Evaluation of professional development in the use of arts-integrated activities with mathematics content: Findings about program implementation

Ludwig, M., Song, M., Kouyate-Tate, A. F., Cooper, J., Phillips, L., & Greenbaum, S. (2014). Evaluation of professional development in the use of arts-integrated activities with mathematics content: Findings about program implementation. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1). 

Abstract:

Researchers designed a qualitative study to evaluate the program design and implementation of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Arts Institute for Early Childhood Learning’s professional development (PD) program. The program prepares pre-K and kindergarten teachers seeking to infuse their mathematics instruction with the performing arts in an approach known as arts integration, and consists of summer institutes led by trained teaching artists and school year residencies that pair teachers with artists for coaching and collaborative instruction. Researchers found that the Wolf Trap program demonstrated features of effective PD and did so with fidelity to its planned model.

Key Findings:

Researchers found that the Wolf Trap PD program demonstrated six features of high-quality PD that have been previously shown to influence teacher practice and student learning.

  • Form: The program included training for teaching artists, a summer institute, and coaching.
  • Focus on content: The program built on teachers’ pre-existing mathematics and early childhood education expertise by focusing primarily on infusing arts-integrated strategies into mathematics instruction.
  • Active learning: The program allowed teachers to engage in six elements of active learning: observing demonstrations, practicing what they’ve learned and receiving feedback, leading group discussions, leading demonstrations, developing and practicing using student materials, and reviewing student work or scoring assessments.
  • Coherence: The program was consistent with district mathematics standards.
  • Duration: The program included 101 hours of PD per participating teacher per year.
  • Collective participation: The program opened participation to all Pre-K and K teachers at participating schools, although not all eligible teachers participated and some did not continue for the entirety of the program.

Researchers also found that the program exhibited a high degree of fidelity to its planned educational model thanks to a strong collaborative relationship with the district, a culture of continuous improvement, and ample training and support for the teaching artists.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings seen here provide a detailed example of a high-quality PD program, and will be useful for educators or administrators preparing to design or participate in a PD program or for those seeking to implement an arts-integration program in their own classroom or school.

Methodology:

Wolf Trap recruited 22 elementary schools to participate in the PD program; findings reported here are based on three schools that participated in the program in its inaugural year. Data collection methods included a teacher baseline survey before PD began, observations of classrooms before and after teaching artist residencies, an annual online survey of participating teachers regarding Wolf Trap services, observations of the summer institutes, teaching artist residency planning forms and lesson plan forms, and interviews with teaching artists. A rubric was developed based on six features of high-quality PD identified through prior research and components of the Wolf Trap program observed during the summer institutes. Researchers identified a standard of evidence for each feature and then identified examples from the data that matched each standard. Qualitative findings were then summarized into a narrative report.

Limitations of the Research:

This study is limited by its small sample size and narrow scope. Findings presented in the study are based only on the experiences of 26 teachers in three schools who chose to participate in the Wolf Trap PD program. Researchers looked only at the quality and implementation of the program for teachers and teaching artists and did not extend their focus to possible effects on student achievement.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future research on PD programs might examine teacher practices and student achievement outcomes. What influences teachers’ motivation to participate or continue participating in PD programs? How are students affected by their teachers’ participation in an effective PD program? How long after participation concludes can effects be seen? Can the effects of specific aspects of PD, such as summer institutes and artist residencies during the school year, be isolated and studied further?