How the arts help children to create healthy social scripts: Exploring the perceptions of elementary teachers

Brouillette, L. (2010). How the arts help children to create healthy social scripts: Exploring the perceptions of elementary teachers. Arts Education Policy Review, 111(1), 16-24.

Abstract:

The researcher collected data in the form of interviews from twelve first through fourth grade inner-city teachers who had participated in arts integrated lessons with their classes, to describe the impact arts learning had on developing students’ social scripts (culturally developed mental cues for how to act or respond in certain situations). Overall, the teachers expressed that students benefitted in multiple ways that informed the development of healthy social scripts as a result of their involvement in discrete arts and arts integrated experiences.

Key Findings:

Teachers in this study reported that drama in particular, resulted in positive social-emotional outcomes for their students. Teachers felt that students’ interpersonal interactions and the overall classroom dialogue improved and that students were better able to identify with multiple perspectives after participating in the team-centered and imaginative elements of drama workshops.

Teachers reported that English Language Learning (ELL) students developed language and communication skills in art classes. Similarly, ELL students who could not find the correct vocabulary to express themselves found an outlet for expression in arts activities that weren’t dependent on English language vocabulary. As a result, these students were more confident and better able to integrate themselves in the school culture.

Teachers felt that through drama, students experienced and learned content in a deeper way, as drama necessitated the exploration of meanings of words. This exploration and reflection led to better comprehension of material that was covered in language arts or social studies texts and incorporated into drama units.

Dance was used successfully by teachers as a means through which to teach students about respect and personal boundaries, because it allowed students to embody these constructs. Teachers further shared that engagement in dance workshops provided students a healthy way to expend energy and a meaningful context in which to learn to observe and critique others in appropriate ways.

Teachers reported that drama workshops helped their students to understand and participate in multiple perspectives. This enhanced form of social understanding enabled children to better coordinate their personal needs and interests with those of others, essentially developing their social scripts.

Significance of the Findings:

The study suggests that arts instruction (particularly drama and dance) delivered through teaching artist workshops with classroom teachers is beneficial for first through fourth grade students’ social and emotional development and contributes to positive classroom culture.

Methodology:

The researcher conducted open-ended interviews with twelve veteran inner-city California elementary school teachers who had participated in an artist-in-residence program for at least one semester. Teachers in the artist-in-residence program attended fifteen or more hour-long lessons and conducted follow-up activities on their own. Interviews ranged from 20 to 50 minutes in duration and focused on teacher perceptions of the effects of teaching artist visits and classroom arts activities on their students’ social-emotional wellbeing and peer-to-peer interactions.

Limitations of the Research:

Teacher interviews are the sole source of data in this study and therefore the researcher had no way to verify or triangulate the study’s findings. Additionally, all teachers who were interviewed volunteered to do so; these teachers may feel more strongly about effects of arts involvement than other teachers.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What specific opportunities, contexts, and features of arts programs maximize social and emotional development potential? Do other age groups derive social and emotional benefits from participating in the arts? How does the frequency, duration, and quality of arts programming affect student social development? How might the results of this study compare to a quasi-experimental study comparing the outcomes of students receiving arts instruction to those of students with similar backgrounds not receiving arts instruction? Are the benefits of arts learning more pronounced over time or for certain groups of students?