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A multi-arts approach to early literacy and learning.

Abstract. Based on teacher questionnaires and close ethnographic observation of 40 first-grade students, this article explores the learning possibilities the arts present for teaching young children and fostering developmentally appropriate practice. Its aim is to reinforce the value of the arts already being used in early childhood classrooms and to promote literacy development and learning through the arts in an integrated fashion, valuing multiple intelligences and learning styles. Teaching young children literacy through the arts sets a lifelong habit of critical consciousness. Collaboration between school arts specialists and classroom teachers is encouraged and specific suggestions are provided to help present students with learning opportunities that are meaningful, fun, and encompass a wide scope of opportunities, creating multiple sites for potential learning.


First-grade students entered the art room and sorted themselves out on the carpet. They had just come in from recess and were hot and sweaty. Their task was to sit, hands in lap, "criss-cross apple sauce" for group time. After several friendly but firm requests from the art teacher, they settled in and she got out the big teacher-made picture book on early 20th century French painter Henri Matisse. She showed some pictures and asked students to tell what happened previously in the story, then they began to read the children's book A Bird or Two: A Story About Henri Matisse (Le Tord, 1999). After the story, students sang "Purple Robe" (James, 2006), with a CD accompaniment.

Purple Robe (sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It")

A woman sat in her chair, Purple Robe. There were flowers on the table, Purple Robe. Striped paper on the wall made the flowers seem so tall

As she sat in her chair, Purple Robe!

After the song, the teacher facilitated a discussion about several of Matisse's pieces:

Teacher: Why do you think the woman is wearing a purple robe?

Aisha: She just got up.

Antonio: Yeah, it's Sunday. She lazy.

Shaniece: No! (children laugh)

Trevin: She be pickin' flowers.

Teacher: Could be! Tell me about the flowers. Where did she get them? Describe them to me.

Charles: She picked them.

Katina: Her daughter [gave them to her].

Aisha: They pretty.

Trevin: An' tall!

Students shared their perspectives as the conversation continued, noting important aspects of Matisse's painting. As they interacted with the picture, they presented diverse representations of the intersection

between their experiences and the text (Rosenblatt, 1978). After dialogue, it was dress-up time. Putting on hats, robes, gloves, etc. and arranging chairs, vases, or other props, the children conceptualized the diverse ways they interpreted the paintings. Students talked as they made sense of their experiences and had lots of fun.

When the teacher, Ms. James, played the Purple Robe song again, it signaled a transition. The children put away the dress-up things and went to the tables for the studio portion of the visual arts lesson. The teacher returned colorful papers that the children had previously painted. Using black paint and big brushes in the style of Matisse, students outlined colorful background shapes and painted different patterns on each paper.

The teacher employed famous masterworks of art to illustrate painting styles and techniques (such as the lines making the flowers look tall). By looking at the Matisse paintings critically and purposefully with the help of their teacher, students were able to learn about patterns and objects Matisse used in his paintings. In turn, they employed similar techniques in their own paintings and identified them in other contexts and media (such as children's books). While she started with Matisse, Ms. James took the time to point out how such techniques were used by illustrators in common children's books.

As standards and school district curriculum mandate, children must be able to identify several painters and styles. As most of the painters represented dead European male artists and most of the children were African American, the teacher decided to explore the students' culture and study several African American artists who were natives of their state. Although state goals and curriculum content mandate exposure to such master painters as Leonardo Da Vinci, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh, Ms. James also added such artists as Henry Tanner (one of the foremost African American artists) and William Johnson (an African American painter born in Florence, SC) to the curriculum. In this article, however, we limit ourselves to outlining the unit of study on Matisse's paintings as we explore a multiarts approach to literacy learning. Here, we consider literacy a meaning-making activity. According to Paulo Freire (1970), literacy refers to the ability to manipulate any set of codes and conventions--whether it is the words of a language, the symbols in a mathematical system, or images--to live healthy and productive lives. According to Wagner, Venezky, and Street (1999), the term "literacy" signifies expertise in various content areas, such as computer literacy, geographical literacy, and arts literacy. The term is used not only to describe multiple areas of expertise, but also to point out that all definitions of literacy are, to some extent, a function of culture.

