Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California



The 2017 issue of the Journal of Learning through the Arts provides a diverse selection of articles spanning several areas.

Teaching and Learning through the Arts

Drama-based instruction in the visual arts: A teacher’s action research journey

This article tells the story of Jenny Harrison, a visual arts middle school teacher who became an Action Research Teacher (ART) fellow in Drama for Schools, a professional development program in drama-based instruction. Through an action research model of teacher training and her own line of inquiry, Jenny investigated how drama-based instruction impacted her teaching and her students’ articulation of visual arts concepts. Artifacts from this project include interview transcripts, teacher reflections, student work-products, and lesson plans. The integration of drama-based instruction into Jenny’s visual arts curriculum paved the way for in-depth, intentional learning for students, for herself, and for the Drama for Schools program.

Egosystem: A Visualization of Wholeness Amidst Environmental Uncertainty and Fragmentation


Students are embedded in a stochastic world. Postmodern practitioners of fragmentation accept this, however they dispute Jungian and Eriksonian wholeness. The existential representation ego as a two-dimensional thing, the Kantian-, Jungian- I-formation is questioned. Similarly, Gardnerian frames of mind and MI are questioned as functional pedagogical models within the context of a stochastic reality. Thus, the term literacy must be expanded to address this enduring reality of both the classroom, and the shape-shifting, kaleidoscopic, urban landscapes through which students move daily. Egosystem (Author, 2005) is a perfect model for this environmental kaleidoscope. This requires a new literacy, a true 'reading the world' (Freire, 1995). We understand that the classical ego is an extension of a system of influential forces of the embedding world that inform, shape and re-shape it. Egosystem is the new complex ego struggling for survival. Uncertainty is the undercurrent beneath volatile educational environments wherein visual arts achieves some measure of control by offering challenging design problems. Archaic and modern confrontation with challenges presented by this stochastic world is an impetus for intellectual development through increasing visualization, heightened awareness, self-healing and self-renewal. The search for wholeness extends the Jungian archetype of teleiosis to an enlightened version of the whole Self within an entropic field that tends towards fragmentation. It is the same ego-consciousness and environmental awareness the genus Homo used to negotiate survival within the original stochastic classroom of the African Rift Valley. We witness the same successive growth of modern students learning to solve challenging design problems, to adapt and to change within an uncertain world. As ego evolves into egosystem ― with its palpable links to a stochastic environmental milieu ― so students evolve through a consequential series of 'successive emancipations of the human will and intellect' (Malraux, 1956).

Public Libraries as Sites of Collision for Arts Education, the Maker Movement, and Neoliberal Agendas in Education

In recent years, the concept “making” has been claimed by “The Maker Movement.” While making offers great potential (and resources) for art integration in informal learning sites, maker discourse is often intertwined with a neoliberal mission. For example, movement leaders glorify Steve Jobs and hark on the myth that hobbies can be transformed into wealth-generating endeavors. As art-making activities in informal learning setting across the U.S. intersect with the maker movement, prominent learning theories that contradict this neoliberal philosophy may be repurposed or disremembered. Constructionist learning will require a continued commitment to a notion of learning by doing, “rather than acquiring theoretical precepts for subsequent application” (Ingold, 2013, p. 52). This article examines research from a multi-year empirical study of a Public Library system’s arts-based maker program. It provides a rich example of how discourse around making fits into learning in arts education, showcasing instances when neoliberal ideology collides with contradictory theories regarding how and why people learn and make. First, this paper will introduce the reader to the maker movement in education and review literature on making, learning, and neoliberalism. Secondly, I analyze the discourse of public librarians who implement the arts programming and suggest possible implications for how learning through the arts can be undermined by neoliberalism. And, finally, this article proposes a view of making that does align with arts education that embraces dispositional, constructionist, and post-modern/new materialist approaches to learning: Making as the reciprocal relationship between maker, material, tools, skill, and intention.

Voices from Diverse Freshman Students: How Arts Integration Impacted their Learning

In this mixed-method study the researcher sought to explore answers to the following research questions:

What is the effect of an arts integration approach on diverse freshman students’ perceptions of learning, motivation/engagement, school attendance, and academic achievement?Are there changes that occur in the quality of classroom instructional processes, including emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support when an arts integration approach is being utilized?


