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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Workshop for Elementary School Teachers

Arts Education

Every child has a right to expect an education rich in knowledge of the arts, as have students in societies dating back to ancient civilizations. We know that arts education provides avenues to crucial modes of thinking and learning. It helps students on many levels with all academic subjects as well as developing an understanding and appreciation of dance, music, theatre, and visual art. It is through exploration of works of art and through inquiry into the making of the arts that understanding of human experiences are gained and cultural values are transmitted.

— Southeast Center for Education in the Arts, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Research clearly shows that integrating the arts in the instruction process enhances learning. As students explore the arts as subjects in themselves and relate them to other subjects in the curriculum, they draw on a fund of knowledge, cultural context, and sensory experience that is as ancient as human history, yet endlessly renewed.

Taxonomy of Arts Education

Several models of arts education are practiced in U.S. schools:

  • Creative, Self-Expressive Model. This traditional approach is used in many schools. Its goal is to allow students to express themselves through the arts and help them develop the skills needed to make or perform works of art. In many schools, arts classes provide release time for classroom teachers, as the arts classes are taught in isolation from the rest of the curriculum.
  • Comprehensive Model. This model is intended to help students understand and appreciate the arts from four perspectives: aesthetics, criticism, history, and production and performance. It is based on arts education standards, including National Standards for Arts Education, that outline content and achievement standards for dance, music, theatre, and visual art at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Many states have adapted parts of these national standards within their own state guidelines.
  • Community Resources Model. This approach exposes students to visual and performing artists at work in their communities, to expand their understanding and appreciation of the arts and develop future audiences for the arts. Examples of practices in this model include a field trip to the local museum and attendance at a young people’s concert given by the local symphony orchestra.
  • Arts Across the Curriculum. This is the interdisciplinary or integrated curriculum model used in The Arts in Every Classroom workshop. It responds to many needs, including deepening learning within current time constraints, addressing the different ways students learn, and making learning more relevant to students (real-world connections). In this model, the curriculum typically is developed by a teacher or team of teachers and starts from one of three places:
    • major ideas within disciplines (art, math, science, etc.);
    • major problems whose solutions require the use of various subject matter and methods; or
    • methods of thinking, inquiry, or study specific to various disciplines. Students need to learn about the arts themselves and apply the skills that come from arts awareness to other areas.

Source: Vicki Rosenberg, Council of Michigan Foundations

For more perspectives on integrated arts curriculum, see The Arts in Every Classroomvideo library program What Is Arts Education?

Comprehensive Arts Education

Comprehensive arts education (also known as discipline-based arts education) is a conceptual approach, not a prescribed curriculum. It is taught as an essential component of general education and as a foundation for specialized arts study.

The goal of comprehensive arts education is to develop students’ abilities to understand and appreciate the arts by:

  • exploring the nature and meaning of the arts (aesthetics),
  • responding to the arts (criticism),
  • discovering contexts of artworks (history), and
  • creating works of art (production and performance).

Curriculum is:

  • written with sequentially organized content at all grade levels;
  • developed around enduring ideas and works of art from Western and non-Western cultures from ancient to contemporary times;
  • structured to provide creative inquiry from four perspectives (aesthetics, criticism, history, and production); and
  • organized to increase student learning and understanding while recognizing appropriate developmental levels.

Full implementation of a comprehensive arts education program is marked by:

  • systematic and regular arts instruction, arts education expertise, administrative support, and adequate resources; and
  • student achievement and program effectiveness, which are confirmed by appropriate evaluation criteria and procedures.

Blending teaching practices often thought of as separate, comprehensive arts education expects instruction in the arts — and in any art form — to:

  • include knowledge and skills in creating or performing, aesthetics, criticism, and history and culture;
  • integrate with other subjects around important themes or big ideas; and
  • use the set of practices that have come to be called “constructivist” or “inquiry-based” and that adjust to the diverse learning styles of students, especially those at risk of educational failure.

For more information, see:

Roles of Arts Specialists and Classroom Teachers

Arts specialists are teachers hired specifically to teach a particular art discipline (dance, music, theatre, or visual art).

In elementary schools with expanded arts education programs, the responsibilities and priorities of arts specialists expand:

  • In addition to their role as discipline experts, specialists become valuable resources and facilitators for classroom teachers.
  • Instead of operating independently as itinerant teachers, specialists necessarily interact with classroom teachers, serving as resource experts.
  • In their planning, specialists have to be creative, inventing solutions and gathering information that accommodates the needs of students and of classroom teachers involved in thematic units of study.

