Found in translation: Interdisciplinary arts integration in Project AIM

Ingram, D., Pruitt, L., & Weiss, C. (2014). Found in translation: Interdisciplinary arts integration in Project AIM. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1).


Researchers and staff from Project AIM, an interdisciplinary arts-integration program in Chicago, designed a study to research arts integration as a method of translation. Translation refers to the process of making meaning across different mediums of expression, such as writing a play to deepen knowledge of a historical era or learning about a mathematical concept through collage. Engaging in the process of translation has previously been shown to increase students’ capacity for generative and reflective thinking and can result in deeper understandings and connections. Researchers observed multiple translation approaches that each served different instructional needs, and found that the arts integration curricula studied here led to significant increases in students’ higher order thinking skills.

Key Findings:

Researchers found evidence of three translation approaches that can be used to address specific instructional needs. Scaffolded translation allowed students to use art-making techniques to build on limited knowledge of an academic subject. Interwoven translation encouraged content area and art-making learning simultaneously to create a layered understanding of both. Multi-representational translation gave students the opportunity to explore an academic concept deeply through multiple art-making projects. All three designs led to a significant increase in higher-order thinking skills, including planning, inventing new ways to work on projects, creating something representative of one’s ideas, and understanding different points of view about a singular subject. Deeper personal connections to and engagement with academic material were also observed.

Significance of the Findings:

This study provides specific examples of ways arts integration can be used to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom and will encourage discussions on the use and effectiveness of interdisciplinary arts instruction. Descriptions of how different translation approaches address specific instructional needs will be useful for teachers seeking to better reach and assess diverse learners. Educators will learn methods to encourage their students to develop deeper personal connections with content material.


Researchers selected six classrooms participating in the Project AIM residency program to study based on their teachers’ and teaching artists’ close collaboration and commitment to the work of the program. Data collection methods included observations of planning sessions and classroom instruction; interviews with teachers, teaching artists, and students; and pre- and post-residency student surveys designed to measure any changes in students’ higher order thinking skills and engagement in learning. These surveys were completed by all Project AIM students, not just those in the sample residencies. Student interview subjects were selected by their teachers because of either high or low ability in the academic discipline being studied or because they were seen as having benefitted from the residency in some way. Teachers and artists continued to describe and clarify descriptions of their residencies as researchers analyzed and interpreted data. As patterns emerged that described specific ways in which translation was used to address student learning needs, corresponding residences were chosen to be shared as models; these are the case studies shared in this paper.

Limitations of the Research:

This study examined the implementation of a specific interdisciplinary arts integration program in six classrooms only; the teachers selected for the study were chosen because of their commitment to and success with the program. For these reasons, outcomes seen here might not be generalizable to other school districts or student populations.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future research should look at whether the teaching strategies discussed here produce similarly positive outcomes in other schools. Is arts integration as impactful when it is implemented by classroom teachers working without the collaboration of professional teaching artists? What aspects of the collaboration itself contributed to the success of the program? How can the strategies examined here be used to further support diverse learners and students with special needs?