Worlds together... words apart: An assessment of the effectiveness of arts-based curriculum for second language learners

Spina, U. (2006). Worlds together... words apart: An assessment of the effectiveness of arts-based curriculum for second language learners. Journal of Latinos & Education, 5(2), 24.

Abstract:

The researcher used a quasi-experimental design to assess whether an arts-based curricula facilitates English language acquisition for English language learners (ELL) and whether the gain in English language skills sacrificed proficiency in Spanish, the study subjects' first language. The researcher compared two classes of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) 5th grade students. The treatment group attended arts-based classes twice per week, for five to six hours total, whereas the control group was taught using traditional ESL methods. The researcher used scores for language arts achievement tests in English and Spanish as pre-and post-test data, and collected other data through on-site observations, audio-recordings, and teacher questionnaires and interviews. Although the study is preliminary, the results suggest that an arts-based curriculum provides significant cognitive advantages to ESL students.

Key Findings:

Students in the arts-based program demonstrated significant gains over the comparison group in all areas tested. They made large gains in English skills and reading skills. When comparing the pre- and post-test scores on standardized proficiency and achievement tests in reading and English, the control group showed an overall gain of less than half as many points in the reading assessments and one quarter as many points in the English assessments than their arts treatment group counterparts. Though increases in Spanish ability were not as impressive for the arts based group, they nevertheless made small gains, whereas the comparison group lost proficiency in their native language skills.

Significance of the Findings:

The analysis supports an authentic arts-based approach to language instruction that facilitates learning of a second language without sacrificing proficiency in the first language.

Methodology:

The researcher compared two intact fifth-grade ESL classrooms from an urban, Title I school, for a cumulative total of 63 ESL children participating in the study. The treatment class participated in an arts-based program designed to improve reading and writing skills twice per week, for five to six hours total, whereas the control group was taught using traditional ESL methods. The researcher collected pre- and post-data from scores of tests administered to the students to measure academic and language proficiency, such as the LAB Spanish, LAB English, DRP Reading, and ELE Spanish Reading standardized tests. The researcher supplemented the quantitative pre- and post-test data with descriptive data collected from on-site observations and recordings and teacher questionnaires and interviews.

Limitations of the Research:

The researcher acknowledges a couple of limitations in the study, for example the reported gains might be attributed to the nature of the pedagogical model rather than the presence of arts learning. That is, the social and cooperative interactions may account for the gains rather than the communicative and psychological qualities inherent in the arts. Because the researcher used a quasi-experimental design and did not randomly assign treatment and control groups but used intact classrooms instead, causation between arts participation and gains in English language arts and reading cannot be wholly attributed to the arts intervention.

A second limitation is that not all variables could be controlled for, such as teacher characteristics and curriculum, and may be confounding the effects.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Are programs that are pedagogically similar to the arts-based model, but not themselves arts-based, equally effective in increasing achievement in English language arts (ELA) and reading for ESL students? Might teacher characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, age, or personality, affect the outcomes of this study? Does the arts-based model have similar outcomes for second language students of other cultural backgrounds? Can the study be scaled up to include various types of learners, ESL and native English speakers with the same results? Would the statistical significance between control and treatment groups increase with a larger group of participants? The study should be replicated using random assignment for treatment and control groups to establish causation between arts learning and ELA and reading achievement for ESL students.