Harvard Educational Review
  1. Renaissance in the Classroom

    Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning

    Edited by Gail Burnaford, Arnold Aprill, and Cynthia Weiss

    Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. 265 pp. $29.95 (paper).

    In recent years, classroom teachers, arts teachers, and administrators have banded together with community arts organizations, artists, institutions of higher education, and cultural organizations to form arts education partnerships. Though what each party can offer or expect to gain from these partnerships varies widely, arts education partners often share similar goals. Community arts organizations, artists, and cultural organizations enter into these partnerships hoping to expand the audience for their art and thus try to make a difference in the lives of young people. Schools forge these partnerships hoping to expose their students to the arts and to experience making and responding to art. Institutions of higher education embark on these partnerships to provide sites where faculty can conduct research or settings where students can gain valuable work experience in internships.

    Over the last fifteen years, curricular endeavors have moved to the forefront of the aims and activities of arts education partnerships. Among their efforts is the creation of projects or lessons that integrate the arts into the academic curriculum. While not intended to serve as a substitute for art classes, these integrated curricular units often electrify classrooms, as reported by those involved in the partnerships. Further, their experiences in these units provide teachers, students, and artists with rich opportunities to develop as makers and perceivers of art.

    Yet while many organizations across the country and around the world boast compelling anecdotes about successful partnership projects involving curriculum integration, there has been surprisingly little systematic research into successful partnerships, and few developed and documented coherent models for designing and using an integrated curriculum. Given the rising popularity of arts education partnerships, there have been remarkably few opportunities for the leaders of these partnerships to share information with one another. As a result of this dearth of research and conversation, those who design them find a disappointing paucity of resources available as they undertake their earliest efforts to form a partnership.

    With Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning
    , Gail Burnaford, an associate professor and action researcher at Northwestern University, Arnold Aprill, executive director of the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), and Cynthia Weiss, CAPE’s director of professional development, strive to address this lack by presenting a comprehensive primer on arts education partnerships and curriculum integration through the arts. A pioneer in curriculum integration through such partnerships, CAPE was formed in the early 1990s as a school improvement initiative with the aim of

    making culture a true part of school culture by forging a clear connection between arts learning and the rest of the academic curriculum. This was to be done by insisting on the ongoing participation of classroom teachers and arts teachers in planning the role of the arts and visiting artists in CAPE schools, and by facilitating long-term partnership relationships between individual schools and arts organizations. (pp. xxxv–xxxvi)

    As they prepared Renaissance in the Classroom, Burnaford, Aprill, and Weiss gathered data on the work of CAPE’s partnership network by interviewing classroom teachers, arts teachers, visiting artists, and parents and by collecting samples of student work and curriculum planning documents. The resulting text offers a compelling argument for arts education partnerships and integration by presenting numerous examples of success: curricular success, in the form of stories about lessons and projects that worked in real classrooms; collaborative success, as illustrated by descriptions of rich coteacher interactions and fruitful planning documents; and partnership success, as demonstrated by discussions of mutually beneficial relationships among arts and education institutions of various types.

    The bulk of the book takes the form of two interlocking guides. The first, in chapters two, three, and four, is a guide to creating, implementing, and assessing curricular units that integrate the arts and the academic subjects. The second is a guide to forging, nourishing, and maintaining productive and successful arts education partnerships to support arts integration curricular projects. The book’s introduction and first chapter situate these two guides within the context of the field of arts integration as a whole and the work of CAPE in particular. Chapters two, three, and four address the nuts and bolts of arts integration by presenting the issues involved as these curricular units unfold over time. Chapter two, “Getting Started with Arts Integration: Finding the Elegant Fit,” explores the design of arts integrated curriculum. Chapter three, “Moving Through the Curriculum: Doing the Work in Arts Integration,” presents the execution of these lessons and projects, and chapter four, “Beyond the Unit: Assessment and the Learning Cycle,” focuses on the assessment of student work in arts integrated curricular units. Interspersed between these chapters are “Arts Education Snapshots,” where teachers and artists write about lessons and projects that they have designed and implemented in their schools. Chapter five, “Science and Art: Lessons from Leonardo da Vinci?” is devoted to descriptions of a number of projects that integrated science with the arts. The next chapter, “You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: Initiating and Sustaining Collaboration,” focuses on arts education partnerships by examining how the various constituencies involved can work together to develop and sustain an effective collaboration. Throughout, the book is peppered with samples of student work and examples of documents used by arts education partnerships. Numerous photographs of student work and students at work bring the curricular units to life in the text. The book’s extensive appendices, which include samples of lesson plans, partnership planning documents, assessment templates, and an overview of CAPE’s various partnerships, as well as an extensive list of resources, make the authors’ discussion of arts education partnerships concrete and vivid.

    In chapter five, “Science and Art: Lessons from Leonardo da Vinci?” the authors offer an illustration of the various phases of their guide to creating, implementing, and assessing arts integrated curriculum. They begin by building an argument for integrating the arts with science by listing the benefits of arts integration. The first is increased student motivation through the promotion of students’ engagement and participation in learning activities, as well as the piquing of their personal interest in what they study. The second benefit, the authors claim, is that the community spirit often pervades classrooms where arts integration takes place, as teachers, artists, and students collaborate to bring their ideas to life. The authors say that the products students create in many arts integrated units can become a catalyst for communication with and involvement of parents and the school community. The authors also explore various aspects of the implementation of arts integrated curriculum, from the collaborations between classroom teachers and visiting artists, to the practical constraints of school environments (such as overloaded schedules), to the compatibility between the problem-solving orientation of arts integrated projects and the scientific inquiry. Finally, the authors highlight specific arts integrated projects that can be assessed in various ways. For example, one teacher vividly describes how she graded her students’ work and details how students were asked to evaluate their own and their classmates’ work through self-assessment and peer-assessment activities. The authors conclude the chapter with a discussion of the ways teachers reflect on and assess the long-term impact of the project, including a presentation of the strategies that teachers have employed to adapt, build on, and replicate the project in other settings or with other students.

    The authors note that the audience for Renaissance in the Classroom includes K–12 classroom teachers, arts teachers, and visiting artists. However, by limiting their stated audience to these three constituencies, Burnaford, Aprill, and Weiss underestimate the allure of Renaissance in the Classroom. While this text will surely appeal to this audience, others will also find the book compelling. School administrators and parents will gain a more complete understanding of what the arts can do for their school community, and researchers will come to appreciate the programs they evaluate and the practical day-to-day implications of the arts partnerships they study. The book’s exhaustive list of resources and other appendices add greatly to its appeal.

    With their commitment to sharing ideas, resources, suggestions, struggles, and successes, Burnaford, Aprill, and Weiss have written their remarkably comprehensive book with a refreshing spirit that manages to share their experience and expertise without ever giving the impression that they have it all figured out. As someone who is part of a fledgling arts education partnership, this book provided me with an education in the work of arts education partnerships, what they can be, what they can do, and what kinds of issues need to be considered and thought through along the way. This book should be required reading for anyone who participates, or wishes to participate, in an arts education partnership.

    R.B.
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