Whole brain learning: The fine arts with students at risk

Respress, T., & Lutfi, G. (2006). Whole brain learning: The fine arts with students at risk. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 15(1), 24-31


Researchers used a quasi-experimental research design to examine the impact of arts education on students involved in the after-school program HEARTS (Health Education in the Arts Refining Talented Students). Specifically, researchers sought to discover if participation in the fine arts curriculum (visual arts, drama, dance, and/or music) of the HEARTS program enhanced academic achievement, commitment towards school, and self-esteem, and a reduction in violent behaviors for middle school students as compared to a matched control group. Researchers evaluated each group using a series of standardized pre-and post-tests measuring grade point average, math and spelling, self-esteem, violence risk, and attitude toward school.

Key Findings:

Overall, the group of students participating in the arts curriculum (the treatment group) increased their grade point average (GPA) more than students in the control group (who did not participate in the arts programming). Fifty-seven percent of the treatment group increased their GPAs by at least half a point, whereas only eleven percent of the control group increased their GPAs by the same margin. Seventy-three percent of the students in the treatment group increased their spelling grade level by one grade, compared to 48 percent of the control group students.

Comparison results from the Violence Risk Assessment (VRI) indicate that the treatment group is less likely to engage in risky, delinquent and/or violent behavior than the control group.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings add to the body of research that correlate participation in the arts in after-school programs with increased academic, social, and civic success for at-risk students.


Researchers divided 66 at-risk middle school students between the ages of eleven and 14 in grades six to eight into matched control and treatment groups, each consisting of 33 students. Both groups included 16 male and 17 female students, and both groups were 94% black. Researchers administered a series of pre- and post-tests to each student, using established measurement strategies including GPA, WRAT III, Roesnberg Self-Esteem, Violence Risk Assessment and School Bonding Index, and quantitatively analyzed and compared the results

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers do not identify the duration of the program and the amount of time between the pre- and post-tests. Results are not disaggregated to identify trends and patterns emerging for specific art disciplines, as each student in the treatment group self-selected an arts discipline. Because the control and treatment groups are from the same population of students participating in the HEART program, there may be biases not addressed in the methodology as the population is self-selected (having chosen to participate in a risk-prevention program to begin with).

Questions to Guide New Research:

The authors posit questions including how these results point to the implementation of whole brain research, which they outline at the outset of the study. In addition to this, future research might examine:
  • What is the curricular structure in teaching the arts in the HEARTS program and how does this affect the findings?
  • How would the results differ if the study was longitudinal in nature?
  • Would the study yield similar results on a different at-risk population or in a non-after-school setting?