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.

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