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Teaching Literacy Through Art (TLTA)

[2003 - 2008]
An educational research project with an art museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Study Context

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum received funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2003 for a three-year study to evaluate the impact of arts education on literacy among elementary school children. Along with museum staff, RK&A designed a study to examine the impact of the Guggenheim's pioneering program, Learning Through Art (LTA), on students' ability to describe and interpret art, and to apply these skills to understanding written text. In the program, the museum dispatches artists who spend one day a week at schools over ten or twenty weeks helping students and teachers learn about and make art. Teachers also take students to the Guggenheim Museum to see exhibitions.

Approach

We studied two sets of LTA program outcomes: teacher, teaching artist, and student outcomes of the program (e.g., whether LTA met its goals and objectives); and literacy-related teacher and student outcomes (e.g., whether LTA impacts the way teachers teach literacy and students' literacy abilities). We hypothesized that Treatment Group students (those who received TLTA) would have more positive school- and art-related attitudes as well as higher literacy achievement than Control Group students (those who did not receive TLTA). We also hypothesized that the combination of the LTA program and extended teacher professional development (Treatment Group B) would have a greater impact on attitudes and literacy than the program alone (Treatment Group A). RK&A employed a quasi-experimental design to examine LTA's impact on students and teachers at four schools, which were selected along specific demographic, socioeconomic, and literacy criteria. Students were asked to discuss a work of art and an excerpt from a book. We devised a rubric to code and analyze student responses in consultation with our advisers.

Findings

The study indicated that LTA positively impacted five of the six literacy skills examined in response to the painting (extended focus, hypothesizing, evidential reasoning, building schema, and multiple interpretations) and five of the six literacy skills examined in response to the text (extended focus, thorough description, hypothesizing, evidential reasoning, and multiple interpretations). In addition, we found that LTA positively impacted attitudes toward art museums and understanding of artistic processes (i.e., use of problem-solving in art making).

Conclusion

The findings of RK&A's study are powerful for arts education, particularly because a paucity of rigorous research exists that shows any conclusive links between the arts and student achievement. These results demonstrate the significance of the arts in education and validate the important role of art museums' longstanding partnership with the schools.

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