The Arts, the Common Core, and English Language Development in the Primary Grades
by Christa Mulker Greenfader & Liane Brouillette — 2017
Background/Context: Throughout schooling, English learners (ELs) perform well below their monolingual English-speaking peers on literacy assessments, and Hispanics make up the majority of EL students in the United States. There is a strong consensus about the importance of early English oral language skills for ELs’ literacy development, yet teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the needs of these young learners. Historically, policy has not provided incentives for educators to focus on oral language development in the classroom. However, the recently adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) emphasize oral language skills.
Purpose/Objective: This study examines a professional development program that equipped early elementary teachers in five urban schools with arts-based strategies to promote the oral English development of ELs. A second line of inquiry looked at the extent to which the creative drama and dance activities were aligned with CCSS.
Participants: There were 3,792 K–2 Hispanic ELs (treatment: N = 497; control: N = 3,295) from Title I schools in a large school district in California.
Intervention: The Teaching Artist Project (TAP) was a two-year K–2 arts and literacy professional development program consisting of 28 weekly 50-minute lessons (14 theater and 14 dance). The project provided classroom teachers with in-service training on utilizing movement, gesture, and expression to promote stimulating English verbal interactions. TAP was specifically intended to engage non-native English speakers in classroom dialogues, facilitating their oral English development.
Research Design: This study utilized a mixed methods design. To address the first research question, schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Multiple regressions were run on data from the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to investigate the impact of the program on the English speaking abilities of K–2 Hispanic English learners. To address the second research question, document review was used to compare the K–2 CCSS speaking and listening standards and the TAP lesson plans.
Findings: The treatment group was found to significantly outperform the control group (β = 0.13; p < 0.05) on CELDT speaking scores. Additional review suggested that the performing arts activities corresponded well to the CCSS speaking and listening standards.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Creative drama and dance activities provide rich verbal classroom interactions, boost English oral language skills of ELs, and align with the CCSS. Yet concerns are raised about the lack of speaking assessments on tests created by the Smarter Balanced and PARCC consortiums and the potential subsequent distortion of K–2 instruction.
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