Selecting works by French painter Matisse and relating these to other arts fostered teaching coherent with the National Standards for Arts Education: What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able To Do in the Arts (Consortium of National Arts Education Association, 1994), a document that outlines basic arts learning outcomes integral to the comprehensive K-12 education of every American student. Standards in the visual arts for kindergarten through 4th-grade students include:

1) Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

* Students know that the visual arts have both a history and specific relationships to various cultures

* Students identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places

* Students demonstrate how history, culture, and the visual arts can influence each other in making and studying works of art

2) Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

* Students understand there are various purposes for creating works of visual art

* Students describe how people's experiences influence the development of specific artworks

* Students understand there are different responses to specific artworks 3) Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

* Students understand and use similarities and differences between characteristics of the visual arts and other arts disciplines

* Students identify connections between the visual arts and other disciplines in the curriculum.

With the life and artwork of French artist Henri Matisse as a theme, the children explored shape, color, and pattern as well as aesthetics and art history in this study. Over a six-lesson unit, students listened to the book A Bird or Two: A Story About Henri Matisse (Le Tord, 1999); participated in shared readings, discussions, and dress-up; wrote poems or skits; created Matisse-style paintings; and made paper bag puppets. Literacy skills and multiple arts disciplines were incorporated into the unit to immerse children in learning. The students were also actively engaged in learning as they used a variety of techniques and multi-intelligence formats in a low-risk, comfortable environment.

This study focuses on a visual arts specialist and her 40 first-grade students (two classes). Ms. James (the teacher) was one of a few white teachers in an urban, mostly African American school classified as Title I in South Carolina. Her students came mostly from lower SES (socioeconomic status), which was indicated by the very high percentage of students receiving free and/or reduced-price lunch. In the subsequent section, we take a look at what education research has to say about the way young children learn, how the arts should be taught to young children, and how the arts can be integrated into the general classroom curriculum.

Young Children's Learning and Schooling

In a comfortable learning environment, young children are eager to try new things; as they play and experiment, they learn (Owocki, 1999). The arts present opportunities for creative experimentation, create authentic avenues for learning, and provide "hybrid literacies" as experienced in out-of-school learning environments (Cushman & Emmons, 2002). Thus, multi-arts pedagogy has the potential to make learning experiences more meaningful and longer lasting though ownership and choice.

According to Bredekamp and Copple (1997), the principles of child development and learning that inform developmentally appropriate practice directly support the use of a multi-arts approach to early literacy and learning. This is evidenced by the beliefs that young children "are active learners, drawing on direct physical and social experience as well as culturally transmitted knowledge to construct their own understandings of the world around them" (Task Force on Children's Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight & Goldhawk, 1998, p. 3), and that:

Through arts education, very young children can experience nontraditional modes of learning that develop intrapersonal, interpersonal, spatial, kinesthetic and logic abilities, as well as traditional modes of learning that develop mathematical and linguistic abilities, skills and knowledge. Because children learn in multiple ways, activities should reflect these multiple ways of knowing and doing. (p. 4)

Classrooms for children ages 0 through 5 usually reflect these multiple ways of knowing and doing (Rowe, 1994)--less so in 1st grade. Activity and play centers are commonplace. Children are free to move about and interact with each other. Drawing, painting, clay modeling, block building, dress-up, singing, and rhymes are valued learning tools. Two or more adults are usually present to facilitate learning; play and creativity are encouraged and meaningfully incorporated in the teaching of content areas (Owocki, 1999) while ensuring an appropriate student-teacher ratio (Nye, Boyd-Zaharias, Fulton, & Wallenhorst, 1992).

According to Katz and Chard (2000), the Reggio Emilia curriculum and schools have raised awareness of the importance of the arts in early childhood education. Despite its late formal introduction to early childhood education in the United States (in 1987), such schools have functioned in Italy since the 1960s (New, 1993). In Reggio Emilia schools, arts are incorporated as a tool for learning--as a gateway to all learning processes (Sassalos, 1999). Reggio serves children up to age 6 (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998). This study is based on premises similar to those that guide Reggio Emilia schools, but focuses on the applicability of arts as a tool for learning with children ages 6 to 8. While bringing an integrated approach to slightly older students was a localized effort, it illustrates the possibilities of employing arts-based approaches to teaching language and literacy.

While the importance of the arts has been highlighted by curricula such as Reggio Emilia, to be able to use the visual arts as a tool for learning, teachers need to possess appropriate knowledge and skills. These skills are generally not possessed by pre-service and inservice teacher educators but only by the arts specialist or arts educator in the school (Taunton & Colbert, 2000).

