DREAM: Integrating the Arts to Increase Reading Proficiency

Students sit on the floor, attentively listening as the storyteller reads aloud. Several hands shoot up, without further prompting. Students took on the various roles in the story, dramatizing what they were reading and now they are talking about how acting out the story helped them feel the narrative and understand it better. Thoughtful answers to questions are given, prompting more discussion.

This is not just a teacher’s dream, but a real DREAM — the Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods (DREAM) project. Funded through the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program (AEMDD) in OII, the four-year project uses visual arts and theater to teach students about reading and to improve how they read.

DREAM is headed by the San Diego County Office of Education, in partnership with the North County Professional Development Federation and California State University San Marcos. It consists of professional development of third- and fourth-grade teachers, along with a one-week summer institute and in-classroom pairings of teachers and teaching artists.

The teaching artists and summer institute help teachers learn and develop the ability to use visual arts and theater activities to improve students’ reading and language arts skills. “It is so great to see teachers learn new things, embrace new ideas, and realize that they can do this,” says Patti Saraniero, a DREAM project researcher.

Results of the DREAM project were presented at the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting in April 2011. Year-end state tests demonstrated gains in reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and character analysis via arts integration. The AEMDD project measured student progress by dividing teachers’ classrooms into three categories: teachers who only attended the summer institute, teachers who attended the summer institute and received weekly coaching by teaching artists, and teachers who did not receive any training or coaching.

Graph describes gains in grade 3 Language Arts test scores. Paragraph to the left provides data.Student progress was measured using the California Standards Test for English Language Arts – both before and after participation in the DREAM project.  Those students taught by teachers who had not received any training averaged an increase of 25 points over the year. Students in classrooms with the teachers who only attended the summer institute had an average 51-point improvement. The students in classrooms with teachers who both attended the institute and received in-class coaching averaged an improvement of 87 points.

Because of the in-classroom mentoring from teaching artists and receiving support in improving their skills, teachers who were coached used arts integration more frequently in their instruction.  They also were more likely to implement arts-integrated lessons based on the California visual and performing arts standards, and they felt more confident in integrating the arts with other subjects such as English language arts in their classrooms.

The benefits of the DREAM project go beyond what can be measured by test scores, according to Merryl Goldberg, DREAM project artistic director. “The arts teach creative thinking, innovative thinking, critical thinking, teach how to think outside the box, how to problem solve, (and) how to work with others,” she noted. “These are skills that are fundamental to what we need in the 21st century.”