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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Increasing Engagement and Oral Language Skills of ELLs through the Arts in the Primary Grades


In this article, we look at the impact of an arts integration program offered at five large urban elementary schools on the daily attendance and oral language skills of children in kindergarten through second grade. Many of the children attending these schools spoke a language other than English at home. Teaching artists visited each class weekly for 28 weeks, co-teaching theater and dance lessons with the teacher. School engagement was measured by comparing attendance on days with and without scheduled arts lessons. Attendance was significantly higher on days the artists visited; absences were reduced by 10 percent. Speaking and listening skills were measured through standardized test scores. Qualitative analysis of interview and survey data revealed that teachers perceived the theater and dance lessons to provide rich opportunities for verbal interaction between teachers and pupils. Student speaking and listening skills improved significantly, as did teachers’ ability to promote oral language.

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