In addition to lack of training teachers receive in the visual arts, another caveat leading to departure from the developmentally appropriate practices (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) described above is the pressure on teachers and students from mandated standards, testing, and other accountability packages (Charlesworth, Fleege, & Weitman, 1994). As they grow older, students are not allowed as much freedom of movement or choice in learning activities. Curricula may become entextualized and pre-planned in commercial texts, often inhibiting natural inquiry. According to Postman and Weingartner (1969), "Children enter school as questions marks and leave as periods" (p. 60) as emphasis is put on independent reading of texts and knowledge level written responses. Competition rather than collaboration develops. As a result, some children begin to develop a painful sense of failure. A poor self-concept may begin to replace a love for learning. This situation is not necessary.

Teachers of young children can become advocates for multiple ways of learning and doing by engaging in teacher research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999), employing theoretically sound practices, and collaborating with colleagues. We can dialogue about pedagogies and promote sound teaching practices throughout the educational community, documenting the success and achievements of our students and of ourselves as teachers and lifelong learners. Below, we share our research and pedagogy with you and advocate an approach to teaching all children through integrated approaches, valuing multiple intelligences and a variety of learning styles.

Artfully Teaching and Integrating Content Areas

In general, preschool teachers and arts specialists have much in common in the way they approach teaching. Lessons involve immersion in a variety of learning opportunities through hands-on engagements. There is a gamut of possibilities, and not merely one right outcome. Ownership and originality are valued. Lessons are learned and knowledge is gained through "happy mistakes" or miscues (Goodman, 1969; Owocki & Goodman, 2002), which are framed as learning opportunities. There is a genuine concern to teach the child as a reader, writer, artist, mathematician, scientist, and not to get lost in the teaching of subjects as static bodies of knowledge.

In many elementary schools, the arts are taught by specialists. A national fast-response survey system (FRSS) study (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002) reported that music specialists are in 94% of elementary schools in the United States, followed by visual arts specialists at 84%, with dance specialists trailing far behind at 20%. According to Remer (2003), little collaboration occurs between arts specialists and classroom teachers. In many preschool classrooms, arts are valued as precursors to written language, aids in promoting oral language, and bridges to developing cognition, creativity, social interactions, and motor control (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001). Even in these classes, however, collaboration between arts specialists and preschool teachers has been minimal. This represents a waste of personnel resources and amounts to a great loss for young children. To reach every child, collaboration is essential.

In many public schools, the arts may be taught in isolation (no teacher collaboration or connection with classroom learning); strictly for art's sake (history, aesthetics, theory, and technique); or as tools for skill development (illustrations, motor development, reading cues). In a few places, the arts are not taught by specialists at all (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002), while schools at the other end of the spectrum place the arts as the heart of the curriculum (e.g., the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project [2005]). As professionals, we must inquire about reasons the arts may be excluded and not integrated for the sake of implementing developmentally appropriate practices.

There are multiple ways of learning--multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1993) or, according to Reggio Emilia, multiple languages (New, 2000). As educators of young children, and as knowledgeable professionals who understand how children learn and develop, we must provide learning opportunities that support every child's intellectual, social, and personal development. The arts present an interrelated conceptual bond of words, thoughts, and pictures. After many years of observing untapped arts resources, we decided to investigate three basic research questions in this study: 1) How can cognition be developed through a multi-arts approach?; 2) How can the arts support literacy learning in early childhood?; and 3) How can we persuade educators to use the arts to develop cognition and improve student performance?

From Problematizing to Action: A Critical Perspective

As teachers, our charge is to consider, from a critical and reflective perspective, what is and what is not working for our students, even going beyond our own students to examine the state of public education and the sociopolitical structures behind it. We need to inspire our students to think critically for themselves, make decisions to direct change, and then act upon those decisions. Students are central in determining curriculum and pedagogy. Teachers need to view "the student as the informant" (Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984). Teaching young children literacy through the arts sets a lifelong habit of critical consciousness. Using prior knowledge, cultural identities, and higher order thinking skills, students develop the habit of objectively valuing and recreating ideas (Larson & Marsh, 2005).

