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IES Grant

Title: The Effects of Arts-Integration on Retention of Content and Student Engagement
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Hardiman, Mariale Awardee: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2012-6/30/2014) Award Amount: $687,690
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A120451

Purpose: There is theoretical and empirical justification for the idea that arts-integrated instruction may improve student learning. For example, a number of researchers argue that the use of activities that incorporate the visual and performing arts may separately improve retention of instructional content by leveraging a variety of cognitive practices related to long-term memory, including: rehearsal, elaboration, generation, enactment, oral production of information, effort after meaning, emotional arousal, and the use of pictorial representations. All of these factors have been shown to increase the strength of long-term memory over and above what is achieved through purely textual presentations of information. In addition, arts-integrated instruction may be more engaging and enjoyable, especially for those who may not normally excel in school settings. However, prior research is limited. The goal of this research is to develop arts-integrated curricular units and matched control units that can be implemented in classrooms in the same school, and then to gather preliminary evidence about whether arts integration enhances student engagement and retention of instructional content.

Project Activities: The researchers will simultaneously develop arts-integrated curricular units and conventional control units that are closely matched for fifth-grade science content. Building on prototype versions in Astronomy and Ecology, the researchers will revise these two existing prototype units and develop two new matched pairs of units covering content in the physical and life science domains. These four matched units will be implemented in fifth-grade classrooms to determine the promise of arts-integrated instruction for increasing student engagement and retention of content matter in science.

Products: The products of this project will be four fifth-grade science curricular units that incorporate visual and performing arts activities and four matched conventional control units, including supporting materials for teachers such as detailed lesson plans, video clips, and handouts. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.


Setting: Fifth-grade classrooms in eight urban Maryland public schools.

Sample: Study participants include about 300 fifth-grade students in 12 classrooms across multiple schools.

Intervention: Each arts-integrated and conventional control unit will span approximately 3 to 4 weeks of classroom time and will address fifth-grade science content on discrete topics (e.g., Astronomy). Arts integration is a pedagogical technique for delivering content in core subjects through visual and performing arts activities with the explicit goal of making instruction engaging. Thus, the arts integration curriculum is intended to replace traditional classroom activities with artistic activities into which the same academic content is embedded. Two units on Astronomy and Ecology have already been developed by these researchers and will be refined in this project. Two additional units in the physical and life sciences domains at the same grade level will also be developed.

Research Design and Methods: In the first year of the project, the research team will revise and expand the previously developed prototype units in Ecology and Astronomy and develop two new arts-integrated units in the physical and life sciences domains. The researchers will also develop conventional units alongside the arts-integrated curricular units to use in the control classrooms. The arts-integrated and conventional curricula will be equated on (1) the range of content covered; (2) the amount of time allotted to each component of a given curricular unit; (3) order of presentation so that the logical order relative to the rest of the lesson remains the same across the two curricula; and (4) the collaborative nature of the corresponding activities (i.e., whether an instructional activity is performed individually or as part of a group).

In the second year, the researchers will conduct a pilot study to determine the promise of the intervention for increasing student engagement and retention of content. Pairs of fifth-grade teachers will be trained to teach a different pair of arts-integrated and matched control units. For one hour a day, their students will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. One teacher in the pair will teach one group an arts-integrated unit in one subject matter area, while the second teacher teaches a control unit in a different subject matter area to the second group of students. The two groups of students will then be reversed, and the two teachers will each teach the complementary unit in his or her matched pair. In this way, the contrast between arts-integrated units and matched conventional units can be examined both within teacher and within subject matter area, controlling for further possible confounds. Observers will be present in each classroom to record fidelity of implementation.

Before the beginning of the first units, all students will receive a pre-test serving as a baseline of their prior knowledge of the content of both units. After the first unit is taught, another test will be given. This test will again include questions on the content of both units. It will assess learning of the material in the unit that has already been taught, and, at the same time, measure any test-retest effects (i.e., improvement in test performance due merely to re-taking the test, rather than explicit instruction in the content). After completion of the second unit, two post-tests will be delivered: one immediately following the second unit and another one after a delayed period of 9 to 12 weeks. This will provide an opportunity to test for both total learning and longer term retention of content in the arts-integrated and conventional control units.

Control Condition: The conventional units will serve as the control condition in this project. The conventional units will include interesting and engaging activities such as demonstrations and hands-on experiments and instructional videos that do not

incorporate any arts activities.

Key Measures: The effect of arts-integrated teaching on content retention will be measured through the use of curriculum-based assessments. Tests will consist of 15-20 multiple choice questions and 1-2 short answer questions per subject matter area. Four versions of each test will be created (with test version counterbalanced across students and testing times) to ensure the comparability of the results. The content of the questions will be the same; however, to avoid effects of memory for the precise wording of questions or answer choices, this wording will differ across test versions. Additionally, surveys including both Likert-style and open-ended response items will be used to evaluate student engagement.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data from the curriculum-based assessments and the surveys will be analyzed using both quantitative (general linear model) and qualitative (e.g., response coding) methods.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Hardiman, M. (2016). Education and the Arts: Educating Every Child in the Spirit of Inquiry and Joy. Creative Education, 7(14): 1913–1928.