The Beaverton School District in Oregon, in partnership with Young Audiences, Inc., Young Audiences Arts for Learning of Oregon/SW Washington, the University of Washington and WestEd received a $4 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant for the Arts for Learning Lessons (A4L) Project.
Of the 1,700 grant applications submitted nationwide, only 49 were selected to receive funding. Of the 49 highest ranking applications, only three projects listed a dedicated arts focus.
The A4L Project was developed by Young Audiences and is an academic program that integrates standards-focused, text-based content and arts strategies to improve student achievement in literacy learning and life skills. The project will serve all 3-5 grade students in the Beaverton School District over five years, with a particular emphasis on high needs students, i.e. English Language Learners, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged, and ethnic/racial minority students. In all, nearly 13,000 students will be served by this 5 year project.
The Investing in Innovation Fund, established under section 14007 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), provides funding to support (1) local educational agencies (LEAs), and (2) nonprofit organizations in partnership with (a) one or more LEAs or (b) a consortium of schools. The purpose of this program is to provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement and attainment in order to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.
Gail Hayes Davis, Executive Director of Young Audiences Arts for Learning of Oregon/SW Washington, had this to say about the award: “We recognize the importance of integrating the arts into the curriculum and we do this through the Arts for Learning Lessons program. This grant is an extraordinary endorsement of that work and the Beaverton School District’s commitment to the arts. In addition to increasing academic performance, the arts motivates students to become innovative and creative thinkers, increases learning for all students, and develops a sense of craftsmanship, goal setting, collaboration and focus…which increases self esteem and skills needed to succeed in school and beyond.”
This particular project will put Arts for Learning Lessons “to the test” for the first time when it comes to improving students’ scores on standardized tests. Depending on the results, this project could actually help secure a permanent place for the arts in schools by demonstrating how music, dance, visual arts and theatre can improve test scores.
Every day there are great examples of the way in which arts integration is helping struggling students to learn in and through the arts in schools across the country. Below is a personal account from Kitty Merk, a teacher at Luis Munoz Marin K-8 in Cleveland, Ohio. Kitty is participating in Art is Education, a program presented by Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio, http://www.yaneo.org, that provides more than 4,000 students in Cleveland public schools with standards-based arts integrated experiences. Kitty writes:
“It has been my great fortune to be the site coordinator for Art is Education at Luis Munoz Marin K-8 for two years. The goal of Young Audiences’ Art is Education program is to make the arts a part of every child’s education, every day. Luis Munoz Marin Elementary is one of eight Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools participating in Art is Education. We have a large school that includes approximately 100 teachers and 800+ students. Every student in our building has been involved with different artist groups provided by Art is Education for those two years.
There are so many success stories that I have observed at our school, and I wanted to share a few. Many of our students struggle with letter sounds, but through Art is Education we have discovered a kinesthetic method to cement sounds with the written letter. Last year our K-2 students (including our self-contained special education classes) worked with professional dancers from Verb Ballets to learn the alphabet and phonetic sounds through movement. The students loved it and amazed their teachers by writing words using the movements they learned. The first graders this year remembered the movements and were teaching the kindergartners to use the same movements. This year the K-2 students are learning new techniques with Dance Afrika Dance. Actors play different roles teaching students about letter sounds and numbers. The teachers are enjoying the activities as much as the students and the results are positive again.”
To continue reading more from Kitty Merk about the Art is Education program, visit the Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio blog at http://youngaudiences.wordpress.com/ .
Last December, Americans for the Arts collected Green Papers from a variety of national arts service organizations and peer groups as a way to celebrate successes in the field over the past 50 years. These Green Papers are intended as visions for the future and are meant to inspire a nationwide dialogue on the future of the arts. They can now be read and commented on at the Americans for the Arts Blog, http://blog.artsusa.org/category/greenpapers/.
Young Audiences Arts for Learning submitted a paper titled Humpty Dumpty Looks to the Future ‘Putting the Arts and Education back Together Again’ with a vision for the future that places arts learning as a “distinct and distinctive means of enhancing young people’s creativity, learning, and quality of life.” The author proposes a list of ‘To Do’s by 2040 which includes the need for academically conducted research that affirms the effects of arts learning on creativity, learning and life skills and habits of mind. The paper envisions a future where all young people are allowed the opportunity to experience arts learning instruction delivered by arts specialists, classroom teachers, and by teaching artists as part of a unified and comprehensive curriculum.
