Monday, June 1, 2009

Michelle Obama Speaks to the Value of Arts Education


Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release May 18, 2009


Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York

7:00 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Well, thank you, Caroline. I am thrilled to be here in support of American Ballet Theatre and to join you in celebrating the opening night of ABT's spring season.

Through its leadership role as America's National Ballet Company, ABT's education programs reach over 25,000 students in some of the most underserved communities and schools across the nation.

In many cases, a child's first inspiration through the arts can be a life-changing experience. One creative dance class can open a world of expression and communication. Learning through the arts reinforces critical academic skills in reading, language arts and math, and provides students with the skills to creatively solve problems.

My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation's leaders for tomorrow. (Applause.) And it is our hope that we can all work together to expose, enrich and empower Americans of all ages through the arts.

And now it is my great pleasure to introduce the students of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School for their first appearance on this stage of the Met. This dance academy is a wonderful legacy for a woman who dedicated so much of her life to making arts and culture accessible for all.

Thank you, and enjoy. (Applause.)

Advocating for Arts Integration in Schools

In this interview in the Wittenberg Journal of Education, Dr. Lora Lawson who teaches Integrating Literature, Art, Drama, Dance, and Music Throughout the Curriculum at Wittenberg discusses advocating for arts integration among other things. Here's an excerpt:

WJE: How would you recommend teachers and others supporting the arts advocate for arts integration in school?

Lawson: It depends on what will convince the audience. But first, provide data. Spread the word about research supporting arts integration. For example, arts-based programs around the country are demonstrating they can engage disadvantaged youth in schools, as evidence by increased attendance and graduation rates, and the closing of achievement gaps. Talk about research that concludes school reform through the arts can result in better student motivation, increased problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, better multicultural understanding, and more.

Next, tell the story: share examples of effective arts integration programs. Ask people to remember the arts in their schooling and childhood. Have the current students tell their stories.

Test scores Rising up to Two Times Faster in Chicago Arts-Integrated Schools - Washington Post

The knee-jerk reaction to the attempt to raise student test scores is to go back to the old ways...drill, drill, drill. Yet more research is coming out to suggest that may not be the best way to get the scores up. This Washington Post article titled "The Art of Education Success" discusses the benefits of integrating the arts into the curriculum. Here's some excerpts:

The new economy may require higher-order skills such as creativity, adaptability and teamwork, but most schools in low-income areas focus narrowly on "basic" academic skills, testing and discipline. The student boredom and academic failure that follow prompt calls for yet more testing and discipline.

The first school and others like it are proving that integrating the arts into the core of the academic program is a far more productive strategy. Recently the principal of Edgebrook, Chicago's highest-scoring non-selective elementary school, attributed her school's success to its embrace of the arts. "We were concerned we might see a negative impact on test scores," Diane Maciejewski said. "But actually, just the opposite happened."

A growing body of research is yielding data that support her claim. A study of 23 arts-integrated schools in Chicago showed test scores rising up to two times faster there than in demographically comparable schools. A study of a Minneapolis program showed that arts integration has substantial effects for all students, but appears to have its greatest impact on disadvantaged learners. Gains go well beyond the basics and test scores. Students become better thinkers, develop higher-order skills, and deepen their inclination to learn.

These successes make clear that the arts are not just affective and expressive. They are also deeply cognitive. They develop the tools of thinking itself: careful observation of the world, mental representation of what is observed or imagined, abstraction from complexity, pattern recognition and development, symbolic and metaphoric representation, and qualitative judgment. We use these same thinking tools in science, philosophy, math and history. The advantage of the arts is that they link cognitive growth to social and emotional development. Students care more deeply about what they study, they see the links between subjects and their lives, their thinking capacities grow, they work more diligently, and they learn from each other.

Brain research confirms the benefits of Integrating the Arts

This is from the Maryland Fine Arts Education Tool Kit.

Common to all subject areas across the curriculum are various “overarching” skills and processes, such as synthesis, analysis, reasoning, and communication. Integrating the fine arts with other disciplines (core content areas) through instruction and assessment supports the development of these skills and processes.

Real-life tasks require constant and complex integration of learning that crosses content area and disciplinary boundaries. Educators can enhance student learning by creating opportunities for students to make connections between arts content areas and other disciplines across the curriculum. Recent studies conducted in the area of brain research and the development of higher order thinking skills have also confirmed the benefits of integrating fine arts education across the curriculum.

Integration of learning outcomes across disciplines may take a number of different forms, including:

  • Incorporation of a content standard (i.e., learning outcome) from one content area to enhance that in another;
  • Identification of universal themes and commonalities between and among content areas to enhance knowledge and skills in each;
  • Application of skills, materials, and processes from one content area to create a product that will have meaningful application in another; and
  • Use of knowledge about something in one content area (declarative knowledge) to shape a creative product or process in another.

Instructional practices in visual arts education support and are enhanced by learning not only in other arts disciplines, but in core content areas such as mathematics, science, social studies, and English language arts.

Visual arts education may provide an interdisciplinary context for exploring key ideas that include:

  • Understanding of physical and chemical properties of substances (science);
  • Interpretations of literary texts (language arts);
  • Application of mathematical concepts such as line, shape, and space (mathematics); and
  • Understanding of ways in which social and cultural values are defined and expressed throughout history (social studies).

Integrating the Arts with Academic Subject Boosts Student Scores

This article from discusses the Kennedy Center's Changing Education through the Arts (CETA) program. Here are some excerpts:

"A controlled comparison has shown that CETA students showed significant improvement in non-art academic achievement — including test scores in English and history — and effort grades, according to the school district’s Web site."

(Note from Jeff) This is something that we arts-based educators have know for a long time, but it's great to see it substantiated and a great counterpoint to those who want to increase the drill, drill, drill methodology to get students ready for standardized tests.

"Student engagement and motivation to learn has risen. There has been a positive impact on test scores overall, but much of the impact of deeper learning is not measured by standardized tests. We are especially noticing that English language learners and special education students benefit even more from arts integration.”

“It’s all about helping students learn. The byproducts are that teachers get re-energized about teaching and schools become collaborative learning places,” he said. “CETA is helping develop 21st-century schools.”

This quote is from the CETA website; it's worth a long look.

Our whole school is integrating the arts, thanks to the CETA program. The culture of our school is completely different because the arts are a regular part of instruction in classrooms on a continual basis. It has changed the way we define our school.—CETA Teacher

Now that's a testament to integrating the arts if I've ever heard one!

Excellent Activities for Integrating the Arts

This comes from a series of activities from a workshop by Dr. Sue Snyder for Oak Grove Upper Elementary School in Mississippi. They can be adapted for any level. Visual Art, Creative Movement, Music and more are clearly described. It's worth a look!