Expanded arts programs also transform the role of the classroom teacher:

  • Necessarily, classroom teachers are involved with the entire curriculum and are familiar with the goals and objectives for all subjects their students are required to master.
  • With experience, classroom teachers are able to meaningfully integrate the arts into the non-arts goals and objectives for these other subjects.

Arts specialists also are able to integrate non-arts subjects into their classes effectively. Collaboration of this type ensures that the arts no longer are isolated but become part of the total school curriculum.

For more perspectives on the roles of arts specialists and classroom teachers, see The Arts in Every Classroom video library programs:

  • Expanding the Role of the Arts Specialist
  • Teaching Dance
  • Teaching Music
  • Teaching Theatre
  • Teaching Visual Art

Factors for Arts Education Success

Many critical factors work together throughout a school district to bring about an effective arts education program:

  • Community — The community (broadly defined as parents and families, artists, arts organizations, businesses, and local civic and cultural leaders and institutions) is actively engaged in the arts politics and instructional programs of the district.
  • School Board — The board of education provides a supportive policy framework and environment for the arts.
  • Superintendent — The superintendent regularly articulates a vision for arts education.
  • Continuity — There is enough continuity in the school and community leadership to implement comprehensive arts education.
  • District Arts Coordinator — The district arts coordinator facilitates program implementation throughout the school system and maintains an environment of support for arts education.
  • Cadre of Principals — School principals collectively support the policy of arts education for all students.
  • Teacher as Artist — Effective teachers of the arts are encouraged to continue to learn and grow in mastery of their art form as well as in their teaching competence.
  • Parent/Public Relations — School leaders seize opportunities to make their programs known throughout the community to secure support and funding for them.
  • Elementary Foundation — Strong arts programs in the elementary schools are the foundation for strong systemwide programs.
  • Opportunities for Higher Levels of Achievement — School leaders provide specialized arts programs as part of their broad strategy for securing and sustaining community support for the district’s overall education goals.
  • National, State, and Other Outside Forces — The district employs state or national policies and programs to advance arts education.
  • Planning — School leaders advise the adoption of a comprehensive vision and plan for arts education but recommend its incremental implementation.
  • Continuous Improvement — The school district promotes reflective practices at all levels of the schools to improve quality.

Source: Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons from School Districts That Value Arts Education,President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Arts Education Partnership, 1999

For more perspectives on teaching the arts in elementary schools, see The Arts in Every Classroom video library programs:

  • Three Leaders at Arts-Based Schools
  • Leadership Team

Research on Arts Education

Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development
This 2002 report is a compendium of research in arts education with more than 40 summaries of studies in the disciplines of dance, drama, multi-arts, music, and visual arts, along with essays and perspectives by leading scholars. Published by the Arts Education Partnership, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education, Critical Links explores current practices in arts education, examines the effect of the various arts disciplines on students’ achievement and personal growth, and recommends future lines of research.

Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning
This 1999 report compiles seven major studies that provide new evidence of enhanced learning and achievement when students are involved in a variety of arts experiences. Champions of Change was developed with the support of the GE Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Arts Education Partnership, and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons From School Districts That Value Arts Education
The first national study to examine the generation and sustenance of strong arts education throughout entire school districts, this study:

  • discusses the interrelating factors — educational, social, and economic — that enhance arts education;
  • provides valuable lessons from the field — from superintendents, school board members, principals, district arts coordinators, arts teachers, students, parents, and other community members — including strategies for overcoming obstacles to districtwide arts education;
  • examines in depth eight school systems that were observed on site by experienced teams that included school district superintendents as well as arts educators; and
  • presents the creative solutions of 83 additional school districts participating in this study, selected from more than 500 districts recommended.

Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge (TETAC)
TETAC was a project of the National Arts Education Consortium, formed by six regional arts education institutes in California, Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas in 1996. Thirty-five partner schools in eight states engaged in a five-year project to place arts education at the core of the curriculum and assess resulting student achievement. TETAC consortium members explored, assessed, and documented ways in which intensive professional development, comprehensive arts education, and systemic school reform could transform schools and their extended communities.

TETAC was funded by the Walter H. Annenberg Foundation and the Getty Education Institute for the Arts. The project was completed in June 2001.