Art Works Blog

Does in-school arts education matter?

Next Wednesday, August 27, we'll present the next webinar in our arts and human development series. Mariale Hardiman of Johns Hopkins University and Ivonne Chand O'Neal of the Kennedy Center will share their thoughts on the question: How do in-school arts education programs affect student creativity, academics, or social outcomes? We've asked both of our guest panelists to give us their initial thoughts on the topic in order to set the stage for next week's conversation. We hope you'll register to join us for this free webinar on arts.gov. (Can't make it? Don't worry; we'll post an archive of the webinar shortly after the event.)
 
 Photo of researcher and educator Mariale Hardiman
Mariale Hardiman. Photo by Glenwood Photography
 
As I reflect on my experience and research regarding how the arts may be a means to improve students’ academic outcomes and creativity, I must admit to my own transformation; thus, an apt title for this blog might be “How I Became a Reformed Educator.”
 
Before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins, I was principal of a large K-8 school in Baltimore, a position that came with the pressure of improving test scores or facing troubling repercussions that would affect the entire school community. So our school focused on the tested subjects and, as a result, the arts went by the wayside. We were not alone in this approach. Across the country, high-stakes testing has triggered a well-documented “narrowing of the curriculum,” resulting in diminished opportunities for the arts and other non-tested subjects.
 
It didn’t take long for our targeted work to pay off. The school received yearly performance awards for improved and sustained achievement. Yet, I saw that something was amiss in our academic climate. I came to realize that the vitality that I was seeking for the school could only be accomplished through robust arts programs. With the support of some arts advocates, I expanded visual and performing arts positions and also trained classroom teachers to use the arts as a tool to teach and reinforce content instruction. 
 
As predicted, a focus on the arts transformed the school--students were more engaged in learning, arts and classroom teachers shared ideas, and parents noted a more creative approach to assignments. In short, learning became more visible. Interestingly, teachers began to note that students recalled information better when taught through arts-integrated lessons.  
 
A few years later, I had the opportunity to test this idea when I became a faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Education. I lead research and curriculum-writing teams to design arts-integrated fifth-grade science units and matched control units. We conducted two randomized control trials to test the effects of arts-integration on long-term retention of academic content. The preliminary study tested two sets of units in four fifth-grade classrooms in a single school; the pilot study tested four units in 16 classrooms across six schools. We used pre, post, and two-month delayed tests to measure initial learning and retention of content.
 
As predicted, results from our preliminary study showed no differences between conditions in initial learning but significantly better retention in the arts-integrated condition. Analyzing results by levels of achievement revealed that increases in retention were greatest for students at the lowest levels of reading achievement. (Data analysis for the pilot study is in progress.)
 
Although the findings of our preliminary study are promising, more research is needed to determine the effects of arts integration on memory and on other important learning outcomes such as creative thinking and problem solving. We hope that our process for rigorously testing arts integration will encourage other researchers to contribute to this work. Just as I saw the transformative power of the arts in my K-8 school, I believe that arts integration has the potential to transform educational practices and policies in unique and substantial ways. 
 
Mariale Hardiman, EdD is vice dean, academic affairs; professor of education; and clinical director, Neuro-Education Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.
 
 
 Heashot of Ivonne Chand O'Neal Kennedy Center
Ivonne Chand O'Neal. Photo by Thomas Christopher
 
Selfie, chillax, and hashtag: three new words added to the Scrabble Dictionary as reported in Time magazine on August 4, 2014. These words did not exist in our cultural lexicon 15 years ago; but as of today, rarely can we walk down the street without hearing one of these words multiple times in a single day. The idea of creating something new to provoke, inspire, or solve an existing problem is what fuels us as humans. Research has laid the foundation for our initial understanding of the cognitive processes that shape how ideas are made, processed, and applied. However, one question that has received little attention remains: What happens when you integrate the arts into this process? And more specifically, what happens to student creativity and their level of engagement when the arts are paired systematically with curricular material? 
 
Here’s what we found: fourth- and fifth-grade students who received arts-integrated instruction think that the arts help them understand non-arts subjects like math, and science better. Further, they recognize the influence of the arts in everyday life more often. In addition, these students generated more original and creative ideas and were able to determine uses and applications of these ideas in the real world. In terms of social outcomes, according to teacher reports, students receiving arts-integrated instruction collaborated more, worked better in teams, and participated more in class. 
 
While each of these findings offers insight into how the integration of the arts provides potential access and additional understanding of content, a key finding was in the domain of engagement. Here we found that students in arts-integrated classrooms were more emotionally engaged and applied more effort to their schoolwork. These students believed that they belonged in their classroom. I would posit that to belong could contribute to feelings of new ideas being welcomed into such environments, providing reluctant students with forums for their ideas to be heard and respected. (You can read the white paper on our research here.) 
 
Kids love to play and just make new stuff. They like to tinker, imagine, invent, and fortify.  Participation in the arts offers opportunities to do these very things. The current study offers support for the idea that the pairing of the arts with curricular content presents opportunities to merge the love of play with the challenges of learning. 
 
While my Scrabble skills leave much to be desired, I expect that by working in a performing arts center, my prowess will definitely improve.
 
Ivonne Chand O'Neal is director of research and evaluation at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; on the editorial board of Creativity Research Journal; and co-chair, Culture and Audiences Topical Interest Group of the Ameircan Evaluation Association. 

 

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