Model for School Reform; The Arts and Working Memory

Arts Integration Helps Increase Learning Across all Abilities

I am taking a series of steps to introduce districts to the implementation of our arts integration model for school reform developed by our lab. This 7-year, two-trial, randomized, 35,000 student, treatment and control study of our K-6 school reform model improved 3-6th grade test scores by 40% in Rochester, NY, where the “free and reduced lunch rate” is 86% (Southworth, Gardiner, & Westervelt, 2017). Kindergarteners were gaining four to five months’ additional developmental growth, particularly in the Mathematics and Science domain (Southworth et al., 2017). This reform model uses arts to increase learning across all abilities. This series of steps include introducing arts integration and its role in promoting neuroplasticity and fluid intelligence, explaining the learning model succinctly, emphasizing the low-cost and high-gain test score results, and giving options for implementation that meets district needs.

Model for School Reform

The key feature of our model is the use of in-school, peer-to-peer and job-embedded professional development that supports arts integration intervention effectiveness. Another key feature is that learning the instructional strategies of arts integration overlaps with commonly agreed upon teaching effectiveness. The final key feature of this model for school reform is the low-cost and high-gain reform strategy that helps all students who are at risk for poverty, language and achievement.

Arts Integration Improves Fluid Intelligence

This school reform model builds on research from psychology, brain research on neuroplasticity and fluid intelligence (Sternberg, May, 2008). Arts integration skill training overlaps and supports the best thinking in these other research disciplines and in other disciplines taught in school such as ELA and Math.

Arts integration—the use of the arts as a teaching methodology throughout the curriculum—may improve long-term retention of content. A variety of long-term memory effects well known in cognitive psychology are reviewed, and it is argued that arts integration naturally takes advantage of these effects while promoting student motivation (Rinne, Gregory, Yarmolinskaya, & Hardiman, 2011, Abstract).

Working memory has come to be viewed as a key determiner of fluid intelligence” (Sternberg, May, 2008). Arts integration motivates student learning, improves working memory and enhances fluid intelligence, especially for students who are at risk for poverty, language and achievement.


  • Rinne, L., Gregory, E., Yarmolinskaya, J., & Hardiman, M. (2011). Why Arts Integration Improves Long-Term Retention of Content. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(2), 89-96. doi:10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01114.x
  • 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.
  • Sternberg, R. (May, 2008). Increasing Fluid Intelligence is Possible After AllProceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), 105(19), 6791-6792.
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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