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are essential tools that students need in order to learn and pursue deeper understandings of the world around them. Authentic learning situations require these tools be applied in order to gain that understanding. Gardner (1993) reminded us that students in school must spend a greater part of their time with activities that ask them to put their understanding to work, such as carrying out applications, creating works of art, and other pursuing activities that demonstrate understanding through multiple learning styles and forms of expression. Creating art is one way of putting this understanding to work. "Works of art, by their very nature, are connected to many areas of learning" (Pearson, 1998, [paragraph] 5). According to Pearson (1998), the arts are cognitive in character--entryways to the processes of thinking and learning. Engaging in the arts involves many cognitive areas, such as analytical thinking, problem posing, and verbal reasoning.

According to Anderson and Krathwohl (2001), who developed a taxonomy of learning couched in Bloom's theories (Bloom, 1956), creating (design, construct, plan, produce), a component essential to the arts, is at the highest level of the taxonomy. For example, returning to the initial scenario presented in this article, to create the Matisse style painting, the 1st-grade students in the study needed to remember that Matisse used clear colors, black lines, moving shapes, and patterns. They had to understand that their artworks were to include such qualities and actually apply the colors, lines, and patterns to their papers. As students were painting, they analyzed just how to apply the colors and where to put the lines and patterns. Such evaluation was ongoing as the painting progressed, and formal evaluation occurred at the project's completion in the form of a critique from the teacher. In three art sessions, the students had created a new product that did not exist before, applying what they learned and showing an understanding through creation (see Figure 1).

In this context, teachers of experience know that certain conditions need to be in place to facilitate learning. A study conducted by Brian Cambourne (1988) examined what some of those conditions are and how teachers can create them, including immersion, demonstration, expectations, responsibility, use, approximation, and response.

The following chart shows where Cambourne's conditions were apparent in our Matisse lesson. Anderson and Krathwohl's taxonomy, curriculum integration (through multiple intelligences), and language arts standards are also shown (see Figure 2).

Data and Analysis

To collect data for this study, we turned to the elementary school where visual arts teacher and co-author Ms. James worked at the time. Data was gathered from a questionnaire completed by 25 teachers, observations, thick field notes, and video data from two existing classes of 1st-grade art students (40 students total). Data collection occurred between January and May 2006.

Intercity Elementary School (pseudonym), located in the heart of a city of over 100,000 inhabitants, had approximately 600 students and 40 teachers. More than half the students lived in a nearby public housing project, with 97% of the students receiving free and/or reduced-price lunch. There were several free afterschool tutoring programs. The school was a Title I school and also had a three-year federal grant from Reading First. Ninety-nine percent of the student population was African American and 90% of the faculty was also African American. Ten percent of the faculty members were males. As a white, female teacher, Ms. James was part of the 10% non-African American minority.


Participants in this study were 40 first-grade students and 25 early childhood classroom teachers. They were all members of Intercity Elementary School. Students' demographics were representative of the school general demographics. They were grouped according to classroom membership (which 1st grade they attended), remaining in groups according to their home classrooms. This was determined by the model adopted for visual arts classes at Intercity Elementary. Ms. James taught students grouped by homeroom and did not modify this format.

Teacher participants taught children ages 5 through 8. They were part of Ms. James' book-making workshop on a professional development day (part of a U.S. Department of Education Reading First grant). While they had to attend this workshop, they were not required to complete the questionnaire. Prior to the workshop, Ms. James invited them to complete the optional questionnaire, explaining to them its research purpose. They were instructed not to identify themselves on the form and were told that responses would be typed by a third party so that Ms. James would not be able to identify them by their handwriting. Ms. James left the room as the teachers completed the questionnaire. She asked them to seal all questionnaires (whether or not they were completed) in an envelope. As promised, she had all responses typed by a third party prior to analyzing them. Twenty-five out of 40 teachers selected Ms. James' workshop. All 25 of them completed the optional questionnaire provided.

Data Collection

Because of our desire to link theory to practice and have an impact in the school we were studying, Ms. James presented a book-making workshop as part of the Reading First training at Intercity Elementary School. The teachers, just like most students, were delighted to have a novel learning experience during which they could create something with their hands. Ms. James presented connections between text and images, gave suggestions to the teachers on student projects, made connections to the professional literature the teachers had been reading, listened to ideas from the teachers, and constructed hard-backed, cloth-covered, "bare" books that the teachers could fill in later.

As part of the workshop, we gave a 10-question survey on the arts to 25 teachers at the school. The survey included the following questions:

1) What is the role of the arts in teaching and learning?

2) In what ways can you use the arts to improve students' learning?

3) Do you support the arts? How so?

4) What are some functions of the arts?

