Students - Elementary School

List of Studies

Academic Outcomes

  • Literacy and Language Development. A significant body of research demonstrates a positive relationship between arts education and literacy and language development at the elementary level, particularly drama. Many studies find that students participating in drama and/or drama integration programs are more expressive and elaborate in their storytelling and use more complex language compared with other children. One study, for example, found that students were more confident in speaking and using complex language after participating in a drama program (Brouillette & Jennings, 2010). Research also finds that there is a positive relationship between students’ experience with the visual arts and expressive language ability. In one study, when using visual thinking strategies to look at art, researchers found students provided more detailed analyses of concepts and contributed more to classroom discussions (Hui & Lao, 2006). In another, drawing helped students express their ideas as metaphorical stories (Heath & Wolf, 2005).
    • Reading Comprehension. Research demonstrates that participation in arts integrated instruction, particularly drama-integrated instruction, improves elementary students’ reading readiness, fluency, and comprehension. Studies find, for example, that elementary students who participated in drama-based reading programs improved their reading ability at a faster rate than students in general reading instruction programs (Ingram & Meath, 2007; Ingram & Reidel, 2003). In other studies, the deeper exploration of the meaning of words experienced by students in dance and theater-based reading programs contributed to gains in overall reading comprehension (Brouillette, 2010; McMahon et al., 2003).
    • Writing Skills. Studies find that drama-integrated writing instruction helps students develop their writing skills, including developing better focus in their writing, making better use of details, navigating meaning from multiple perspectives more effectively, and writing more persuasive arguments.
  • Mathematics Achievement. Research identifies a relationship between arts learning, particularly in music, and mathematics achievement at the elementary school level. For example, studies find that students receiving arts-integrated mathematics instruction or participating in music instruction outperform control group students in mathematic computation, application, comprehension (Smithrim & Upitis, 2005), and estimation skills (Spelke, 2008). One study found that the degree of impact increased over time, suggesting that sustained participation in arts-integrated instruction has a greater positive impact on mathematics achievement (Smithrim & Upitis, 2005).
  • Overall Academic Achievement. Research suggests a positive relationship between arts learning and overall academic achievement, including gains in intelligence (IQ), grades, and performance on standardized tests. For example, studies find that elementary students in schools with art, music, and physical education taught by specialists do better on state standardized tests than their peers (Wilkins et al., 2003), as do elementary students taking music lessons (Piro & Ortiz, 2009) or receiving arts-integrated instruction (Heath & Wolf, 2005; Ingram & Meath, 2007). Studies of whole school reform initiatives in which elementary schools bring the arts centrally into the curriculum as a strategy for school improvement, find that such initiatives have either a positive effect on student performance on standardized tests of mathematics and English language arts (Corbett et al., 2001; Barry, 2010) or no effect (Seaman, 1999). These studies suggest that increased instructional time spent on the arts may enhance and does not detract from student test scores in other subjects.
  • Underserved Students. Studies find that students from low socio-economic backgrounds, English language learners, and students with special needs—often underserved in public schools—realize particularly strong benefits through arts education. In particular, research finds that the communications skills of elementary English language learners (ELL) benefit to the greatest degree from arts-integrated instruction. Especially in elementary schools, where students may encounter English-only classrooms for the first time, studies find that arts education programs provide ELL students with an environment that supports risk-taking and helps students to practice and expand their English language skills (Brouillette & Jennings, 2010; Brouillette, 2010; Carger, 2004; Montgomerie & Ferguson, 1999; Spina, 2006).

Cognitive Outcomes

  • Creative Thinking. A growing body of research suggests that arts education develops and encourages elementary students’ imagination and creativity. In one study, for example, tension in process drama storylines stimulated students’ creativity and ability to apply artistic principles to create stories (Lin, 2010). Students identified the play, innovation, and freedom experienced in the drama program as integral in developing their imaginations.
  • Critical Thinking. Research finds that arts education helps elementary students develop critical thinking skills that are essential to the ability to apply knowledge and visualize solutions. One study found, for example, that a process drama program helped elementary students develop competencies necessary for critical thinking such as awareness and exploration of multiple and alternative viewpoints (Montgomerie & Ferguson, 1999).
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning. Research suggests a positive relationship between arts education and arts integration and the development of abstract reasoning and problem solving skills. In one study, for example, students who received weekly piano instruction scored higher on tests measuring abstract thinking used to solve multi-step problems (Costa-Giomi, 1999). Similarly, another study found that students in an integrated visual art and science program increased their ability to use evidential reasoning in both art and science, and decreased in their use of circular reasoning through training and practice in looking at and discussing art (Tishman et al., 1999). Studies also found that elementary students participating in visual arts integrated programming are more likely than their peers to be intentional in their decision-making and to approach problems with patience and persistence (Korn, 2010), and to view art as a process for problem solving (Korn, 2007).

Personal Outcomes

  • Engagement and Persistence. Studies find that experiences in both the visual and performing arts help students develop concentration, focus, commitment to follow through with tasks, and interest in their own learning. One study found that these habits of mind transferred to students’ general studies classrooms, and helped students develop the stamina necessary to complete standardized testing (Heath & Wolf, 2005). Multiple studies found that students who do not usually participate in class participate more frequently in arts learning.
  • Motivation. Research suggests that elementary students are more motivated to learn when they are participating in arts and arts-integrated learning experiences. In one study, for example, students who received arts integrated instruction reported a greater intrinsic motivation to acquire more knowledge (DeMoss & Morris, 2002). Another study found that as students sought and acquired visual arts skills, they developed enjoyment in thinking, which became a motivating factor for further skill acquisition (Rostan, 2010).
  • Positive Behavior. Research finds that arts education is associated with a decrease in behavioral and emotional problems for elementary students. For example, students participating in a community-based drama program that integrated visual and media arts had fewer behavioral and emotional problems over time than a matched control group (Wright et al., 2006). Similarly, a drama-based youth violence prevention program halted the progression of aggressive and violent behavior in elementary-aged participants (Kisiel et al., 2006).
  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence. Research finds that elementary students who participate in arts programs develop a belief in their own abilities to accomplish goals. One study found that students showed increased confidence and sense of self-worth after participating in drama (Luftig, 2000), and another found that music programs contributed to elementary students’ higher self-esteem (Kennedy, 1998).

Social and Civic Outcomes

  • Collaboration and Communication. A growing body of research, find that arts education at the elementary level is associated with increased capacity for collaboration and teamwork, positive interactions with peers and adults, and increased understanding of diverse cultures. Studies find that drama programs, in particular, help students empathize with various perspectives.