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


Introduction to Teaching and Learning through the Arts

Articles in this issue of the Journal for Learning through the Arts report on the efforts of researchers and teachers to understand the components and outcomes of effective arts programs. The authors are pursuing the overall goal of improving arts education for all children and youth. And, in the process, helping them to employ their imagination and creativity throughout their lives.

Teaching and Learning through the Arts

Music Learning in the Early Years: Interdisciplinary Approaches based on Multiple Intelligences

The unity of knowledge represents an old idea with new manifestations. During the last decades integrated approaches in teaching and learning have become increasingly popular. Applications of integrative approaches between the arts and other school subjects exist in many countries around the world, offering insights into the problems and challenges that such efforts can result into. In this paper a short review of the relevant literature in support of integrative curricula, as well as problems and concerns caused by their application, will set the basis for the description of the practice-based research project that is reported.

The project brought together a kindergarten teacher and two researchers, under a collaborative model of inquiry in a pre-primary school setting in Cyprus. An attempt was made to enrich the teaching of musical concepts through the use of activities and practices borrowed from other disciplines. More specifically, the study sought to investigate whether children’s understanding of the music concepts taught was evident, what was the children’s response to the designed units and what were the teacher’s perceptions of the educational atmosphere before and after the application of the designed units. Six half-hour music lessons, comprising two different units -pitch and tempo- were taught and videotaped. The design of the different units and the organization and choice of activities, apart from drawing from the literature on integration, was heavily based on the theory of multiple intelligences by H. Gardner. A ‘follow-up’ video stimulated recall interview was conducted at the end of each unit. The videotaped lessons, the observation field notes, the interviews with the teacher, the teacher’s self reflection as well as the feedback by the researchers, provided both a wealth of data as well as interesting interpretations. The findings suggest that the pre- primary school children that participated in the study responded with enthusiasm to innovative activities that related music with other subjects. In addition, each child was given the opportunity to better understand the concepts taught through his/her own ways of learning.

Understanding Artful Behavior as a Human Proclivity: Clues from a Pre-Kindergarten Classroom

Concurrent to the present reduction of arts education in mainstream American schools, many evolutionary-minded scholars are asserting that artistic behavior contributes significantly to cognition, has been advantageous for our survival, and satisfies psychological needs that are biologically embedded. Supported by long-term and wide-spread art making among the human species and the spontaneous artful behaviors of children, this cross-disciplinary study explores the possibility that artful behaviors represent an inherent part of human nature. Based on an ethological understanding of art (that is, as a behavior rather than an object), this research uses an interpretivist lens and phenomenological design with the ultimate goal of exploring how such proclivities might inform educational policy and practice. Data collection methods include a combination of observation, participant observation, and teacher interviews in a state-funded pre-kindergarten classroom.

Arts-Infused Learning in Middle Level Classrooms

To address arts education disparities in middle level schools, this paper explores evidence that infusing the visual and performing arts into language arts, math, science, and history/social studies courses is a pedagogical approach that meets the developmental needs of early adolescents and fosters a relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory curriculum for all learners. The strategy, often identified as integrated or interdisciplinary arts education, is examined through the literature and a case study of five middle level classrooms. Findings from this study, derived from participant (teachers and administrators) interviews and classroom observations, provide the compelling argument to support implementation of arts integration pedagogy in middle level schools. Moreover, positive outcomes for diverse learners suggest that this study has direct implications for educational practice and policy. Arts-infused learning can shift the current educational paradigm and foster positive change in middle level classrooms.

Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

Arts Integration in Teacher Preparation: Teaching the Teachers

This classroom study focused on modeling a hands-on approach for understanding classroom applications of multiple intelligence theory through arts-based integration. Thirty-five preservice teachers enrolled in Educational Psychology classes participated in an interdisciplinary geometry lesson modeling Artful Learning™, experiencing an arts- based pedagogical approach in the lesson. Students identified and described geometric concepts and relationships and photographed geometrical elements authentically on campus as part of the model’s original creation. Assessment of lesson objectives revealed that students appreciated arts-based pedagogy, but had difficulty translating theory into practice when creating their original lesson plans. Discussion includes reflective responses of preservice teachers to inquiry and arts-based classroom instruction for enhancing student understanding, as well as implications for integrating art pedagogy in professional practices.

Using Visual Art to Teach Prepositional Phrases

A preposition, as one of the eight parts of speech, indicates a relationship between persons, places or things mentioned in a sentence. Many state curricula introduce prepositions at intermediate grade levels. Other states wait until middle school to do so. Students at such advanced levels of language learning should be able to readily assimilate prepositions into learning. Developing youngsters’ ability to recognize and use spatial language, such as the preposition, is an extremely important goal in the language arts. Fundamental, perhaps, to gaining entrance into the world of prepositions is the ability to visualize spatial relationships. The visual arts provide an ideal venue for discussing spatial concepts in written and spoken language, particularly through the use of prepositions. This article describes a unit of instruction used to engage pre-service generalist educators in an artmaking experience in illustration, printmaking, and bookmaking. The aim of the unit of instruction was to teach these undergraduates how to enhance their future students’ visual literacy in order to familiarize students to prepositions as a part of speech and the functions of prepositional phrases in a sentence. The goal of the unit was to create an alphabet book of illustrations representative of a variety of prepositional phrases. Since a prepositional phrase is comprised of a preposition, its object and any associated adjectives or adverbs, the visual arts provide an excellent way to envision the relationships between the preposition, its object, and any modifying words. In the unit of instruction, the students generated a variety of prepositional phrases derived from a collaboratively selected theme. Using a provided chart, students were assisted in generating outstanding prepositional phrases. Students were encouraged to create a sentence that provided rich visual imagery that could easily be illustrated. Students illustrated the prepositional phrase using a simple linoleum block printmaking process. The class’s finished illustrations were then collected together for a class book.

