March 2009 | Volume 51 | Number 3
Paying for Performance
Making Content Connections Through Arts Integration
Willona M. Sloan
Dwindling school resources, as well as pressure to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, have led many schools to narrow the curriculum, leaving behind arts instruction. But, through carefully designed integrated curricula, educators can still provide students with arts education. In the United States, some schools and districts have had to let go of visual art, music, dance, and drama instructors due to shrinking budgets. At the same time, administrators bemoan the fact that they can no longer find room in the school day for classes outside of core content areas because so much time must be spent preparing students for standardized state assessments. Despite these woes, arts education advocates argue that while teaching art for art's sake is certainly beneficial for all students, studies also show that participating in the arts can actually boost student achievement in other academic areas. Therefore, arts groups are partnering with schools to provide professional development for teachers interested in integrating arts instruction across content areas. Making the Connection Between the Arts and the Brain
In 2004, the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium assembled neuroscientists from seven U.S. universities to study how arts training can enhance academic performance. The findings, detailed in Learning, Arts, and the Brain, The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition (2008), show that young people interested in "doing" art—studying and performing music, dance, and drama—may also demonstrate increased motivation to learn in other subject areas, which leads to improved cognition. Learning to play a musical instrument can also have a significant impact on students, according to the study. Learning, Arts, and the Brain shows that music training can bolster young people's memorization skills, providing them with the "ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory." Music training can also help children make gains in math and reading classes. For example, the study noted links between children's "practice of music and skills in geometrical representation" and correlations "between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning." Because, as research shows, music and arts training can help students in other academic areas, educators are finding creative ways to integrate arts instruction into a variety of classes. Arts integration curriculum design gives all students—not just those identified as "gifted and talented"—the opportunity to express their creativity and to learn critical-thinking, problem-solving, and innovation skills. But sometimes integrating art into the curriculum is easier said than done. Developing and implementing a curriculum that meaningfully integrates arts instruction (and meets identified standards) requires a great deal of professional development and planning, collaboration, and teamwork among educators. A+ Schools' Arts Integration
Using arts-integrated instruction and incorporating Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, the A+ Schools model combines "interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to learn through all the ways in which they are able," the A+ Schools Web site explains. Based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), the A+ Schools program was established in North Carolina in 1995, and now there are 42 A+ Schools across the state. Gerry Howell, executive director of the A+ Schools program, argues that many subjects have gotten left behind due to NCLB's narrow focus. But through the A+ Schools' reform model, students learn rich content, master skills and standards, and still engage in fun and exciting arts instruction that enhances their understanding of content. Howell says arts instruction supports the A+ Schools' philosophy of...
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