A Good Start is So Important
It is commonly agreed that giving kids a good start is a powerful place to improve our nation. The brain of young children is building networks of understanding at an exponential rate—so fast and so large that learning capabilities cannot be adequately judged. The sky is literally the limit! And unfortunately, the challenges that all students face at the beginning of their lives are so fundamental to who we all are that they also tend to resurface in later life. There is a balanced way in which young children face and solve challenges that promotes optimal growth and no one had the formula for that. However, kindergarten students who experience arts integration gain months of learning and also receive a protective factor against learning failures.
Summary Results for Kindergarten
In our study (Southworth, 2016) in the fourth year results at kindergarten we see gains in the treatment group that can be described as more than modest, with kindergarteners gaining four to five months’ additional developmental growth, particularly in the Mathematics and Science domain, where we see at least five months’ additional developmental growth. Mathematics and Science = .27, over five additional months of growth;
- Initiative and Social Relations = .21, between four and five months of additional growth;
- Music and Movement = .17, approximately four months of additional growth;
- Language and Literacy = .15 = Approximately four months of additional growth.
Arts Integration Drives Learning Skills
In Rochester, the definition of Arts integration we started with is not the one we ended with. We started with Rochester City School District’s definition for arts integration, which 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 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.” But the testing results we got from Kindergarten to sixth grade and the classroom teachers’ opinion helped us to change the definition to something like: “arts integration is an effective teaching methodology that drives learning skills” (Southworth, 2016).
By introducing and sustaining a large-scale arts integration intervention over seven years, the emergence of the intervention as an effective teaching methodology instead of a one-time professional development in-service mandated by a district accountability strategy became evident. The model designed by the Arts Department of Rochester was a robust model for arts integration, but the success of that model was embedded in an successful intervention, where teachers were presented evidence of arts integration effectiveness as demonstrated in their own classrooms with their own students. Then the model continued by providing a strong professional development strategy that sustained classroom teachers over four years. Teachers in this district, K-6, used arts integration to favorably impact student lives.
- Southworth, R., Gardiner, M., & Westervelt, N. (2017). Measuring the Effectiveness of Arts Integration on Instructional Improvement and Student Achievement in Disadvantaged Populations. San Antonio, TX: Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting.