TOPEKA — As part of an initiative to enhance and strengthen programs that integrate the arts into elementary- and middle-school curricula, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement has granted a four-year, $1.8 million award to a collaborative project that teams Topeka Public Schools with two University of Kansas research centers.
The award, shared among the three partners, will provide support and professional development to teachers in Topeka Public Schools seeking to infuse the arts across the curriculum and strengthen their students’ critical-thinking skills. The Arts Infusion Project (TAIP) brings together Topeka educators with researchers from KU’s Music Research Institute in the School of Music and the Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR) in the Achievement & Assessment Institute.
“Teachers and students at the participating schools will benefit from infusing fine arts across the curriculum, thinking critically about connections to ideas outside of the arts and using these skills to find creative and innovative solutions to problems beyond art,” said Billie Wallace, director of school improvement for Topeka Public Schools.
The grant was written by Christopher M. Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy, and Becky Eason, CPPR associate director, in close collaboration with Topeka Public Schools.
“Through intensive and sustained professional development, TAIP will give Topeka teachers the tools to infuse and bridge their curricula with the arts — bringing the fine arts into the whole school day, and in turn, the whole school day into the fine-arts classroom,” Johnson said.
Through a series of summer workshops and academic-year follow-up sessions, the School of Music will provide professional development to all arts and general-education classroom teachers in high-need elementary and middle schools in the Topeka district. CPPR will serve as the external evaluator of the project, assessing the project’s success in using the arts as a way to teach critical thinking skills. CPPR will also provide grants-administration support.
“Teachers will also gain knowledge of critical-thinking-based teaching techniques such as higher-order questioning, assessment and transfer,” Eason said. “This project will allow us to build upon the higher-thinking skills inherent in arts education and make those skills relevant throughout the curriculum.”
The project stresses two objectives to achieve its overall goal:
• Participating Topeka teachers will gain skills and knowledge that will enable them to strengthen the integration of standards-based arts instruction within other academic content areas.
• Teachers will gain skills and knowledge to strengthen standards-based arts instruction by infusing critical thinking into all aspects of instruction and assessment, which will advance the education of the whole student.
The project represents the fifth collaborative research effort between Johnson and Eason, who late last year completed a baseline study for Nashville’s Music Makes Us initiative that empirically proved the link between music participation and improved academic achievement and engagement.
“Ultimately, TAIP will benefit students who may be at risk of educational failure by making the fine arts and the benefits associated with it more accessible and providing students with the tools to succeed in the classroom,” Johnson said.