13:20 PM

Steps Magazine | Frontiers in Science

“It’s my mantra: All children have potential,” said Dr. Merryl Goldberg, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at CSUSM. “I’ve never met a child without potential. What kids really need is opportunity. And once given that opportunity, it’s amazing how capable they are.”The results of the research Goldberg worked on, in collaboration with the North County Professional Development Federation, the San Diego County Office of Education and ten North San Diego County school districts, reveal that her mantra is spot on.Through DREAM (Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods), a four-year arts integration program funded with a nearly $1 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Project Co-Director Goldberg saw standardized reading test scores of third- and fourth-grade students improve nearly 90 points in just one year.“Clearly, art has the power to inspire. Art has the power to educate,” she said.DREAM’s goal was to train third- and fourth-grade teachers to use visual arts and theater activities to improve students’ reading and language arts skills. Begun in June 2009, the program offered one-week summer institutes, coupled with coaching by professional artists throughout the year. Students in classes where teachers integrated theater to teach reading scored much higher on the reading comprehension and inference standardized tests.Ten school districts had teachers participate in the project, including: Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, Fallbrook, Julian, Oceanside, Ramona, San Marcos, Valley Center Pauma and Vista, representing 141 teachers and approximately 3,000 students.“All kids in our research started out on statistical equal footing as measured on the California Standards Test for English Language Arts,” said Goldberg. “The kids in the control group — the group without a DREAM teacher — averaged a 25-point improvement over the year. The kids in the classrooms with the teachers who only attended the summer institute had an average 51-point improvement. The kids in the classrooms with teachers who attended the institute and received in-class coaching gained an astonishing 87 points.”While art is often seen as an educational “extra,” separate from and secondary to the fundamental basics that must be taught in the classroom, DREAM’s research results highlight how vital the arts are to providing a foundation for building 21st century skills such as creativity and critical thinking.“The arts open up the natural abilities of children to wonder, to take risks, to feel confident, to be disciplined and to understand that learning is not a simple matter of ‘either/or,’ it is — indeed life is — more complex,” said Goldberg.At a press conference in February — hosted by CSUSM, the North County Professional Development Federation and the San Diego County Office of Education — Hector DeLeon, a fourth grade teacher at Vista Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, shared how being a part of the program helped him integrate art education into standard curriculum.“We were studying a jazz unit — learning about jazz greats like Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington,” he said. “We were learning about the 1920s and how popular the music was — and still is! As a DREAM teacher [I] was thinking, ‘how can I introduce the fourth-grade vocabulary or spelling test [to my students]?’ My thinking has changed quite a bit... Now, it’s ‘let’s sing [the words]. Let’s act them out. Let’s put movement behind these words. What would these words look like if we were to draw them?’”Dr. Laurie Stowell, CSUSM professor of literacy education, explained that the theater arts in particular are an excellent medium for teaching reading because students must become an active part of the story. In order to illustrate or act out the main idea, students have to understand what’s going on.“They are the book. They are the characters. They have to process and make meaning of the story in order to perform it,” she said. “They gain fluency skills and vocabulary skills because they are doing it.  They aren’t just looking at words on the page. They have to bring meaning to those words. That’s what the arts do.”Goldberg says that integrating the arts into education sets the stage for a desire for lifelong learning while introducing students to music, theater, dance and art — curriculum that has seen drastic cuts due to budget shortfalls.“This research gets at the heart of accountability and children’s capability,” Goldberg said. “Our results prove that the arts are critically important in schools and help bring subject matter to life.”View the DREAM Video: