Guest post by Ashanti Foster

In my school, I have had great success with integrating the arts into classroom learning experiences. This integration can raise student achievement by improving motivation and increasing cognitive development.

Arts integration has proven to be a partnership that increases engagement, deepens understanding, and raises success for students. In President Barack Obama’s 2008 Arts Policy Campaign, he argued for reestablishing the investment in arts education and reigniting the creativity and innovation in America.

The President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH) found that the value of arts includes “helping kids find their voice, rounding out their education, and tapping into their undiscovered talents.” The research concluded that, “on average, arts-engaged low-income students tend to perform more like higher-income students.”

The Case for Arts Integration

Young violinist womanSo what makes arts-integrated classrooms work? The Arts Integration and Learning study in 2002 reported that arts-integrated experiences appear to increase student willingness to learn and overcome barriers to understanding. During a non-arts classroom activity, students described significant barriers to understanding, saying:

  • “When it is something I don’t know or have to read in a book by myself, it is not very easy. Some stuff is hard if I don’t know it.”
  • “It’s just the way some teachers teach. They just tell us to read the stuff and don’t really explain it to us. We just have to read it and try to figure it out and just because you can read it doesn’t mean you understand it. It makes it really hard.”

But after an arts-integrated unit, students remarked that though there were barriers to understanding, they were able to overcome the challenges:

  • “The hard part was trying to make it into a play. I thought that was hard because we had a really long time period of researching. It took a long time and work. It was hard to get the group to agree sometimes. We had to negotiate.”

PCAH also reports that brain research supports the integration of arts in learning experiences and finds that arts-integration techniques improve cognitive development. Music training, for example, plays an important role in phonological awareness. In addition, the practice of art helps to train students’ attention and ability to focus, which improves overall general intelligence. Arts-integrated techniques also enhance long-term memory by utilizing multiple senses to repeat information.

How We Made the Arts Work

To ensure arts integration, our school pairs our teachers of the arts with non-arts departments to find ways to utilize the arts in learning activities. For example, our theater teacher worked with our history department and incorporated dramatic techniques to promote engagement and deepen student understanding of the Civil War.

Local artists also participate in professional development on a regular basis with interdisciplinary teams of non-arts educators. These collaborations have brought a number of local and national musicians, artists, and performers to our school. Our students have played the steel drums, performed on the stage, and painted large murals. Watch this video to see our Arts Integration Partnership Program in action.

What does your school do to integrate the arts into student learning experiences? What do you think administrators can do to support arts integration?

Dr. Ashanti Foster is the newly appointed principal of Thomas S. Stone Elementary School in Mt. Rainier, MD. As the 2016 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year, Foster served as the Academic Dean of Oxon Hill Middle School in Ft. Washington, MD.







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