The benefits of theatre field trips

Field trips to the theatre provide a number of educational benefits to pupils, according to research published in Educational Researcher. Jay P Greene and colleagues found that giving pupils the opportunity to take part in a field trip to see a live theatre performance produced an increase in tolerance as well as a greater understanding of the plot and vocabulary of those plays.

Schools in Arkansas in the US were assigned by lottery to receive free tickets to attend one of five live theatre performances over a two-year period. Grade 9 (Year 10) classes from participating schools were then randomly assigned to take part in theatre field trip or to serve as a control group and not take part in the field trips. In addition, for two of the five experiments, a second treatment group was added in which pupils were randomly assigned to watch a film version of the theatre play. The average age of pupils in the treatment and control groups was 14 years old.

The impact to pupils of the theatre field trip was measured on five outcomes: tolerance, social perspective taking (the ability to understand others’ feelings and perspectives), content knowledge, theatre consumption and theatre participation. Pupils in the theatre field trip treatment groups scored higher for levels of tolerance and social perspective taking (+0.14 and 0.16 of a standard deviation higher than the control group). Pupils’ content knowledge of the plot and vocabulary in the plays was also greater (by 0.15 of a standard deviation) than pupils in the control group.

However, watching a film did not produce benefits, and as the film-viewing group also left school for a field trip, the results suggest that the educational benefits to pupils come from the experience of watching live theatre, and not simply from leaving school for a field trip. Results also indicate that theatre field trips may encourage pupils to visit the theatre more often.

Source: The play’s the thing: experimentally examining the social and cognitive effects of school field trips to live theater performances (March 2018), Educational Researcher, Vol 47, Issue 4, pp. 246 – 254

What does the research say about arts education?

Child Trends has released a new research brief that identifies “five ways the arts are good for kids”. The author, David Murphey, presents existing research on the topic from several sources such as the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several published articles. The conclusions are as follows:  

  • Arts participation is associated with numerous positive academic and personal outcomes. According to the brief, these outcomes include higher grades and test scores, enrolment in post-secondary education, attainment of a bachelor’s degree and higher levels of literacy and civic engagement.
  • The benefits of arts participation may be greatest for children who are economically disadvantaged. For example, the research shows that young people from poor communities tend to benefit from having one or more projects that strengthen their sense of self and connect them with peers who share their interests.
  • Arts organisations can positively influence children’s neighbourhoods. According to the brief, there is some evidence that the presence of arts organisations (including performance facilities, galleries and artists’ workspaces) helps reduce a neighbourhood’s concentrated poverty and attract other creative and high-tech enterprises.
  • Children’s arts participation varies by age, gender and educational status. For example, the research shows that pupils are more likely to participate in school arts activities if their parents have attained higher education degrees and if they plan to go on to higher education themselves.
  • Music, in particular, may give children a brain boost. According to the brief, young people who have had music training demonstrate higher cognitive skills across disciplines

Source: 5 ways the arts are good for kids (April 2017), Child Trends

Shall we dance? Arts integration shows promise in early learning

Arts integration is an approach to learning that uses dance, drama, music, writing, drawing, and other arts to teach concepts in subjects not traditionally associated with the arts. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has just released a report, Arts Integration: A Promising Approach to Improving Early Learning, summarising the findings of a four-year, randomised controlled study of arts integration in early childhood maths funded by a grant from the US Department of Education.

The study examined the effects of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ professional development programme for early childhood teachers, teaching them to incorporate dance, drama, and music to teach STEM concepts – with an emphasis on maths – to children aged 4-6.

Eighteen elementary schools in two cohorts in Virginia were randomly assigned to participate in the Wolf Trap programme or to continue with their usual practice (Year 1 = 6 schools, 3 experimental/3 control; year 2 = 12 schools, 6 experimental/6 control). Differences in student ethnicity, native language, and socio-economic status, and in teacher experience, existed but were not statistically significant. The AIR study found that Wolf Trap students scored significantly higher than the control-group students on the standardised Early Math Diagnostic Assessment. Compared to controls, the first-year cohort’s scores were equivalent to 26 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.17), and the second-year cohort’s scores were equivalent to 34 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.21).

Effects on teacher practice were analysed via teacher survey, observations, and interviews. Wolf Trap teachers used arts integration in 32% of observed lessons, whereas control teachers used it in 18% of observed lessons.

AIR also examined the research on key features of successful professional development programmes and correlated them with Wolf Trap’s programme. Successful attributes of the Wolf Trap Early STEM/Arts programme included training prior to the school year, intensive mentoring and coaching during the school year, and strategies to align classroom practice with the schools’ goals and standards.

Source: Arts Integration: A Promising Approach to Improving Early Learning (2016), American Institutes for Research.

Sketchy findings for arts research

A new systematic review from researchers at Durham University explores the impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children aged 3-16, especially disadvantaged children.

The authors found 199 studies that met their inclusion criteria. They considered arts education to include a broad range of subjects, from traditional fine arts to modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing. The majority of studies were about music education or a combination of art forms.

The review found no convincing evidence that demonstrated a causal relationship between arts education and young people’s academic and other wider outcomes, although music (instrumental, music education and music integration) showed promise across all age groups.

The authors rated almost all the studies in the review as providing weak evidence because of serious design flaws, meaning it was difficult to state conclusively what the impact of arts activities in education might be. However, they point out that as a large number of the studies suggest positive effects more rigorous and robust evaluations would be justified.

The Education Endowment Foundation, who commissioned the research, argue that whether or not there is a causal link to attainment, schools should still find space in their day to ensure all children benefit from a stimulating arts education.

Source: Impact of Arts Education on the Cognitive and Non-cognitive Outcomes of School-aged Children: A Review of Evidence (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.