Teachers Lead the Way with Job-Embedded, Peer-to-Peer Learning

Southworth, R., Gardiner, M., & Westervelt, N. (2016). Measuring the Effect of Arts Integration on Academic Achievement and Instructional Improvement in Disadvantaged Populations; Four-Year (2011-2014) Evaluation Report of the Rochester Arts Impact Study Enhancement (RAISE) in Rochester, NY. New York: The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc.

Professional Development is the Key

The Rochester Arts Impact Study Enhancement (RAISE) used random assignment to choose which schools got the arts integration in K-6 classrooms in Rochester, NY. But we wanted to hear from all teachers, so we surveyed both teachers in the 11 treatment schools and teachers from the 10 control schools. Of the 612 teacher surveys received and analyzed over the four-year RAISE program, 78.9% of treatment teachers and 79.3% of control teachers indicated wanting future PD sessions. They wanted these to help improve their ability to integrate the arts, even though control teachers were unable to participate in the RAISE Program PD sessions.

Two Models for Professional Development

Providing Professional Development for treatment teachers focusing on integrating the arts into other subject areas was the number one factor contributing to the success of the RAISE Model. Professional Development was provided to treatment teachers in two formats: A traditional model of bringing teachers to the central office, guiding them in artistic instruction, and giving them materials to try the arts integration with their students the next day. A second professional development model called “job-embedded” was less traditional. The RAISE Program leaders considered the informal opportunities treatment teachers had to observe and interact with teaching artists during the implementation of the integrated units as “job embedded” professional development [D. Harloff].

Traditional Model of Central Office Professional Development

RAISE Program treatment teachers were requested to attend 10 professional development sessions each year and the RAISE Program leaders offered up to 60 sessions from which to choose. Each session focused on how to integrate a specific art form into other subject areas for a specific grade level and was delivered primarily by the Project Leaders along with several teaching artists leading some sessions.  Teacher quotes below demonstrate that the Arts Integration PD sessions provided them with new approaches to teaching and materials that helped them approach teaching in a creative way

  • “I’ve been able to use many of the created books I learned during training in different subject areas—the leveled book for students to explain and draw the processes of pollination and fertilization… [ Year 2 Treatment Fourth Grade teacher]
  • “What I’ve learned in the arts grants PD sessions has improved my teaching!” [Year 3 Treatment Resource Teacher]
  • “Everything I’ve taken this year and last year has enriched my teaching along with my students benefiting from the crayons, paper, books, music (CD’s), markers, etc. It is amazing that each class (J. S. Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson) has been different, I always walk away with several things to use.” [Year 3 Treatment Teacher]

Less Traditional Mode for Professional Development: Job-Embedded

When teachers invite teaching artists into their classrooms, teaching artists are able to show teachers in convincing demonstrations of arts integration that professional teaching practice can be improved through arts engagement, overlapping skills sets and improved student achievement. Job-embedded arts integration favorably impacts teacher practice. The teacher quotes below indicate that treatment teachers learned new teaching strategies, witnessed students using songs introduced by their TA during a test, and helped students improve reading fluency and drama skills.

  • “This is my first and only year actively participating with the grant as a classroom teacher. I thought it was wonderfully enlightening to be able to observe my class doing the planned activities with the guest Teaching Artist. I learned strategies to engage my students in a different way.” [Year 4 Kindergarten Treatment Teacher @ #X referring to Music TA]

  • “This year I use a lot of small drama activities to make vocabulary more meaningful for students. I also picked up from our visiting Teaching Artist how to help students think more in depth about a character and how that character might be feeling when we act out a small part of what we are reading.” (Year 4 Second Grade Treatment Teacher @ School #X referring to Theatre TA)

  • “…Teaching Artist showing us strategies of how to use arts/art to aid in comprehension of ELA. Having children demonstrate their understanding thru art work. [Year 3 Third Grade Treatment Teacher @ School #X referring to Visual Arts TA]

  • “One part of an ELA assessment we just gave talked about similies + metaphors. At least 75% of the kids were singing the song Teaching Artist taught them!” [Year 4 Fifth Grade Treatment Teacher @ School #X referring to Music TA]

  • “The lessons presented by Teaching Artist help the students to develop the skills necessary for improving reading fluency and drama.” [Year 3 Sixth Grade Treatment Teacher @ School #X referring to Theatre TA]

  • “Piggybacked; EBD—Evidence Based Claim approach to poetry paraphrase/translate what the poet is really saying (stanza at a time)—from more difficult pieces of poetry. (Got that idea from Teaching Artist’s line-by-line analysis of Shel Silverstein)” [Year 4 6th grade treatment teacher response to question on a survey asking how teachers are incorporating what the TA does into their own teaching practice]

It was expected that treatment teachers would indicate the kinds of PD they wanted to be able to improve their arts integration abilities. It was a complete surprise to find that control teachers were also eager to participate in PD focused on arts integration and made specific requests for what they wanted.

