Charland, W. (2011). Art integration as school culture change: A cultural ecosystem approach to faculty development. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 12, (8), 1-17.


The researcher used an applied form of action research to evaluate the implementation of an arts integrated curriculum in a K-6 magnet elementary school. The school implemented Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a pedagogical practice designed to facilitate and encourage aesthetic development; higher-order thinking skills such as critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving; and verbal and written communication. The school fully implemented the VTS arts integration pedagogical practice through a series of phases beginning with teacher training and progressing to peer coaches training teachers in other schools. The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with focus groups and recorded evidence of student learning through anecdotal reports. In addition to examining the phases of implementation, the researcher found that VTS strategies positively impacted student achievement and teacher practice in other subjects.

Key Findings:

Teachers who used VTS regularly reported noticing their students offered more detailed analyses when discussing art works. This attention and communication of detail transferred to other subject areas as the students became more explicit in speaking and writing and contributed more to classroom discussions.

When students began to generate knowledge during VTS lessons rather than simply receive it, teachers began to see the educational process as less didactic and more student-centered and open-ended. The student engagement exhibited during VTS lessons encouraged teachers’ comfort levels, and the VTS program became further ingrained in the school culture as a result of teachers’ more frequent implementation.

Teachers reported noticing a growth in students’ communication skills, which included advanced depths during discussions, the ability to build on other ideas and respectfully critique their peers, and a greater comfort in sharing ideas.

As teachers became more comfortable and confident with implementing VTS arts-integration, they began to apply the approach to teaching other subjects outside of art.

Significance of the Findings:

While past research examines the impact of VTS in schools, the current study examines the sustainability of VTS. The study suggests VTS arts-integrated lessons have an impact on students and teachers, and was successfully implemented through a plan that accounted for the school’s culture and contextual factors.


Classroom teachers at a K-6 elementary magnet school were encouraged (but not required) to implement VTS in their classrooms. The full implementation of VTS into the school culture occurred over multiple phases and academic years. In the first phase, 24 classroom teachers conducted on average two-and-a-half VTS sessions with their students. Subsequent phases of implementation involved sustained professional development and peer coaching to strengthen teachers’ VTS skills and imbed VTS in the school culture. The researcher collected data beginning in fall 2003 and ending in 2010 through teacher focus groups and a year-end teacher survey. Teachers kept track of how many times they practiced VTS in the classroom. The researcher analyzed the qualitative responses to find meaningful patterns.

Limitations of the Research:

The research design relied almost exclusively on qualitative and self-reported data collected from teachers. Findings associated with student outcomes, such as increased motivation, engagement, and gains in writing and speaking skills would be strengthened through more rigorous data collection that includes pre- and post-test outcome-centered data. Data could also be collected from administrators, students, and parents in order to better understand their roles in helping to establish and sustain VTS. School-wide achievement data would shed light onto the gains in learning for students as a result of the changed school culture and would show whether VTS affects achievement in other subjects as well.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What specific student outcomes are impacted through VTS? What other subjects can use VTS to teach content? How does teacher practice change for the long run as a result of the intervention? Do teachers who use VTS have greater student achievement in arts and other classroom subjects than those who do not use VTS?