At Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland, arts integration has helped raise student achievement. Job-embedded professional development, differentiated arts instruction, and critical-thinking skills integrated into the curricula have been key to their success.
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research
Originally Published: April 13, 2014 | Updated: June 11, 2014
Arts integration has been shown by several rigorous studies to increase student engagement and achievement among youth from both low and high socioeconomic backgrounds (Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012; Upitis & Smithrim, 2003, cited in Upitis 2011; Walker, McFadden, Tabone, & Finkelstein, 2011). Arts integration was introduced at Wiley H. Bates Middle School, in Annapolis, Maryland, as part of their school improvement plan in 2008 after the district applied for and was awarded a four-year grant under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) Grant Program.
Since arts integration was first implemented at Bates, the percentage of students achieving or surpassing standards for reading has grown from 73 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2012, and from 62 percent to 77 percent for math during the same period, while disciplinary problems decreased 23 percent from 2009 to 2011. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, math and reading scores among students in grades 6-8 have shown a long trend of improvement across the state of Maryland. However, the percentage of students proficient or advanced at Bates has grown nearly 12 times faster than the state in reading, and four times faster in math. Science achievement among eighth graders also has outpaced the state from 2009 to 2011. Teachers and staff report that arts integration has been one of the key reasons for the school's improvement. Several research-based practices contribute to the success of arts integration at Bates Middle School:
Artful Thinking is a program developed by Harvard's Project Zero in collaboration with the Traverse City Area Public Schools in Michigan. It is an approach to teaching creative thinking that uses six routines to explore artistic works and subjects across the curriculum. These routines contain strategies to deepen art experiences.
Reasoning: Asking, "What makes you say that?" to prompt students to cite evidence to support claims
Perspective-taking: Asking, "What does the character (or author) perceive, know, or care about?" to understand diverse perspectives and ways of approaching problems
Questioning and investigating: Brainstorming questions and using prompts to spark observations and inquiry (e.g., How? What? When? Why? What if? and "I see," "I think," "I wonder")
Observing and describing: Describing and elaborating upon what you see and/or hear (e.g., imagining the artwork as the beginning, middle, or ending of a story, and/or describing formal qualities of a work of art)
Comparing and connecting new ideas to prior knowledge: Asking questions to prompt core ideas and connecting, extending, and/or challenging core ideas
Finding complexity: In order to uncover multiple dimensions and layers, asking questions such as, "How is it complicated?" "What are the different layers and pieces?" "What are its parts and purposes?" "What insights do you have about the topic?"
These routines are fundamental to critical thinking. In a meta-analysis of studies investigating methods of teaching critical thinking, Abrami et al. (2008) cite a broad definition of critical thinking as "purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based." The meta-analysis found that the most effective way to teach critical thinking was by teaching a separate thread of general critical-thinking principles, and then involving students in subject-specific application of these critical-thinking principles. In accordance with this research (Abrami et al., 2008), Artful Thinking explicitly defines several habits of thought that are fundamental to critical thinking and then engages students in applying those habits within specific subject areas.
Arts Activities Leverage Memory and Address Students' Learning Needs
Arts integration naturally involves several ways of processing information that have been shown to improve long-term memory (Rinne, Gregory, Yarmolinskaya, & Hardiman, 2011). For example, by creating a dance to represent the relation between climate change and atmospheric conditions, students physically act out meteorological concepts, which helps to strengthen memory for those concepts. Students also practice recalling concepts from memory during rehearsals and the final performance, which also helps to promote memory and is known as the generation effect. A variety of ways that arts integration may leverage well-established memory effects is outlined in the table below, which is drawn from a review by Rinne et al. (2011), and also discussed in Hardiman's book, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools(Corwin, 2012).
Arts integration naturally incorporates many cognitive activities that have been shown to improve long-term memory (Rinne, et al., 2011).
Adding meaning to, and/or incorporating, information that is to be remembered. Example: Create stories, pictures, or nonverbal expressions that express and/or integrate the content being learned in elaborated expressions.
