Teachers are begging for new ways to engage students in American classrooms. Each year brings a fresh set of student eyes, an additional set of learning needs, and a call for new teaching strategies. The diversity of learning styles displayed by current students far outstrips the professional strategies employed by current teachers. What teachers are begging for is teaching strategies that go beyond meeting student learning needs to engage, sustain and propel student learning. Arts integration has been underway in Rochester, NY for many years:
Arts integration is the use of arts strategies (singing, dancing/movement, acting, creating art projects) combined with classroom curriculum to help students understand concepts and content. For example, The Systemic Arts Plan has been a part of the [Rochester, NY] City School District curriculum for the past three years. Its purpose is to integrate the arts into the K-6 curriculum. The use of arts in the classroom is called arts-integration (Southworth et. al., [2015 report in press]. Measuring the Effects of Arts Integration on Student Achievement).
What teachers like about arts integration is that the arts create multiple pathways for student learning that meet the basic needs of learners and go beyond those needs by allowing students to be creative in their individual pathway of learning. The use of arts integration in regular classrooms introduces respect for individual student creativity and may propel students to engage, commit, struggle, learn, and achieve. In our study on arts integration in Rochester, NY (Southworth et. al., [2015 report in press]. Measuring the Effects of Arts Integration on Student Achievement).we found:
- New Arts Education Policy Needed. The current research on integrating the arts into core curriculums can only make a small contribution to the larger understanding of arts education but that contribution has major implications for defining policy in arts education: students who experience quality arts integration in ELA and Math are likely to perform better intellectually and be accountable for what they know and can do. Why not add arts integration to the national priority for improving student learning throughout the nation?
- Better Assessment of the Arts. Most importantly, especially for policy in arts education, why not let the increase in student achievement on standardized tests in Common Core take care of itself, and not pose as a justification for the role of the arts in K-12 schools? Why not invent new ways that arts education are accountable, including but not limited to new forms of embedded assessments, embedded work in Common Core and Arts Standards, and new ways of understanding the real learning advantage gained by participating in carefully constructed arts integration experiences?
- Narrowing the Curriculum. For the last 14 years national education policy has held all school systems accountable for delivering 100% attainment of proficiency in standards measured by standardized tests. Despite any real change in student scores, the curriculum has been narrowed in order for teachers to teach to these high-stakes tests. The logical end-game of such policies would mean that schools would continue to cut all subjects out, not just arts and sports, but also science and social studies and eventually English and Math. The policy of narrowing the curriculum would come to its logical conclusion that only “comprehension” would be taught.
- Reverse the Trend to Cut the Arts. However, the fourteen-year policy of narrowing the curriculum has failed to boost student achievement and it has shredded two thousand years of thinking that a liberal arts education is a worthy goal of our K-12 strategy. The liberal arts are to be used together, as the brain integrates the information and results in a more rounded and educated student. The only analysis left is to re-instate a liberal arts curriculum, reverse the trend in cutting the arts, and reinvigorate the curriculum with not just an arts integrated approach, but also a science, technology, engineering, ARTS and math integration (STEAM).
- Build the capacity of districts and schools to integrate the arts. In order to do establish a fully integrated curriculum, teachers must be educated, and policy should be changed from accountability for student test scores to accountability for learning how to educate every student, from every walk of life, for improvement of student learning that will show up in every way that we can think to test it.
- Focus this policy on Job-Embedded, peer-to-peer professional development. What this research found that is very important for professional development policy is that teachers learn best from other teachers. This is well known in the literature but it has to enjoy support from the central office. When watching other teachers teach, especially their own students, which we have called “job-embedded professional development,” teachers overwhelmingly endorsed that this was the best chance for them to understand how integrating the arts can be done well in their classrooms with their students.
- Change the Work of Teachers. The logical conclusion from our work is to promote a change in policy for what we expect teachers to do during their instructional day. Teachers should be diagnosing student learning needs, supporting new ways to engage students in learning, especially through arts integration, and learning how to do that with excellent examples of teachers who teach their students.