imgres I am asked over and over again, how can student achievement improve for our low performing school? We are testing and evaluating and scores just don’t get any better.  How can we engage parents?  Maybe the parents aren’t interested so we can never engage them.  I have worked in schools that need improvement, some more than others. What I see is this: no matter what they do, nothing seems to get much better — at least from the perspective of the math and reading test measurements that are used. I think perhaps they haven’t analyzed from the core what is needed. Students need to belong to something. They need to feel like their participation and engagement matters. Same for parents. The value of self or creative expression is underrated. The emphasis is on memorizing stuff, repeating it, and thus showing “mastery.”  Maybe I have lived too long or worked too hard to excel at too many things, but I know that doesn’t lead to mastery. Hard work, perseverance and experience along with time lead to mastery. Ownership comes from pride in a job well done. A student must feel that his or her participation has value. Students must absorb themselves in opportunity, learning, and take their parents along with them. Along with a unified goal to engage students, perhaps a different metric to measure improvement may be indicated. If it appears that students don’t care how they do, don’t have goals and in short, are not invested in creating a future that they want, it will be pretty hard to motivate. Students’ parents may in fact want better for their kids but have no idea how to get that or what that can look like. Some of them are so young themselves that the wisdom that comes from living hasn’t had a chance to develop. Many are struggling to survive in a variety of ways and the grand ideas of making a better life for their children seems too vague and too distant, and just plain overwhelming. Enter engagement with the arts. There are a few ways to do this in my mind, all valid. I like using  STE[a]M as a pedagogy. You can also use arts integrated education or just plain get kids involved in the arts for the arts sake. All of it has been shown to work.

James Caterall, PhD and professor Emeritus from UCLA published his 12-year National Study of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts to include the effects on the achievement and values of young adults, entitled Doing WELL and Doing Good by Doing ART. This study is comprehensive and an eye opener. Not that I needed my eyes to be opened. I have always believed in the arts as a great connector and teaching tool.

Caterall answers these two question with a unanimous “YES!”

  1. Is it engagement in the arts that matters?
  2. Or is engagement per se a crucial factor in the success of our students?

The arts help us learn. They help us retain what we experience. They engage and combine a skill set that applies to so much in the real world.  If we teach students that mastery comes from excelling on tests through gaining knowledge that you may remember, but have no idea how to apply, then what are we teaching? I don’t want to endorse only one way of doing things. Doing that in essence takes away from the idea of personalized learning in which I believe. I do want to endorse using the arts, whether it be as a tool to enhance understanding or as an outlet to foster creativity, which in turn may lead to innovative thinking and problem solving. The arts allow for failure. They allow for improvement and growth. The bottom line is when doing something in the arts one is never done. There is always room to get better. And at the same time, tremendous skills of self efficacy and know-how can be learned and practiced. I have seen what the arts do for children. I watched as students absorb, explore and show enthusiasm for class. This participation is pivotal for improvement, and faith in these learning tools must be.  It is not another new thing, new curriculum or method or online protocol. It is active engagement in life. It’s not an afterthought or something that is an extra or an add-on. It is essential to life and learning. Care about a child and he or she will care too.

From: JUNE 2, 2014 BY 

The facts are that arts education…

  • makes a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and has been proven to help level the “learning field” across socio-economic boundaries (Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School, James S. Catterall, The UCLA Imagination Project, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, UCLA, Americans for the Arts Monograph, January 1998)
  • has a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance among those youth engaged in afterschool and summer arts programs targeted toward delinquency prevention (Youth ARTS Development Project, 1996, U.S. Department of Justice, National Endowment for the Arts, and Americans for the Arts)


Check out the great work of The President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities(PCAH) in creating Turnaround Arts: Creating Success in Schools.

Categories: 21st Century Education, arts for arts sake, Arts Integrated Education, AT-risk students, creativity, education inpoverty, Education reform, Life Long Learners, mastery, motivation, self-esteem, social/emotional wellness, STEM education, Underrepresented populations in STEM

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