Rehearsal of Meaning (in a variety of nonverbal forms)
Repeating content over and over until it is memorized; however, rereading, or even elaborating upon meaning, is not as effective as recalling and reconstructing the information from a cue (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011). Example: Watch a movie or listen to a song about mathematical equations.
Generating information (pictures, stories, songs, poems) in response to a visual or physical cue. Retrieving and reconstructing the information has been shown to be more effective in promoting learning than elaboration (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011). Example: Take a photograph showing a law of physics.
Performing action phrases, as in drama or dance, improves memory. Example: Co-create and/or participate in a dance that incorporates understanding of meteorology to represent seasons, weather patterns, and atmospheric conditions.
Singing or theatrical production that requires information to be remembered and recited orally promotes retention. Example: Create a three-minute skit or song that helps teach the Pythagorean theorem.
Effort After Meaning
Briefly puzzling over the meaning before figuring it out can lead to better memory. (If students must decode meaning from art, they are more likely to remember the meaning.) Example: Study Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso and describe what the artist was trying to express, citing specific details in the work to support your claims.
Emotional Arousal (vs. neutral)
Content that generates higher levels of emotional arousal can promote memory for that content, but arousal needs to be at an optimal level. Too much arousal distracts from the content, and high levels of negative arousal (fear or stress) can lead to impaired learning. Example: Write about a personal experience that relates to a cultural or social issue that you feel needs to be addressed, and then design a poster or performance to represent your knowledge and feelings about the topic.
Visual information is better retained than information presented verbally or as text. In other words, people tend to better remember things they have seen than things they have heard or read. Example: Use striking visual images, such as artworks, historical artifacts, scientific images, or graphs to represent important concepts.
For planning arts-integrated lessons, Hardiman's Brain-Targeted Teaching Model(2012) also provides a useful reference for translating findings from cognitive neuroscience into instructional practices.
What makes arts-integration practices particularly effective at Bates Middle School is the fact that Bates teachers design arts-integrated activities to address the specific standards that students are having the most trouble understanding. As discussed in the next section on professional learning at Bates, teachers meet weekly to review benchmark assessments, identify areas where students need additional support, and then collectively brainstorm arts activities that address the specific learning standards where students need more support.
Job-embedded and sustained professional development is crucial to supporting successful arts integration at Bates. Educators there participate in more than 40 hours of professional development per year, including monthly meetings on arts-integration topics, arts-integration conferences with regional schools, and arts-integration workshops with local museums. In addition, teaching artists work with teachers to develop integrated lessons, and teachers who have attended an intense, five-day summer training workshop often co-lead professional development sessions in the fall. Research indicates that professional development increases the likelihood of success with arts integration (Burnaford, 2009; Wilcox et al., 2010; and Oreck, 2004), particularly when led by teachers (Burnaford, 2009) and when teachers receive coaching from teaching artists (Wilcox et al., 2010).
Research also indicates that arts integration is more successful when arts-integrated lesson plans are aligned to state standards (PDF) and teachers participate in common planning time (PDF)(Wilcox, Bridges, & Montgomery, 2010). Differentiated instruction is a key practice at Bates Middle School. For support in differentiating instruction, teachers meet weekly during common planning time to analyze student performance on benchmark assessments linked to state standards. Once teachers identify the standards that students are showing trouble understanding, they help one another to create arts-integrated lessons that address those specific standards. For example, when students were struggling with plot and character, teachers targeted that standard with plays and shadow puppets, which helped students better understand and analyze the concepts by creating and performing them. Teachers at Bates find that targeting the standards with arts integration has led to great improvement in students' understanding, both anecdotally and as indicated in subsequent assessment results. Other examples of targeted arts-integration lessons at Bates include making a quilt to teach percentages and using music to teach about acceleration.
Arts integration at Bates could not have thrived without strong leadership and support from the district, which has helped to ensure that all school-improvement efforts complement the arts-integration approach. In addition, the full-time arts-integration specialist has played a critical role in coordinating all arts-integrated activities, providing professional development, and supporting and assisting teachers with incorporating arts into their lessons. The district hopes to ensure that the school will maintain an arts-integration specialist beyond the life of the grant.