Unknowing in Circles: A Story of Artful Inquiry as Praxis

This paper shares a story of community, vulnerability, art-making and possibility that arose within the context of a Social Foundations of Education course. Drawing on arts-informed epistemologies, the authors began the semester by inviting students to critically engage with the central ideas of the course through the process of creating a mandala. At the end of the semester, students were once again invited to (re)create their mandalas as they reflected on how their understandings had evolved over the course of the semester. Within what was initially a very uncomfortable act, a community emerged as students sought to support and encourage one another. This sense of community remained consistent across the course of the semester and students regularly returned to the initial activity as a starting point during class discussions. Using this particular classroom experience as an illustration, this paper posits that it is important for educators to engage their students in centered, aesthetic and communal acts of reflexivity as a means to facilitate the development of fluid pedagogies and ways of being in the world that are informed, critical, and transformative.

  • 1 supplemental ZIP

Activating Student Engagement Through Drama-Based Instruction

Drama for Schools (DFS) is an arts integration professional development program that trains teachers to use drama-based instruction techniques. The DFS strategies aim to connect student learning to their lived experiences in a manner consistent with authentic instruction principles. The focus of this mixed-methods study was on the relationship between increase in authentic instruction, level of student engagement, and articulation by teachers regarding the participation of their middle school students in classroom activities. Pre-post measures indicate that student engagement increased as a result of drama-based instruction strategies. These lesson plan measures also demonstrated how teachers changed their articulation of student engagement. Discussion focuses on how the relationship between the DFS program structure, participants’ pedagogy, and student outcomes fit into, and challenge, the overall critical pedagogical framework of the program.

Canadian Art Partnership Program in Finland

This article is about a multidisciplinary R&D project in which a Canadian Learning Through The Arts (LTTA) program was imported to Finland in 2003–2004. Cultural differences in arts education in Finland and Canada are discussed. While Finland has a national school curriculum with all the arts included. Canada relies more on partnerships to ensure arts education for children in the schools. Despite the fact that Canadian learning methods appeared to be quite similar to the ones Finnish teachers were already using at schools, cooperation and the inclusion of an artist in the classroom enriched the normal way of schooling. The project described here was reported earlier (2007) in the dissertation “Two cultures of arts education, Finland and Canada? An integrated view.”

Medical Humanities

Use of Poems Written by Physicians to Elicit Critical Reflection by Students in a Medical Biochemistry Course


Critical reflection helps to animate humanistic values needed for professional behavior in medical students. We wanted to learn whether poems written by physicians could foster such critical reflection. To do so, we determined whether the poems elicited dissonance (i.e., recognition of their own or others behavior as incongruent with their values) and subsequent reflection or critical reflection by teams of students in a medical biochemistry course.

Subjects and Methods

Thirty learning teams of five to seven members each (total of 196 first-year osteopathic medical students) related four humanistic values or characteristics of professional behavior to an associated poem written by a physician. Their written individual and team reports were assessed for dissonance, reflection and critical reflection. We also determined whether dissonance (if it occurred) was resolved through preservation of students’ values and behavior (and rejection of other’s behavior) or through reconciliation of their own incongruent humanistic values and professional behavior.


All 30 teams exhibited dissonance and reflection in their written reports, and 18 teams showed critical reflection. Fifteen of the latter 18 teams displayed reconciliation after critical reflection, and five of those 15 teams also showed preservation. The other 15 teams exhibited preservation, but not reconciliation, after either critical reflection (three teams) or reflection (12 teams). At least two teams exhibited related but deeper critical reflection in more open-ended written work outside the formal assignment of this exercise.


The poems we used were virtually certain to evoke dissonance in learning teams. Behavior exhibited by patients or health care personnel in some of the poems contradicts most people’s values for proper behavior. Placing focus on imperfect behavior by others can, however, limit recognition of one’s own hypocritical actions. To obviate such limitations of more structured assignments, we encourage provision of tacit opportunities for critical reflection outside structured formal assignments. The exercise we used led at least two teams of students to exhibit deeper critical reflection, outside the formal assignment, in order to reconcile their incongruent values and professional behavior. Moreover, the exercise itself led most teams to exhibit critical reflection needed to animate humanistic values and professional behavior in medical students.

Happy Healers

Family Medicine residency programs in the United States are required to promote resident well-being. This article describes how one residency does this by teaching the concepts of Positive Psychology and Authentic Happiness developed by Dr. Martin Seligman utilizing a multi-media curriculum. As part of this curriculum, residents listen to the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” watch selected scenes from the movies Mary Poppins and The Lion King, and see a performance of the song and dance Electricity from the show Billy Elliot, the Musical. Research showing that happiness is contagious is also discussed. Finally, residents learn how to increase their own happiness by completing three exercises shown by Dr. Seligman to promote happiness.


Using Simple Eye Exercises to Explore How Sight and Insight Interact to Shape What We See

This book review explores how Rigney Battenberg and Rigney have provided all who care about the arts with a thought-provoking investigation of how the physiological facts shape what we see. Their book describes a system of eye exercises designed to improve vision and help people use their eyes in a healthy way. The reference to “yoga” in the title is reflected in their emphasis on the importance of stretching and strengthening the eye muscles; this helps to keep the eyes healthy and also to minimize the strain caused by fixating on computer screens or printed pages for hours at a time. There is also a deeper connection to yogic practice in their examination of the habitual choices we make about where to focus of our attention. Battenberg and Rigney argue that thoughtful use of eye exercises can awaken a deep sense of connection with the world.