DeMoss, K. & Morris, T. (2002). How arts integration supports student learning: Students shed light on the connections. Chicago, IL: Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE).
The study focuses on 30 students in classes taught by veteran teaching artists (teaching artists associated with veteran CAPE partnerships schools) to understand students’ cognitive processes when engaging in arts-integrated instruction compared to traditional instruction. Veteran teaching artists identified two similar academic units they would teach during the year, one unit incorporating the arts and the other using more traditional teaching practices. Through interviews with students, student answers to open-ended questions, and classroom observations, researchers found that students from all academic levels in units incorporating the arts reported improved motivation and ability to assess their own learning. The researchers also described the qualities of arts-integrated learning experience as being different from non-arts integrated learning experiences.
Researchers found that when students received arts-integrated lessons compared to more traditional teaching practices, they improved their ability to assess their learning, and reported that the arts integrated instruction created greater intrinsic motivation, encouraged learning for understanding, turned what students perceived to be barriers into opportunities to be solved, and motivated students to continue learning.
Significance of the Findings:
Previous studies have shown a positive relationship between arts and academic achievement. This study explores the possible reasons that arts positively affect academic achievement. Findings provide additional evidence that an arts-integrated curriculum can benefit students. As such, educators and curriculum developers may want to include the arts in their instructional units.
Veteran teaching artists identified two similar academic units that they would teach during the year, one unit incorporating the arts and the other using more traditional teaching practices. Researchers used qualitative data collection and analyses. Teachers also grouped the students into high, medium, or low achievement using standardized achievement test scores. Researchers interviewed students to gather information about differences in students’ learning processes in the arts and non-arts units, and to collect information about what different students report helps them learn most. Researchers interviewed participating students before the arts unit or the comparable non-arts unit and after.
Researchers asked students to write responses to questions about what did they know about the topic they were studying, why did they think the topic was important, and how did the topic make them feel before and after the lessons. Researchers analyzed the responses to the questions to assess the effects of learning in arts-integrated units compared to learning in traditional non-arts units. Researchers also conducted classroom observations to understand the relationship between how students experienced learning and what veteran teaching artists did in the classroom. Researchers used statistical analyses to determine if there was a significant difference in how students analytically assess their own learning.
Limitations of the Research:
The small sample size limits the generalizability of the results. Further, the study has low internal validity. There is no way to be certain the arts-integrated instruction led to the positive results. The teachers selected which units to teach using an arts-integrated approach. Perhaps the teachers taught a more enjoyable arts-integrated lesson than the unit taught using traditional methods. The schools in the sample included elementary, middle, and high schools. How students learn at these levels is very different, but researchers did not break down results by grade levels.
Questions to Guide New Research:
What factors in the arts-integrated units contributed to students having greater intrinsic motivation and encouraged learning for understanding? Would the results be duplicated if students were randomly assigned to receive a unit incorporating the arts or a unit using more traditional teaching practices? Were there any student characteristics associated with the positive outcomes? Were there any differences between students in elementary, middle, and high school?