Russell-Bowie, D. (2009). Learning to Teach the Creative Arts in Primary Schools Through Community Engagement. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 20(2), 298-306.


This formative case study follows 13 undergraduate students planning to become classroom teachers and who are completing a field study placement in an elementary school. The placement involves teaching or assisting in a variety of arts-based projects during the school day and after school. The study addresses outcomes for the student teachers, classroom teachers, school community and elementary students using a model for academic service-learning and community engagement that emphasizes interdependent components of experience, reflection, and knowledge. The study found positive outcomes for the student teachers, classroom teachers, the school’s students, and the community.

Key Findings:

  • Undergraduate students changed personally and professionally as a result of the experience, learning about their teaching, increasing their confidence and competence, and confirming their choice of chosen career as a classroom teacher.
  • Teachers reported inspiration and new ideas about including the arts in their lessons and appreciated having assistance in their classroom that allowed them to give more individual focus to their students.
  • Classroom teachers and student teachers reported growth in elementary students’ academic, emotional, social, and artistic development.
  • Parents and others reported the positive benefits to the school by engaging in a partnership linking university students in the local community to mutually beneficial outcomes.

Significance of the Findings:

This model for community-based arts service-learning seems to be effective in preparing soon-to-be teachers by giving them practical experience and yields positive outcomes for varied participants. The researcher concludes that in addition to the three components of academic service-learning (experience, reflection, and knowledge), an additional component, change, should be added, as this was clearly demonstrated in her study. This solid case study yielding largely positive results could be an effective model to aid in pre-service teacher education, as well as community arts initiatives.


This formative case study followed 13 undergraduate students who were planning to become classroom teachers and who were completing a field study placement in an elementary school. These field experiences reflected McCarthy’s three components of academic service-learning (experience, reflection, and knowledge). The student teachers completed surveys, reflections, and assignments as well as taking the role of participant-observers. Over the 14-week semester, students completed at least 80 hours of service in the school and were involved in one or more arts-based projects, including team teaching arts-based lessons with a classroom teacher, running arts workshops in an afterschool program, organizing a children’s art exhibition, and helping to run a Creative Arts Fun Day for the entire school community. Students wrote reflections every three weeks to document their learning and completed a final assignment summarizing and analyzing their experiences.

Limitations of the Research:

The relatively small sample and case study methodology cannot establish that the detected outcomes were caused by the arts components of the program; rather, they suggest that the arts may be a useful component of teacher pre-service training.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How could this research support change in pre-service teacher requirements?