As a quasi-experimental mixed-method study, the study utilized observations, focus groups, student questionnaires, field notes, and data obtained from the NYC IRB on student attendance, student demographics, and academic achievement data in a diverse high school in NYC public schools where 90% of the students were classified as non-white students.  Among the 231 participating freshman students, 3% were part of the ELL program (n = 4); 22% of the students had some disability (n = 41); and the majority of the students were receiving a free or reduced lunch (n = 111, 61%).  One of the 9th grade academies was selected as the control group and another as the treatment group.  Teachers in the treatment group received a limited amount of professional development on arts integration using a small group project based implementation approach.  Results indicate that the teachers in the treatment group increased levels of instructional support and differentiated learning formats in their classroom as compared to the teachers in the control group.  Additionally, students in the treatment group outperformed the control group students in 3 out of the 4 subject area achievement outcomes that were compared.  There was no significant difference found in student attendance between the control and treatment group students even though a snowstorm and a hurricane occurred during the semester this study was implemented.  Data from the student questionnaires, the focus groups, field notes, and observations was triangulated and supported the quantitative data.  The qualitative data provided a deeper understanding on how the experience had impacted student’s self-beliefs and emotional engagement.  Additionally, there was a significant increase in their behavioral engagement that was both observed and self-reported by students.  This study makes a significant contribution to research identifying which aspects of instructional support seem to increase when teachers implement arts integration.  Additionally, it extends other arts integration research examining diverse/disadvantaged student engagement and achievement even when adversity is experienced in a school.

Language Arts

Using Art Criticism to Engage Students in Writing

This article describes using art criticism, a process the authors define as “viewing, thinking, talking, and writing about art,” to engage students in writing. The authors provide theoretical support for art criticism in education, describe the process, and share ways it can be used to address Common Core writing and other content area standards. They also share a sample art criticism lesson taught to fourth graders and include a summary of student learning data documenting student engagement and learning aligned with targeted standards. The article ends with suggestions for using art criticism, finding and using accessible art criticism resources, and integrating art criticism writing with other content areas.

  • 1 supplemental PDF

Narrative and Storytelling

Seeing the World Through Words: A Student Writer’s Journey toward Developing Her Own Voice

This paper is a self-study that uses the lens of Vygotsky’s four phases of sign acquisition to examine one student writer’s development of voice through writing produced from 5th grade through her second year of graduate school (17 years). Growing up as a twin—and as a visually impaired individual—the author learned how to use the written word to help her imagine those aspects of the world that she could not physically see. Through excerpts from journal entries, planning documents, short stories, long fiction, poetry, school assignments, and fanfiction she traces her growth as a writer within the shifting context of experiences within and outside of school. Her sensitive exploration of varied sources of motivation and inspiration, along with her own changing attitudes towards and beliefs about writing, provide the reader with fresh insight into all that goes into one’s development as a writer.


Writing Poems from Idea Bundles

In this three-month qualitative study, 36 pre and in-service teachers were invited to create and write poems from four idea bundles (e.g., the mixed bundle, the verbal bundle, the visual bundle, and the arranged bundle) in response to four picture book read alouds that address themes of abandonment (Wild, 2006), homelessness (Wild, 2007), togetherness (Woodson, 2015), and renewal (Tan, 2010). Bundles included a variety of visual and print media (e.g., photographs, art, magazines, newspapers, sheet music, books, greeting cards), used to enhance literacy experiences in writing poems. The purpose of the study was to investigate how different visual and verbal media support students in their efforts to write poems.  Analysis of 136 idea bundles, poems, questionnaires, and class discussion on read alouds as they related to students’ writing suggest that idea bundles provided a meaningful pathway for supporting students’ efforts to write vivid and descriptive poems.


