Professional Practice in the Arts

In this era of multiple proposals for improving schools, the arts provide an interesting strategy that combines natural engagement with increased learning. The arts are always perceived as fun and interesting to students. They expect to have choices in the arts curriculum, they expect it will be engaging and they get to create something out of their ideas. The payoff is increased memory, engagement and skill acquisition (Southworth, Gardiner, Westervelt, 2016).

Characteristics of Professional Learning

One strategy for strengthening schools and teachers is to adopt a set of characteristics of professional learning in and through the arts (Barnum, 2017):

  1. Research-based and Experiential: “Pedagogy needs to be research-based educational theory in order to build teacher efficacy, professional learning must be grounded in research based educational theory that spans all disciplines, not just the arts…teachers need to participate in the actual lessons they take back and teach in their classrooms, learning experientially how these instructional practices play out.”
  2. Concept-based instruction:“conceptual learning is the highest level of learning because the attributes the concept are broad and abstract, timeless, universal, and can be represented by different examples with common attributes.”
  3. Arts Infusion: “An arts-infused lesson is one that teaches concepts that are authentically shared between two or more disciplines, for example, symmetry.”
  4. Clear learning targets and criteria; “teachers should be able to clearly articulate the learning targets – what students should know and do – and the criteria – what the students do or say to demonstrate understanding – for every lesson.”
  5. Performance-based assessment: “student outcomes are measured against clear criteria and are based on what students demonstrate they know and can do through an artistic expression. Multiple forms of performance-based assessments are utilized and include criteria-based checklists, self-assessment, written reflection, clear assessment and feedback, group reflection and response, and analytic rubrics. Performance-based assessments our embedded throughout instruction to check for understanding. Data are used formatively to adjust instruction” (p. 129-130).

The Role of Research

In our research on the effects of arts integration on student achievement, two recommendations are worthy of note here:

  1. Quality. 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 set this up as a national priority for improving student learning throughout the nation? (Southworth, Gardiner, Westervelt, 2016).

De-Linking Testing Policy

Also important in our work is a recommendation for policymakers who could choose policies that de-link achievement on standardized tests as the proof of arts integration success, and re-link arts integration with real learning advantages:

  1. De-Linking Testing Policy. 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? What not invent new ways that arts education are accountable, including but not limited to new forms of performance 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? (Southworth, Gardiner, Westervelt, 2016).

Professional Practice Leads to Increases in Student Learning

This is why professional practice in the arts is foundational to student success in learning—because it works through high student engagement. The arts create quality and equity as they invite students to learn better. 


  • Barnum, S. (2017). Professional Learning In and Through the Arts In G. Diaz & M. McKenna (Eds.), Preparing Educators for Arts Integration. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Southworth, R., Gardiner, M. & Westervelt, N. (2017). Measuring the Effect of Arts Integration on Academic Achievement and Instructional Improvement in Disadvantaged Populations; Four-Year (2011-2014) Evaluation Report Of the Rochester Arts Impact Study Enhancement in Rochester, NY; Retrieved from New York City: The SchoolWorks Lab, inc.: (Southworth, Gardiner, Westervelt, 2016).
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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