Artful Reading, when implemented with fidelity in classrooms, will improve teacher practice and effectiveness and improve student outcomes in literacy. Shanahan, in his 2010 What Works Practice Guide (IES), points to a set of six requirements for reading comprehension. Only one of the six includes the actual ability to read (decode). The other five include vocabulary knowledge and oral language skills, broad conceptual knowledge (i.e., background knowledge or schema), knowledge needed for the specific text, thinking and reasoning skills, and motivation and engagement. These latter five are more likely to occur, Shanahan notes, when “…a student is engaged in the task at hand.” (p. 6)
An amalgamated research field called the science of learning has identified four key ingredients of successful learning: learning occurs best when children are mentally active, engaged, socially interactive, and building meaningful connections to their lives (Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2015). AR explicitly incorporates all four. The impact of arts integration is far-reaching, with effects being linked to accelerated language and literacy development; improved mathematical reasoning and problem solving; gains in creative thinking abilities like elaboration and flexibility of thought; and healthier social and emotional responses. The arts motivate students to learn, provide a unique platform for demonstrating understanding, and allow children to make connections between content, their own experiences, and the world around them (Beshears-McNeely, 2018; Courey, Balogh, Siker & Paik, 2012; DeMoss & Morris, 2002; Gardner, 2003; Horowitz & Kleiman, 2002; Podlozny, 2000).
AR motivates students to learn by providing a unique platform to demonstrate knowledge. We know that “Play helps children make sense of their world and gives them an opportunity to learn how to get along, think, communicate, make decisions, delay gratification, solve problems, and build confidence” (Gillespie, 2016). For example, in the module Caps for Sale, students apply the shape vocabulary oval, semi-circle, straight line, circle, circular, s-shaped, dots, and swirly line to create a monkey during a guided drawing activity. Students are able to apply the vocabulary to the page using their own imaginations. A swirly line might be a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal representation of the monkey’s tail. A green marker may be selected to draw the monkey in a non-traditional color (i.e., not brown or black). A straight line may be drawn to depict one leg standing while a second straight line may be drawn to depict one leg in a high kick. The students are able to apply their artistic visions. We know that “...children given the chance to hear and use vocabulary in a playful setting remember it far better than those who get straight forward instruction” (Gurdon, 2019). Learning in AR is observed as a joyful experience as instruction is designed to align with children’s natural curiosities by providing them with context, autonomy through choices, guided explorations and multiple forms of expression through the arts (Haslip & Gullo, 2017).
The arts are a vehicle or point of access for all students, including disadvantaged populations. The learning experiences integrate drama, visual art, music, and dance as means for students to demonstrate what they know. The engaging properties of the arts are effective with students who come from disadvantaged groups (high poverty, race/ethnicity, students with disabilities, low levels of parental education). Children from low-income households perform better in high-school academics, college attendance rates, college grades and maintaining adult employment when they are actively involved in arts learning (Catterall, 2009). These students thrive when engaged through the arts, notes Robinson (2012). All learners engage in the creative process calling the arts a “universal pathway to learning” (p. 372).
AR promotes best practices of arts integration: alignment of content and arts standards, access to arts lessons designed by an arts educator, professional development around arts integration and processes and support of the school community in using this approach. The lessons are designed in collaboration with a literacy specialist and an arts specialist. The literacy specialist provides explicit reading, writing, vocabulary, speaking and listening instruction using national literacy standards to create authentic literacy experiences. The arts specialist provides explicit dance, music, drama, and visual arts instruction using the discipline’s standards and its vocabulary to create authentic artful learning experiences. AR, through professional development, works directly with teachers and literacy coaches to scaffold and measure both the evolving objectives of the content and the art form(s).
In the professional learning experiences, teachers are active participants engaging in using the strategies their students will use. Teachers will have extended interactions with CTL literacy specialists who model lessons, co-teach lessons, facilitate small group interactions, provide observational feedback, and provide formative assessment feedback, applying cognitive coaching best practices to troubleshoot and refine teacher implementation (Dunst, Bruder, & Hamby, 2015). Just as teachers integrate the arts, CTL works with teachers to integrate AR into existing curriculum for alignment of curriculum and cohesive approaches. Pacing guides are designed to reflect such. One powerful result is that teachers become facilitators of the arts-integrated learning process and become empowered in their own professional growth (“Arts Integration: What is ARTS integration in the classroom,” 2021).The arts-both visual and performing-can provide an engaging framework for learning, specifically, for connecting students’ own experiences to the content they are learning (DeMoss, 2002). As presented by Beshears-McNeely (2018), the arts address many of the weaknesses in traditional learning settings, including an ability to serve multiple learning styles, improve problem solving, and improved academic achievement in content areas. Critically, experiencing the arts through integration is linked to accelerated language and literacy development (Podlonzy, 2000; Ruppert, 2005). As Robinson (2012) notes, using the arts to learn or support another content—not art for art’s sake—is “an excellent strategy for planning and teaching the Common Core standards.” (p. 372).