5) Would you be willing to collaborate with the visual arts teacher? If so, in what ways could this collaboration happen? If not, what are some obstacles to such collaboration?

6) Do you see any benefits to including the arts in your classroom?

7) Do children learn worse, better, or no differently when the arts are integrated to the curriculum? In what ways?

8) From your perspective, is there any relationship between developing arts skills and literacy learning?

9) In what ways do you see yourself collaborating with the arts specialist?

10) Have you ever used the arts as a learning tool in your classroom? If so, who gets to participate? Who doesn't? What are some of the obstacles?

According to survey results, the majority of the teachers indicated that they supported the arts but were unsure how they could use them to improve student learning. According to the survey, all 25 of the teachers saw the arts as an important form of communication and would be willing to give the related arts teachers a copy of their long-range plans so as to coordinate their lessons to complement learning in the classroom. Ninety-six percent agreed that children learn better in integrated curricula and authentic settings. Ninety-two percent could see how integrating the arts may help students develop as readers and writers. Eighty-eight percent would have invited an arts specialist into their classroom for special projects. Eighty-four percent would be willing to team-teach a lesson with an arts specialist. Seventy-six percent had used the arts as a learning tool in their classrooms. This same percentage of teachers felt that sometimes it was necessary to take a student out of related arts for make-up work, tutoring, or testing. While an underlying belief that the arts offered possibilities to better students' language and literacy development existed, more than half of the teachers (52%) were not sure how to use the arts and stated that it was difficult to offer arts-based learning to students because of time limits and behavior problems.

In analyzing this small, local survey of teachers, we found results similar to the national survey of the general population done through Americans for the Arts (Davidson & Michener, 2001). Both local and national surveys reinforced our belief and experience that many U.S. teachers don't have extensive experience applying the arts to facilitate learning and development. However, because many participants indicated that they were willing to do something if they only knew what to do, we devised a study involving a multi-arts approach to use in Ms. James' 1st-grade art room.

The curriculum of the school district in which Ms. James worked mandated a set of 12 specific paintings and artists for study. Each year, from kindergarten through 5th grade, the students learned about two pieces from the repertoire collection. In our study, we show that using multiple arts disciplines embedded into the regular art curriculum helped students retain information about the visuals and reflect this information in their own artworks, resulting in higher quality, more creative student pieces. Addressing the belief that authentic learning does not translate into high scores in formal assessments, we decided to employ authentic learning and a formal measure of assessment--a criterion-referenced test that assesses whether or not the student has learned the material (met criterion). Criterion-referenced tests assess "what test takers can do and what they know, not how they compare to others" (Anastasi, 1988, p. 102), and whether they exceeded, met, or did not meet a pre-determined performance level.

We knew that if the study showed an improvement in retention of information (assessed through a criterion-referenced test) and application (assessed through performance-based assessment as shown by quality of student work), not only would the students benefit immediately, there also would be concrete data to share with the teachers at Intercity Elementary School, presenting the possibility of promoting change in the school's overall approach to learning by using the arts as a vehicle for learning across the curriculum.

Ms. James created a five-lesson painting unit for her 1st-graders based on the art of Henri Matisse. Twenty students in Class A were taught using visual art and some language arts pedagogy. Activities for all five lessons included large-group time with a read-aloud, three visuals, and discussions. Ms. James demonstrated the painting techniques and discussed ideas with the students. The majority of the time was spent on painting 18" x 24" compositions. A large-group critique (sharing time) took place during the fifth session. Students who completed the paintings early were allowed to paint a smaller project of their choice. During the fourth session, large-group time was eliminated. The students' first table activity was to take a written quiz read aloud by Ms. James and the remaining 40 minutes were used for painting. Students who needed extra time used the fifth lesson to complete the painting. At the end of the fifth lesson, Ms. James and her students gathered back in a large group for a critique during which students displayed and discussed their paintings.

Class B was taught with a multi-arts approach that also included some language arts pedagogy. Classes A and B had 20 students each. Class B also had five lessons, beginning with large-group time including read-alouds, three visuals, and discussions. Shared reading of teacher-made big books, sing-alongs with the Purple Robe CD (James, 2006), and dress-up were components added to large-group time. During the fourth session, with large-group time eliminated, the students' first table activity was to take a written quiz read aloud by the teacher. The remaining 40 minutes were used for painting. Students who needed extra time used the fifth lesson to complete 18" x 24" compositions. As students finished, they were invited to join others in making paper bag puppets independently at the craft supply table or to work with Ms. James in a small group co-constructing poems and skits. The elective activities at the end of the lesson helped reinforce the content as well as focus the learning on literacy. For the last 15 minutes of the last session, teacher and students gathered back in a large group for a critique (sharing time), when students showed their paintings, read their poems, and presented their puppets.

