The benefits of blending art into the palette of the curriculum

A five-year experiment in arts education shows how the arts can be successfully integrated with other academic disciplines, organizers say.

The Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge (TETAC) helped 35 schools across the country create new arts curricula for 21,175 students.

With high-stakes testing and more state-level requirements squeezing out time for meaningful arts education, TETAC sought to create a more "flexible, adaptable approach to arts learning," says Donald Killeen, TETAC national project director.

While planners initially hoped to provide the schools with "exemplary units of instruction," they found one size did not fit all schools. Instead, they encouragedteachers to produce their own lessons.

TETAC, sponsored by the National Arts Education Consortium,helped schools to meld the arts into lesson plans developed across disciplines using central themes. Those "enduring ideas" included "man's relationship to an unpredictable natural world."

For example, a California elementary school taught how "all people tell stories to explain their world." Students examined two paintings that explored the theme – after learning about Earth's layers and studying pictographs drawn in caves in ancient civilizations.

One Florida middle school addressed a state-mandated language-arts standard by exploring personal voicethrough poetry and still lifes. Students learned about concepts such assymbolism and metaphor by examining the work of 19th-century still-life painter William M. Harnett.

An independent evaluation found that students who participated showed gains on art-assessment tools and were more motivated to learn.

TETAC provided participating teachers with mentors. Those teachers were likelier to collaborate across subjects and use community resources such as museums.

Successful arts education does more than give students a chance to draw or paint, Mr. Killeen says. It also teaches how to explore art historically, critically, and across cultures.

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