Performing Arts

Investigating the Influence of Dramatic Arts on Young Children’s Social and Academic Development in the World of "Jack and the Beanstalk"

This article reports findings from a qualitative study of a 10-week interactive drama residency in a large Headstart preschool in a southeastern state. The goal of the study was to learn about what happened when three to five-year old children and their teachers experienced interactive drama, with particular questions about how the young children’s academic and social development might be supported with dramatic arts. Findings from a qualitative analysis of observations, interviews and children's drawings indicated how important movement was for engaging young children, how rituals supported self-efficacy and risktaking, and how traveling in and out of a story world supported the imagination necessary for early literacy development.  Findings also suggested the importance of involving classroom teachers in professional development about dramatic arts.  These findings provoked new questions and plans for future research.

Leadership Development for High School Students in a Summer Performing Arts Program

The purpose of this study was to evaluate a summer performing arts (SPA) program using elements of a servant leadership model to assess potential impacts of a SPA program on leadership skills development. High school students enrolled in a SPA program were given both a pre- and post-survey that included leadership questions. There was a growth in all five servant leadership factors with an overall standardized effect size of d = 0.48. The largest growth was for enabling others to take action through cooperation. Summer performing arts programs can positively impact student servant leadership abilities. The idea of youth leadership education may resonate with community business leaders when it comes to funding support for summer arts activities.

Medical Humanities

Diseases, Doctors, and Divas: Cultivating Reflective Capacity in Preclinical Medical Students through a Critical Examination of Opera

Objectives: The humanities, including narrative arts, are a valuable tool to foster reflection for professionally competent clinical practice. Integrating such study into traditional medical school curricula can prove challenging. A preclinical elective on opera and medicine was developed and piloted at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for pre-medical and medical students to foster reflective capacity supporting professional identity formation.

Methods: Interdisciplinary faculty from the departments of arts and sciences conducted nine facilitated discussion sessions.  A field trip to the Metropolitan Opera, NY complemented students’ operatic studies. Students were asked reflection-inviting questions concerning their emotional response to operatic scenes, characters, and physician-patient interactions throughout the course and given opportunities to discuss how opera reflects and reinforces stereotypes and societal stigma of patients, diseases, and physicians. A final reflective paper prompted analysis of more and less successful patient-provider interactions, exploring how students felt about these relationships, and drawing conclusions about how they would like to ideally act in the future. Formative feedback was provided using a reflection rubric.

Results: Course evaluations demonstrated that sessions were well received. Students’ qualitative comments described the influence of the course on the development of their professional identities, as well as the potential impact on their future careers as physicians. Lessons learned and future directions are suggested.

Conclusions: This novel curriculum can serve as a model for using opera to enhance reflection and foster professional identity formation at other health profession and liberal arts institutions.

Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

Arts Integration: A Study of Teachers' Perceptions

The concept of arts integration is to incorporate connections to content while relating to the real world. If educators are to compete in a global economy, children deserve every advantage including the arts. Implementing an integrated arts curriculum is both exciting and intimidating to teachers. This study was designed to interview teachers who have undergone the process to determine their perceptions regarding the impact on professional development, student performance, student engagement, and school climate. It was essential to the study that the selected educators be employed at a school that included a fully integrated arts program. Mooreland Heights Elementary School (K-5) was selected because it was in its sixth year of implementation. A purposive sample of teachers from each grade level was selected by the principal to be interviewed. Collected data were coded and reviewed for emerging themes. The three themes that emerged were continuous staff development, connection between arts and content, and support. Upon further examination three areas of support were identified: administrative, parents and community, and corporate. The professional development opportunities provided the teachers participating in the study indicated a high level of involvement. The integrated arts program provided an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum planning. Administrative, community, and corporate support were essential for the success of an arts integrated program.

A Content Analysis of the Intersections between Art Education and Teacher Education

Although preservice teacher education is considered an essential link for systemic change, key arts education initiatives in California do not effectively address the educational practices and policies for teacher preparation. To uncover existing and emerging practices for visual and performing arts education in postsecondary teacher education programs, this content analysis examined five national and international teacher education journals (1995 – 2015).  Though a pressing need to increase publication in this area exists, findings indicate that arts integration in teacher education fosters self-reflection of personal beliefs, artistic growth, and epistemological understanding for candidates while inspiring collaborative partnerships for faculty.