A criterion-referenced test was given to students in Class A and in Class B. The teacher read the content-based questions orally, asking for characteristics of Matisse's paintings, names of pictures, and interpretations of the themes and techniques explored by Matisse in his paintings. Students wrote or circled the answers directly on the quiz. The word bank displaying all the printed words necessary for the correct answers remained on the classroom wall by the big books. Both classes had talked about these words during large-group time. While students in Class A largely failed to meet the criteria (answering 70% or less of the questions correctly; overall test scores ranging from 30 to 80%), 90% of students in Class B met or exceeded the criteria (answering more than 70% of questions correctly; overall test scores ranging between 60 and 100%).

Looking at the students' paintings on the chart below, three samples from each class are shown. An analytical rubric helped us look for evidence of learning. Art quality raters were graduate students from a public university's art department (see Figure 3).

The higher average score of Class B indicates that the children developed literacy skills and retained more knowledge through the multiple-arts experiences. Beyond knowing more facts, Class B could also adapt and apply the concepts learned to their own paintings. More new knowledge was applied to the artworks of Class B, producing more reflective and aesthetically pleasing paintings. Class A failed to meet or exceed expectations (mean average was 60%), and Class A students' application of Matissean concepts to their own works of art were not as strong as those displayed by the works of art of students in Class B.


Here we return to the three research questions that guided this study and address each of them specifically. Answers to research questions are not all-conclusive and -inclusive, but are learnings from the particular study designed and implemented by the authors.

The first question we asked was, "How is cognition developed through a multi-arts approach?" In this study, students in Class B, who were taught with multi-arts disciplines, developed greater literacy skills, retained more knowledge, and applied new knowledge and techniques to their artwork. Not only was the quality of their art better (as judged by the rubric with inter-rater reliability of .92), they also accomplished more learning through visual, performance, and language arts than did Class A students, who were taught with rigid disciplinary boundaries and limited curricular integration. Findings indicate that this particular multi-arts approach to the mandated curriculum allowed students to not only memorize facts, but also live a memorable learning experience that included skills beyond recall, such as application.

The second question we asked was, "How can the arts support literacy learning in early childhood?" According to our study, the arts provided many ways of knowing and doing, reflected multiple literacies, and allowed children to develop true choice and ownership. Opportunities to learn through preferred intelligences helped children learn in their unique style, lessening the level of environmental stress and setting them up for success rather than failure.

Our third question was, "How can we persuade educators to use the arts in developing cognition and improving student performance?" We strongly believe that teachers who discover the value of employing a multi-arts approach need to get the news out to parents, colleagues administrators, and community leaders. As always, evidence-based "discoveries" are of the greatest value in convincing parents, administrators, colleagues, and policymakers to support employing a multi-arts approach for the power and possibility of better learning experiences for every child. As educators, our call is to persuade those in power to help us make a positive change. According to Elliot Eisner (1993), we learn about the world through all our senses, each one employing its own form of inquiry; after all, each child's body of knowledge comes to life through various formats and representations. A multi-arts approach to early learning and development allows educators to value each of these outputs (formats and representations) and to celebrate the wonders of each child as they learn about and within content areas.


Harste, Woodward, and Burke (1984) suggested that language arts programs utilize activities that involve non-linguistic ways of knowing, such as the visual and performing arts, and should be an integral and natural part of English language arts instruction. A multi-arts approach promotes authentic and meaningful learning experiences. Over time, a multi-arts approach (visual, performing, and language arts) not only raises formal assessment outcomes, but also promotes cooperation, self-discipline, creativity, and compassion (Jensen, 2001). Through a multi-arts approach, children develop a real love for learning (Jensen, 2001).


Implications of this study highlight the dire need to include more diverse approaches in order to reach diverse learners. Many researchers have documented the importance of the arts for language and literacy development (Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Jensen, 2001). Institutionally, the importance of a multi-arts approach for learning is starting to be recognized. Hoping to improve learning through the arts, some states have set up programs designed to use multi-arts disciplines as the core of the school curriculum. One such plan is the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project (2005). In this project, language arts, mathematics, science, physical education, and music are all taught through school-wide or grade-level arts-based projects. Despite isolated programs with proven records of success (such as those exemplified above), not many schools have special programs or funding for such concentrated arts-based learning.