  • “I would love to have someone teach me songs and art projects that align with the new curriculum.” [Year 2 Control Teacher]

  • “Reading and writing are more difficult to integrate art, so maybe strategies and ideas to use during these subjects.” [Year 2 3rd Grade Control Teacher]

  • “I need to know examples/ideas of how I can integrate arts into curriculum and what resources are available to me.” [Year 2 4th Grade Control Teacher]

  • “I would like professional development to help integrate science lessons with the arts. For example, how to integrate matter, biology, etc…” [Year 2 5th Grade Control Teacher]

  • “I really think we need Module and Common Core specific trainings for each grade level. So, you look at the 6 week lessons being done in ELA (the modules) for each grade level and set up trainings based on content & what would be appropriate.” [Year 3 5th Grade Control Teacher]

The proof of this is shown to teachers when their own students do better on formative and summative assessments. When the central office also offers very hands-on, make and take, types of professional development and sends boxes of school supplies home with teachers, professional development becomes more relevant to the practical needs of teachers. But in the end, job-embedded professional development is the most persuasive key to teacher learning as teachers learn best in peer-to-peer learning relationships.

Successful Integration is the Transfer of Arts Learning Skills

In order to raise student test scores in a significant way, teaching artists must teach regular teachers and students well. The path of evidence we have followed in this evaluation is how well was the art skill taught, how well did teachers reinforce those teaching skills into their curriculum and how well did students demonstrate their understanding of the arts integration skills such that some type of transfer occurred and can be detected on state ELA and Math tests?

“So, if we can do something by rote and then later on I move that into the realm where they have to do the transference and de-coding, and they are able to do it, that tells me I have been successful in those 6 weeks for that particular skill.  I can embed activities that elicit that kind of response from them, and not just a rote learning memory response, they are taking the concept and they’re just enlarging it in some way.” [Music Teaching Artist]

Verbally, the #30 teachers referenced their observations that students truly focus when the teaching artist is working with them and that their ability to make connections and retain information is heightened.

“When you tie anything to music they remember it so much more readily than it being a rote concept, so I think this (RAISE Project) just reinforces that.”  [Kindergarten Teacher School #30]

Additionally the School #30 kindergarten teachers emphasized that arts integration provides differentiated instruction in that every child is engaged and involved and it supports the music curriculum because the children become familiar with instruments and are able to name them.   A School #30 first grade teacher commented that the theatre residency “supports learning in an integrated way” and followed up by saying, “the kids love it!”

“They transfer many of the concepts by incorporating the beat, rhythm or tune.” [Kindergarten Teacher]

“I think it helps with our vocabulary instruction. We have many ELL students and it helps with our visual instruction.” [Survey/Fourth Grade Teacher #50]

“They are learning some aspects of visual literacy (how to interpret visual images and very basic verbal skills.” [Survey/Fourth Grade Teacher #50]

“The one thing that stuck out to me was the song. And I still use it till this day when I’m teaching. The best part that stuck out to me was that the kids were able to recall the different literary elements going back to the song.”  [Survey/Fifth grade Teacher #50]

Kindergarten teachers from all treatment schools express their understanding of how arts impacts student learning by talking about the use of the word “audiate” by the children. As one kindergarten teacher at School #52 confirms:

“The example I have is when Dr. Gingris comes into our room in the fall. And she teaches them a song….claps it with them and then says it. But when she’s turned the cards over to not say it, but to keep up with the beat she taught them early on, the word was ‘audiate.’ You have no idea how often when the children are trying to do something… someone’s counting next to them and the kids say, ‘Would you audiate instead so that I can concentrate?’” [Interview/Kindergarten Teacher #52]

Job-Embedded PD Leads to Teacher Incorporation Into Practice

The sixth grade teachers at School #5 provided several examples of incorporating the concepts and methods used by the teaching artist into their teaching practice.  From reminding the students to remember what the teaching artist taught them to replicating the way in which the teaching artist helped students analyze a poem line-by-line for meaning (e.g., Evidence Based Claim approach to paraphrase/translate what the poet is saying), the teachers provided tangible evidence that their teaching practice was impacted by their involvement with the theatre teaching artist.

“I find there are times in the day and go back and say, ‘remember what Mr. Law taught you.’”   He explained that this generation of children is the ‘wait and tell me generation’ because of Dora the Explorer.”  [Sixth Grade Teacher School #5]

“I told them when they were doing math…and they are just staring at you, ‘What did Mr. Law tell you, you are waiting for me to tell you the answer.’ It really resonated with me and with the kids, too.”  [Sixth Grade Teacher School #5]

“One of the Robert Frost poems that is way over their head, having them take it apart, this line means this, to mean this…connects with evidence based claims we did, for the state.  We made the poetry lines the evidence and then they had to use their own words, it’s exactly what they have to do for ELA and Social Studies right now… So their poems depicted an aspect of an artist’s writing–got the idea from him.”   [Sixth Grade Teacher School #5]

The Key To Arts Integration is Traditional and Job Embedded Professional Development

The surveys documented teacher responses and statements about incorporating the arts integration aspect of the residency into their own daily class, challenging students to persevere through tough questions and not just wait for the answer, as well as using the teaching artist’s line-by-line analysis of Shel Silverstein poems as a method to interpret more difficult poems. Job-embedded professional development facilitated collective arts integration impact on student learning.