While the past 50 years have seen a growing understanding of and appreciation for the intrinsic and fundamental value of arts instruction, the arts are still far more likely to be marginalized or pushed to the periphery than integrated as part of the core curriculum. The value of the arts as an essential tool for developing creative and cognitive skills in today’s youth is yet to be fully realized and put into practice by many in-school decision makers. The ambitious and inspiring vision for arts in education that the Young Audiences Green Paper proposes is a glimpse of an attainable reality, but only if discussions and dialogue continue about this topic. Visit the Arts Learning for Children and Youth Blog on Americans for the Arts at http://blog.artsusa.org/2010/02/16/green-paper-arts-learning-for-childrenyouth/ to read the paper in its entirety, and take part in this important conversation.
There is growing concern and discussion about 21st century skills, and how to best prepare today’s students for success in the global economy. Associations and organizations, such as The Partnership for 21st Century skills (http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/), are being founded to take on the task of advocating for this set of learning and life skills and to develop frameworks, standards and other guidelines for teaching critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration.
One edweek.org blogger (http://www.edweek.org/forums/?plckForumPage=ForumDiscussion&plckDiscussionId=Cat%3a047dba43-3f1d-45c3-831f-9125f292c0a4Forum%3aeb75a863-0040-451e-93bc-fbc5ad8abf24Discussion%3a7c8ddc85-0128-4864-9d9a-c76c9753bb67&plckCategoryCurrentPage=0&intc=mt) recently posted his thoughts on the matter:
The 21st century economy will rely, more than ever, on workers creative capacity –the ability to think unconventionally, question established practices, imagine new scenarios and produce astonishing work.
So how can thinking be taught without impacting on the time given to traditional subjects and affecting the content requirements of our curricula?
The key is integration. By using a framework that teaches students to 1) work together to create an end product, 2) reflect on and revise their work, and 3) think of many ways to arrive at an answer, teachers can improve students’ learning and life skills while also teaching math, science, history and literacy.
Most people would agree that the arts should play a role in children’s development, and that students should have access to an array of arts experiences at school. When asked why this should be, they may site vague references to the importance of creativity or the way the arts can lift people’s spirits. However, some may not realize the extent to which the arts can impact the lives of every student in the classroom and enhance life-long characteristics such as confidence, curiosity and perseverance. Here is one story, told by a teacher, which captures the effect an integrated arts curriculum can carry to the classroom.
“The student I mentioned is a Special Ed student. His grades before the project were mostly F’s. He did not do well in a regular class. He did not complete assignments or turn them in. He spent most of his time drawing pictures. I knew right away this project could change his life.
In the recent issue of Teaching Artist Journal, Arnold Aprill, Founding and Creative Director of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE, http://www.capeweb.org), addresses the dichotomous, and seemingly inimical, relationship between direct instruction in the arts and arts integrated learning, in his article “Direct Instruction vs. Art Integration: A False Dichotomy.” He suggests that the scarcity of funds bore the rivalry, pitting program against program and content area against content area, all the while neglecting the truth that, by working together, couldn’t both parties serve the children better?
Properly delivered, high-quality arts instruction ought to be cultivated as part of the whole culture of the school, both as it is integrated into the core subjects and taught as a stand alone, fundamental element of the curriculum. Developing arts integrated programs that concurrently and significantly impact arts and academic learning involves collaboration among classroom teachers, arts specialists, and teaching artists.
One can think of many reasons why it benefits students to integrate the arts into the standard curriculum of reading, math, science or social studies. Some may think that involving students in hands-on art work helps to engage them in the subject matter, thus reaching children that may be habitually distracted or uninterested when participating in more prescriptive instruction. However, there are many more “unseen” benefits of integrating the arts than meet the eye.
One benefit in particular is the way in which the artistic process of creation that includes cycles of reflection and revision can impact student literacy.
Sustained and revised thinking about texts is a critical skill for literacy, though it is often neglected when teaching children to use reading comprehension strategies. Because artistic creation intrinsically involves extensive revision, arts integration can help students learn how to change and manipulate their thinking about texts.
Teachers who practice deep reading instruction encourage children to select books that cause them to question and rethink what they know and believe. They also show them how to reread selectively as a way to affirm, expand on, or alter their knowledge and beliefs.
The Arts for Learning (A4L) Lessons Units use different art forms to help students understand and experience how artists rework an artistic piece over time, allowing them to discover, and then rediscover, new and different things about their understanding of their art and their worldview in the process. By linking these art forms to reading through the process of sustained and revised thinking, teachers can help their students discover a deeper meaning in their texts.
In each A4L Unit, students begin with the text then create artwork that reflects their initial understanding of the reading. By encouraging students to share their interpretations and art with one another, the class discovers new and different things about the text. Then, as the students read further, they return to their original artwork and revise it to reflect those new discoveries. This process not only encourages students to manipulate and revise their interpretations of a text, but it also creates an awareness of one’s thought process and encourages them to be persistent in searching for deeper meaning when reading.