Art education courses for elementary teachers: What really happens?

Kowalchuk, E., & Stone, D. (2003). Art education courses for elementary teachers: What really happens? Visual Arts Research, 29(57)

Abstract:

While approximately 85% of elementary schools in America offer art education, only about half have a specialist to provide arts instruction. This means that many classroom teachers teach visual art in the context of general education classrooms. This study explores the relationship between learning in an arts methods course at the pre-service level and how that knowledge plays out in practice in the non-arts classroom. Through questionnaires given at the beginning and end of an arts methods course and questionnaires given to in-service teachers who had taken the same course, researchers draw the conclusion that one of the keys to preparing effective, committed teachers of art is a persuasive, substantial, and comprehensive art methods course. The researchers found that pre-service teachers’ art beliefs were dynamic and changeable, and evolved during the teachers’ training program; however, this did not necessarily translate to meaningful art instruction as they became practitioners.

Key Findings:

Teacher questionnaires revealed that:

  • A high percentage of teachers agreed that, “one has to have talent to be an artist.” However, teachers also felt that instruction in art is important.
  • High majorities of pre- and post- pre-service and in-service respondents disagreed with the statement, “a person either has talent for painting or does not; going to school isn’t going to help much.”
  • A high majority agreed that it takes practice and effort to create works of art and that “inspiration” is more important than skill when creating works of art.
  • Pre-service teachers placed a high value on the role of art in society while in-service teachers placed less value.
  • Most respondents disagreed with the statement, “the best works of art are realistic.”
  • Only 33 percent of in-service teachers indicated that they teach art to their students. When they do teach, they focus on basic skills rather than toward developing critical understandings.
  • Pre-service teachers feel that art fosters creativity, encourages self-expression, and builds self-esteem. In-service teachers mentioned the same values but emphasized self-expression and a manifestation of intelligence.

Significance of the Findings:

Elementary teachers will only become effective and committed as instructors of art when they bring to the classroom a deep understanding of methods, materials, and concepts of art learned from a pre-service arts methods course, but also through ongoing in-service training. The fact that such strengthening of college courses on art teaching methods, art appreciation, art history, and studio skills and values, is highly feasible, makes the findings of this study very significant, showing as it does, that such strengthening is now very necessary.

Methodology:

The researchers guided their study with the two questions:
  • What beliefs, values, and approaches do pre-service and in-service teachers have about art?
  • How do these attitudes and approaches to art education change during their professional studies and after they become elementary teachers?

Their descriptive research was comprised of pilot-tested questionnaires based on Eisner’s Art Attitude Inventory (1972). It included a combination of closed-and open-option items examining:

  • Values and beliefs about art
  • Conceptions of the ideal art program
  • Prior training and experience in art
  • Impact of the elementary education methods course on their ideas about art and art education

Their sample consisted of 37 pre-service teachers enrolled in the art methods course. They were pre- and post-tested. It also consisted of 43 in-service teachers who had taken the same art methods course within the three years prior to the study.

Most of the participants were female, white, and had formal art education prior and during college. Very few had college studio art experience.

Limitations of the Research:

The sample used was too small to allow for generalization to other contexts.More observations of art instruction in the methods course combined with observations of how these methods play out over time by the same group of students would provide valuable insight into whether transfer is happening and if so at what levels.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Are the values, beliefs and approaches of teachers with college studio experience more aligned with effective art instruction than is the case with the teachers surveyed in this study?

How much of what is taught in college art instruction is actually transferred to the classroom?