Best Evidence in Brief: Shall we dance? Arts integration shows promise in early learning

A new Best Evidence in Brief and a study that might interest a lot of readers of this blog:

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 brief, Arts Integration: A Promising Approach to Improving Early Learning, summarizing the findings of three reports produced as a result of a four-year, randomized controlled study of arts integration in early childhood math funded by a grant from the Department of Education.

The study examined the effects of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ professional development program for early childhood teachers, teaching them to incorporate dance, drama, and music to teach STEM concepts – with an emphasis on math – to children in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes.

Eighteen elementary schools in two cohorts in Virginia’s Fairfax County were randomly assigned to participate in the Wolf Trap program 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 SES, 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 standardized Early Math Diagnostic Assessment. Compared to controls, the first-year cohort’s scores (n=394, 220 experimental/174 control) were equivalent to 26 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.17), and the second-year cohort’s scores (n=354, 198 experimental/156 control) were equivalent to 34 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.21).

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

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

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