Voices from the field: Teachers’ views on the relevance of arts integration

Bellisario, K. & Donovan, L. (2012). Voices from the field: Teachers’ views on the relevance of arts integration. Cambridge, MA: Lesley University.

Abstract:

This two-year study undertaken by researchers at Lesley University (LU), funded by the Ford Foundation, examined the relevance of arts integration in today’s educational climate from the perspectives of teachers who completed a graduate program in arts integration at LU. The study gathered data from 204 teachers in 19 states through a survey, focus groups, interviews, and classroom observations. The study documents benefits of arts integrated instruction identified by the teachers, including renewing their commitment to the teaching profession and giving them resilience to face the growing demands in today’s schools. It also examines teachers’ observations of the impacts of arts integration on student learning. Teachers report that arts integration stimulates deep learning, creates increased student engagement, and cultivates students’ investment in learning.

Key Findings:

Arts integration holds relevance in today’s educational climate for both students and teachers, leading to increased academic achievement and student retention while nourishing teachers personally and professionally, helping them to move toward “highly qualified” criteria, and be effective and innovative in the teaching profession.

For students, teachers observe that arts integration can:

  • Lead to deep learning, increased student ownership, and engagement with academic content;
  • Provide a variety of strategies for accessing content and expressing understanding;
  • Create learning that is culturally responsive and relevant in students’ lives;
  • Engage students in 21st century skills including creativity, innovation; and imagination; and
  • Develop empathy, awareness of multiple perspectives and cultural sensitivity to others.

For teachers, arts integration:

  • Provides hands-on experiential learning through arts-based professional development that engenders engagement in the creative process that mirrors the process teachers’ students will engage in;
  • Allows teachers an avenue for providing dynamic and creative instruction to facilitate deep learning;
  • Enables teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of all learners;
  • Provides pathways for culturally responsive pedagogy, which recognizes the cultural backgrounds and individuality of all students;
  • Rejuvenates teachers who were on the verge of burnout; and
  • Renews teachers’ commitment to teaching.

The study also gathered teachers’ perspectives on the supports and constraints they face in their current educational contexts. The researchers found numerous obstacles that inhibit teachers’ use of arts integration including lack of space, supplies, funds; lack of support from administration; increased testing pressure and scripted curriculum. Some teachers, however, found ways to integrate the arts into their curricula despite these obstacles and cite that they help generate the support they need to do so by providing research and advocacy on arts integration to their administrators, building a network of allies within their schools, and thoroughly documenting the outcomes of their students’ achievement learning in arts integrated lessons.

Significance of the Findings:

This study adds to the body of research on how arts integration benefits students from the perspective of teachers who are the practitioners on the ground. The study also speaks to the current crisis in teacher retention and burnout by documenting how arts integration can be a source of rejuvenation, renewing teachers’ passion for teaching.

Methodology:

Researchers used a mixed-methods approach to gather data from alumni of Lesley University’s Integrated Teaching through the Arts graduate program, a Master’s in Education program in which participants learn to integrated the arts—teaching them in tandem with other academic disciplines—and also receive their training through arts integrated instruction. An electronic survey was distributed to alumni across the country to gather a broad base of teachers’ perspectives on the relevance and practice of arts integration in the classroom, and how they understand the impact this practice has on their students. Two hundred and four alumni (204) from 19 states participated in the survey. Following an analysis of the survey responses, eleven focus groups were held to probe several identified themes that emerged from the survey with 67 teachers from alumni-rich sites including Las Vegas, NV; Florence SC; Tacoma and Kent, WA; and Raymond, NH. These teachers also created visual maps describing the supports and constraints present in their educational contexts. From among the participants of these focus groups, the researchers interviewed and observed nine teachers from Florence, SC; Tacoma, WA; and Raymond, NH.

Limitations of the Research:

While the study surveyed a broad base of teachers in the initial phase of the study, the interview and classroom observations were small in scope. Additionally, all of the participants in the study were graduates of Lesley University’s Integrated Teaching through the Arts graduate program. There being no control group or inclusion of arts-integration practitioners outside of Lesley, it is not possible to determine if the findings can be more broadly generalized.

All of the data in the study are gathered from teachers and not students. To better round out the study, researchers could have expanded to include interviews, observations, and direct study of students’ work.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do teachers who have experienced in-depth arts-based professional development actually translate newly found knowledge and skills into their classrooms in the long-term?

What are the long-term academic gains of students who experience repeated in-depth arts integrated deep learning over the course of several years?

How does arts integration lead to the resilience that is necessary to keep teachers in the field of teaching?