The project that this research is based on took place at Pantera Elementary School in Diamond Bar, California. The school population comprises approximately 200 students and twelve teachers. The ethnic make-up of Pantera is as follows: 36.8% Asian, 19.8% Hispanic, 35.9% White, 2.9% Filipino,.5% Pacific Islander and.4% American Indian/Alaskan. Neighborhoods within Pantera's boundaries are middle- and upper-middle class, with some new, upscale housing. Pantera has 2.2% of its students identified as limited English proficient students who collectively speak 13 languages other than English. Eleven percent of the students in grades 4 and 5 have been identified for the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program.
The fifth-grade class targeted in this research is typical of the school population in terms of ethnic diversity and class standing. Two students have been identified as limited English proficient students and seven are identified as GATE students. There are also two students in a reading specialist program (RSP).
The students in this class were allowed to discover their own strengths using a multiple-intelligence-based curriculum, which both empowered them as individuals and allowed them to develop the core skills that any individual will need to succeed in our high-tech society.
We are often been told that education lies at the root of our democracy. And this is true - but also an overgeneralization. Children can be taught in the classroom to reject democratic ideals as easily as they can be taught to embrace them. This paper argues that a democratically structured classroom - in which students are both instructed and empowered - is indeed a powerful tool for creating the citizens of tomorrow. But a classroom in which children are put into standardized boxes - as is becoming increasingly the case - is one in which the principles of democracy are not only ignored but squandered. This research examines two particularly powerful tools for inculcating in children the critical thinking skills necessary for becoming engaged and effective citizens of a democracy - teaching based on multiple intelligence and the integration of the performing and visual arts into the curriculum.
It should come as no surprise to us that children - and adults - learn in different ways and that we can use different learning styles and different kinds of intelligences to help children achieve their greatest potential. While there are a number of different ways in which the idea of multiple intelligence can be used to provide classroom instruction, one of the most powerful may be to integrate the concept of multiple intelligence and the praxis of art education. Participating in the arts - music, dance, and visual art - helps children learn not only about the arts themselves but also about a wide range of other subjects. Teaching the arts in schools is both an end in itself - i.e. It teaches children to value and understand expressive forms of culture - but it can also be a means to another end, empowering children to learn other subjects such as math or reading with greater ease and enthusiasm. This research has demonstrated the usefulness and importance (one might even argue the imperativeness) of teaching the arts in school. With so many states now facing dire financial problems and with arts-in-schools budgets one of the very first things to be cut whenever such budgetary crises loom, it is important that we remember that arts education is not a luxury but in fact lies at the heart of the educational process - as well as at the heart of the democratic process.
Children enjoy participating in the arts, and when adults see children having such a good time it is often hard for them to imagine that the children may also be at the same time mastering complex cognitive skills, but this is an artifact of the ways in which adults conceive of learning. For adults, learning is often associated with work and so it opposed to enjoyable and pleasurable activities. But for children, learning itself is a pleasure and meshes perfectly with (and reinforces) other forms of learning. However, this discovery of the joy inherent in learning is all-too often absent from classrooms in which "the teachers teaches and the students are taught; the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing" (Freire, 2001, p. 73).
This paper found that education in all of the art forms benefits children by increasing their cognitive skills: When children engage in the arts they are able to access and incorporate many different learning styles and intelligence factors that enhance not only their learning within the arts themselves but also verbal and written skills. The effectiveness of teaching through the arts as a way of supporting a multiple intelligence approach to learning in this particular class - in which children first participated in an arts-based unit of study on the American Revolution, then developed independent research projects and then empowered themselves as their own partners in education by presenting what they had learned at a conference for social justice at Chapman University - was measured using qualitative methodologies. These methodologies, including videotaping, are sufficiently sensitive to provide a base for analysis of the complex ways in which children learn.
Diane Halpern, who chairs the psychology department at California State University, San Bernardino, supports the idea that arts education can and should be measured qualitatively by incorporating, among other tools, videotaping mechanisms (1999). It is impossible to measures some intangibles prevalent in arts education, and the only effective means to evaluate performances are in fact qualitative (Murray, 1999). Appleby asserts that "what's needed in higher education are better tools fore assessing soft skills. Standardized tests and simplistic rating scales can't do the job, most educators agree" (Murray, 1999, p. 1). This research joins such qualitative methodologies to the use of a narrative/qualitative assessment of students' learning capabilities.
The arts - whether visual or performance - represent the range of ways in which people come to know as well as to relate to and interact with the world. Arts, and other subjects that we come to understand through an arts-based education, allow us to experiment with innovative approaches to thinking as well as acting, pushing each individual - and especially each child - to stretch his or her limits to develop themselves to the fullest potential.
There is evidence that working with the arts, especially in grades kindergarten through seven, develops students' minds and bodies in ways that enable them to learn better. The arts, particularly music, dance, and visual art, develop neural connections and body/brain connections which further learning in many areas, including math, reading, writing, and general language development. Having students work with creative drama and theatre in these earlier grades gives them a great advantage in their capacity for developing language skills, reading, writing, and verbal, and interpersonal skills. And all of the arts help students develop emotionally and socially, so that they are more prepared to deal with school, life, and other people (http://www.aaae.org/research.html#abilities).
The findings of this research reinforce previous findings that children are indeed natural artists, often using arts as a means to express themselves through color, form, sound and movement in ways that are more sophisticated than their other means of expression. Children are often capable of expressing complicated and highly nuanced message through art when they are not yet capable of doing so through other media (such as written or spoken language) and because of this they can use their education in the arts to jump-start their skills in other areas.
This research found that it is indeed the case that arts-based learning is a vehicle through which students can learn subjects such as language, history and mathematics. Moreover, when they learn these core subjects through poetry, song, narratives, painting, dance and drama they not only find that these subjects come more easily in many cases but also that there is better retention. This research found that arts-based learning supports a stronger model for engaging individual learning styles and preferences and tapping into children's "multiple intelligences" even as arts-based learning has the power to increase student self-esteem by encouraging a range of forms of self-expression.
Finally, this research found through both direct observation and through the self-reporting of subjects at the Chapman conference that an arts-based education promotes the active involvement of students as well as encouraging open communication among students and between students and teachers as well as appreciation by both teachers and students of the different ways in which people can learn. Arts-based learning promotes a tolerance for ambiguity, a tolerance for (and even an insistence on) difference and diversity.
The following citation summarizes the general findings of this research:
And there is evidence that when the arts are connected in meaningful ways with other subject areas, students comprehend and retain more about the subjects involved. Arts programs have been quite effective in teaching math, science, reading, writing, general language development, history, and social studies.