavior problem, is a model student in the art classroom. He shows up on time. He works diligently and contributes to group work. He
completes assignments. In his essay, he writes, “One thing which I don’t have many of is pencils. I have long, short, broke, and dull pencils. I’m not proud to say but the most common thing to find in my bag is detention slips. Most important is my future. If I can use some of those things in my backpack right I will make a
good future for me.” Two weeks after he completes this assignment, the school decides to remove him from art in order to intensively drill him in preparation for standardized testing (cited in Siegesmund, 2005, p. 21).
• Arts provide challenges for students at all levels, from delayed to gifted. It’s a class where all students can find their own level (Fiske, 1999).
“Artistic prowess has little to do with traditional intelligence, guided by naming, sorting, logic and memory” (Jensen, 2001, p. 64). The arts encompass many learning styles and intelligences, so the case can be made for their use in the special education and gifted education classrooms. Many teachers wonder how to meet the needs of culturally and cognitively diverse classrooms. The arts may be answer.
Gail Hennessey, a teacher of sixth-grade social studies at Harpersville Central Schools, in New York, believes that immersing her students in the culture of the period they are studying means the arts must, by definition, play a significant role. During her study of medieval times, for example, Hennessey plays Gregorian chants, while students pretend to be monks at work in a scriptorium. Students search the Internet for sources of illuminated manuscripts, then work to develop their own unique illuminated letters. Students view the architecture of the period by looking at cathedrals such as Notre Dame in Paris.
When covering early prehistoric cultures, Hennessey has her students view cave art paintings and then draw their own. During the study of ancient Egypt and areas of the Middle East, students listen to music as they design sarcophogi and artifacts from King Tut’s tomb. They sample foods from the region, as well as listen to stories which originated in that area, such as “1001 Arabian Nights.”
“I strongly feel that students develop a better understanding of other cultures of the world that we are studying by incorporating the arts, music, and literature,” Hennessey says (cited in Tilney, 2001, p. 4-5)
• Students of lower socioeconomic status gain as much or more from arts instruction than those of higher socioeconomic status. This suggests the gifted programs need to expand their target audiences (Fiske, 1999)
One of the critical research findings highlighted in Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning is that the learning in and through the arts can help “level the playing field” for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds (Jensen, 2001, p. 3). Arts-involved students outscore their non-arts-involved peers by up to 30 points on the Verbal Mean and Math Mean potions of the Scholastic Achievement Test (The College Board, 2005). While this can be explained by more affluent students in arts-rich, well-funded schools performing well, students of lower-socioeconomic levels with high level exposure to arts education (4 or more hours of lessons, classes, rehearsals, etc., weekly) also outperformed the low level arts-involved students.
The longer the high level involvement in the arts continued, the greater the difference in the percentage of students scoring above the median. By Grade 12, the difference was 46%.
Furthermore, the test scores of students from families of low socio-economic status (SES), separated out, showed a similar result – i.e. this is not a phenomenon reserved for the already attuned middle class. The high arts/low SES kids in Grade 8 had a comparative advantage of 26.5% over the low arts kids, climbing to 32% by Grade 12. (Catterall, Chapleau & Iwanaga, Fiske, 1999)
These findings underscore the importance of funding arts education in all schools. In American schools, students receive about two hours of arts instructional time per week at the elementary level and the arts are generally not a required subject of study at the secondary level (Eisner, 1992). In Japan, students spend 33% of their time studying the arts, a great deal more than American students, and Japanese students’ achievement in math
and science are higher than those of American students’ achievements in those subjects (Greer, 1997, p. 90).
The arts are not a path solely for the “gifted” or “hard to reach” student. They engage the gifted, the delayed, the average, the struggling and the socio-economically disadvantaged students and help them “tie into” academic and creative learning and cognitive development.
Through the arts students can learn how to discover not only the possibilities the world offers but also their own possibilities (Eisner, 1992).
The arts are not only for the “gifted”. The arts are a gift.
Author: Jo Frannye Reichert
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