Artists-in-residence in public schools: Issues in curriculum, integration, impact.

Bresler, L., DeStefano, L., Feldman, R., & Garg, S. (2000). Artists-in-residence in public schools: Issues in curriculum, integration, impact. Visual Arts Research, 26(1), 13-29.

Abstract:

Researchers used a comparative case study method to examine an Artist-in-Residence program conducted in eight urban schools spanning third through eighth grades. The researchers investigated the program’s curriculum and its integration with academic subjects and multiculturalism. They also examined the artists’ roles in the schools, their relationships with classroom teachers and art specialists, and the program’s impact on students. The researchers conducted classroom observations; interviewed teachers, administrators, and students; and administered pre- and posttests to students to measure changes in vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Their research results showed that the program positively impacted students’ critical thinking skills through an increase in their art-related vocabulary and ability to analyze, interpret, and evaluate artwork.

Key Findings:

The curriculum in the Artist-in-Residence program integrated art history and criticism with studio production. It allowed for connections to personal experiences, which generally contributed to a high level of student engagement as found in the researchers’ classroom observations.

Artists-in-Residence asked open-ended questions and used student-initiated questions and inquiries to drive discussions and plan lessons. The student-centered approach led to attentive listening and collaborative construction of knowledge by students.

Pretest-posttest comparisons for students participating in the sixteen-week residency showed an increase in the number of objective items students scored correctly. The objective items tested students’ critical vocabulary and knowledge of major unit concepts.

Pretest-post test comparisons for participating student also revealed an increase in their modal scores on the open-ended test items. The open-ended items asked students to analyze, evaluate, and give their personal reaction to a piece of art through writing.

Significance of the Findings:

The study identifies positive outcomes for students of artist residencies such as an increase in their critical vocabulary and critical thinking skills expressed through writing and class discussion. The Artist-in-Residence program allowed students to make personal connections to works of art. The construction of personal meanings is an uncommon feature of academic curriculum.

Educators and policymakers concerned with preparing students to be career and college ready may be interested in the pedagogical approach taken by the Artists-in-Residence and its implications for increasing students’ critical thinking skills. The Artists-in-Residence used an open-ended approach in class discussions, which allowed for a more engaging classroom in which students were eager to participate and contribute their understandings and insights. The approach facilitated students to be active learners and exercise their thinking skills while making personal connections to the subject matter.

The findings may be important for schools interested in working with an Artist-in-Residence program to learn about possible benefits and complications of the venture and how to strategize around cultivating positive aspects and mitigating problematic ones. The study found, for example, that the program seemed to be enhanced when there was strong collaboration between the different parties—teaching artists, arts specialists, and classroom teachers.

Methodology:

The researchers conducted observations of classroom instruction by Artists-in-Residence and observations of school visits to a local art museum between October, 1998 and May, 1999. The researchers interviewed Artists-in-Residence, school administrators, program coordinators, classroom teachers, art specialists, and students. They also analyzed the artists’ instructional materials as well as student work. The researchers quantitatively measured student learning by using pretests and posttests that included objective test items that assessed critical vocabulary and major unit concepts and open-ended writing items that asked students to analyze, evaluate, and give their personal reaction to a piece of art. The written responses were evaluated using a five-level rubric.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers noted that the Artist-in-Residence programs differed in length of implementation, from eight to sixteen weeks, and some schools had no art resources while others had art specialists and/or other art residencies. They recognized that each residency and school was unique, but that they wanted to find commonalities in content, pedagogies, integration and the arts’ contribution to the schools and students. The fact that some schools had more time to implement the program and extra resources limits the extent to which the findings can be generalized and attributed solely to the implementation of the Artist-in-Residence program.

The researchers identified positive student-learning outcomes from the pretest-posttest comparisons for schools participating in the sixteen-week residency, but the number of schools that participated in the sixteen-week residency was not stated. The study also does not mention how many schools participating in the sixteen-week residency had no art resources or had art specialists and/or other art residencies. Having supplemental arts instruction by an art specialist or other arts residency could have affected positive student-learning outcomes.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • Are there any changes in art specialists’ pedagogy, curriculum or motivation after their school has participated in an Artist-in-Residence program?
  • How do student-learning outcomes in schools with only an Artist-in-Residence compare with schools with only an art specialist and with schools that have both arts specialist/s and Artists-in-Residence?
  • How does a longer-term residency and an extended presence by Artists-in-Residence (more than one session a week) in schools affect student learning outcomes and school-wide perception of the arts?
  • How do strong collaborations between Artists-in-Residence, art specialists, and classroom teachers affect arts integration and student-learning outcomes?