Arts integration as a catalyst for high school renewal

Dorfman, D. (2008). Arts integration as a catalyst for high school renewal. Studies in Art Education (50)1, 51-66.

Abstract:

This case study examines the issues encountered while developing a career academy of the arts that integrates traditional college preparatory education with student-centered learning to foster personal growth, artistic development and democratic empowerment. Conceived in the wake of recent attempts at school reform and concurrent grant funding, the Integrative Vision of the Arts (IVA) was created to give emphasis to the arts as an alternative approach to student engagement in a rural public high school in Vermont. Based on career-academy literature and democratic education, the teacher-researcher developed this program to ensure both traditional academic achievement and engaged student learning occur in a curriculum rich in the arts. Students enrolled in specialized classes and an advisory program based on an arts integrative approach to education. IVA met significant challenges as the realities of school culture arose during the program’s implementation, however, despite these setbacks, IVA proved to be enriching for the students involved, the school and the local community.

Key Findings:

Students involved in IVA and its programs showed dedication, creativity, self-initiative, and self-direction in arts learning and community service. The second goal of improving achievement for low performing students in academic subjects was not met. These students failed to make the transfer of active and engaged learning to the academic core subjects so their achievement in these courses remained flat. The social and personal growth of students in IVA was remarkable, attributed to the intrinsic motivation for learning which occurred when students were given flexibility in curriculum and topics of tangible interest. The evaluator’s report also documented the significant impact of the IVA program in establishing a positive school climate.

Significance of the Findings:

This case study provides evidence of the strength of the arts in accessing intrinsic motivation to learn. It shows how students can become more engaged in learning when given the opportunity and support to make real choices and explore educational interests. However, the ongoing conflict between traditional academic tracks and the IVA program on teaching and learning illustrated the need for total school engagement if innovative programs are to succeed.

Methodology:

The first cohort had eleven students (juniors and seniors only) who participated in the arts-integrated classes as well as some regular academic classes. This case study gathers information about the IVA program from three distinct sources. The teacher-researcher, who was director of the program in its first two years, documented the program throughout the development and implementation process. Additionally, a university researcher collected qualitative and quantitative data about the views of the program from students, faculty, administrators, and the outside community. Finally, memos and other artifacts from the years were collected to provide additional sources.

Limitations of the Research:

Although the effects of this program’s impact on the students and the community are clear, specific aspects of the program on this growth are unclear. The program’s attempt to integrate three areas of reform (career academy model, arts integration and democratic learning) makes it difficult to determine the impact of specific interventions on students’ learning.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How can educators work to gain administrative support for implementing programmatic change that align with national goals, such as integrating the arts? How might a career arts academy work more successfully with teachers in the various academic subject areas to better integrate styles of teaching and learning to engage all students?