Mutually Reinforcing Arts Integration

Arts Integration Helps Increase Learning Across all Disciplines

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.

Before our school reform model was implemented in 2007, many art forms were in use in most classrooms in Rochester, NY. The widespread use of the art forms in those classrooms confirms how useful they are to teachers:

Our Artist in Residence program is fantastic. When I integrate acting, dancing, or art projects I find my students strive to meet or exceed expectations (6th Grade Teacher, Year 4).

Mutually Reinforcing Thinking

Classroom teachers are familiar with school reform strategies that claim various benefits, but they judge those reforms on what they can see going on in their own classrooms. In this study teachers could see that these arts integration strategies were engaging, but also they could see that arts skills help students think, and this overlaps how students need to think in regular core subjects. Pretty soon we noticed teachers using these mutually reinforcing thinking skills in all subjects.

We try to integrate art in every subject. The arts integration specialist taught our class a figurative language song that they use during ELA. Right now, we are doing an immigration unit and one part of the project, the students have to draw a map of their route to America. In science, students are doing a project on ecosystems (Year 4, 5th Grade Treatment Teacher @33).

“This year I use a lot of small drama activities to make vocabulary more meaningful for students. I also picked up from our visiting artist how to help students think more in depth about a character and how that character might be feeling when we act out a small part of what we are reading.” (Year 4 Second Grade Treatment Teacher @ School #15).

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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