Additional implications of this study indicate a need to continue incorporating the arts as an organic part of the elementary curriculum--fostering learning, valuing a variety of talents and abilities, and ultimately honoring students' multiple learning styles and fostering their success. In doing so, teachers can initiate change from within.

Davidson and Michener (2001) conducted a national survey among the general population. Results of this survey showed 89% of the respondents agreed that financial support for the arts in education is necessary. Seventy-six percent agreed that personal involvement of parent/guardians is necessary. Thirty-five percent of those who supported such personal involvement were actually involved, and 67% indicated that they did not know how to get involved. This national survey, which parallels trends found in our study, indicates a need for us to reflect on how the arts help our students learn; how we can share our reflections with other teachers, parents, administrators, and community leaders; and how we can show (or provide) ways for those 67% who did not know how to get involved to do so.

The research presented and the data analyzed here point toward the power and effectiveness of a multi-arts approach to teaching young children. However, many educators are not comfortable enough with the arts to use them consistently as tools for learning, and continue to think of the arts as isolated disciplines or "special areas." Those who know what the arts can do for promoting literacies and learning must become advocates for multi-arts learning in schools, supporting multiple learning styles and developmentally appropriate experiences in the early years and beyond. Throughout our study, we noticed that many teachers of young children were already aware of the value of the arts and employ the arts as tools for learning in their classrooms. We encourage these teachers to continue to experiment, and to seek collaborations with other teachers, especially collaborations involving arts specialists employed at the vast majority of schools. For those who have not yet tried, we encourage you to consider effective ways to reach multiple learning styles in developmentally appropriate ways, and recommend the arts as an avenue toward that end!


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Acknowledgments: We offer our gratitude to the anonymous reviewers whose suggestions greatly improved this article.

Mariana Souto-Manning

The University of Georgia

Nancy James

University of South Carolina, Columbia
Table below reflects the rounded mean scores for each of the
indicators according to the following ratings: 1 = Best, 2 = Good,
3 = Fair, 4 = Needs Improvement

Class A    INDICATORS                                 Class A
Ratings                                               Ratings

2          Colors are clear and bright.                 2

1          Background shapes are completely filled
             in and outlined in black.                  1

1          Patterns are painted in black inside
           each shape.                                  1

3          Each shape has a different pattern.          2

2          Lines, shapes, and patterns reflect
             movement.                                  1

3          Has an overall "Matisse" feeling
             (displays multiple characteristics)        1

Figure 1

Bloom's                 Examples           Anderson &
Original                                   Krathwohl's
Knowledge       Student tells the          Remembering
                 name of the painting
Comprehension   Student reports that
                  Matisse used squiggly
                  black lines in his
                  paintings to show
                  movement                 Understanding
Application     Student paints black
                  squiggles on his
                  paper                    Applying

Analysis        Student adds more or
                  different squiggles      Analyzing
Synthesis       Student continues to
                  examine his work
                  according to the
                  checklist/ discussions
                  until he is satisfied    Evaluating
Evaluation      Student paints an
                  original work            Creating

Figure 2

Content Area                           Anderson's      Conditions
Integration       Arts Activity         Taxonomy       for Learning

Language       Listen to a story     All of them      Immersion,
Arts           Read along in the                      Demonstration
               Big Book
               Write a poem/skit
               Generate a

Math           Create three          All              Demonstration,
               patterns                               Use

Science        Draw a flower,        Remembering,     Demonstration,
               orally naming         Understanding,   Use,
               each part             Applying         Expectation,

Social         Compare dress and     Remembering,     Immersion
Studies        life style between    Understanding,
               early 20th century    Applying,
               France and 21s'       Analyzing
               century America

Visual Art     Make a painting       All              Expectation,
               in the style                           Use,
               of Matisse                             Responsibility,
               Make a paper                           Approximation,
               bag puppet                             Response

Music          Listen to and         Remembering,     Immersion
               sing along            Understanding,
               with the CD           Applying

Dance          Make up a dance       All              All
               for the song

Theater        Dress-up              All              All
               Puppet Show
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Author:Souto-Manning, Mariana; James, Nancy
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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