Erin Curtis-Dierks

KU awarded grant to boost arts education achievement standards

Tue, 10/04/2011

Christopher M. Johnson

LAWRENCE — A collaborative project between the University of Kansas School of Music and the School of Education will help Kansas students become more skillful thinkers and help meet the benchmarks for achievement standards in the arts.

Project STArts (Skillful Thinking in the Arts), a collaboration among the Kansas City, KS Public Schools, the Music Research Institute of the KU School of Music and The Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, has received funding of $777,187 over the next three years, shared across the three partners.

The grant was written by Christopher M. Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at KU, and Becky Eason, associate director of the Institute, in close collaboration with Jean Ney, coordinator of Fine Arts & Physical Education with the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Integrated Arts Resource Center. It is funded through the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

The initiative was created to enhance and strengthen the standards-based arts education programs delivered in music, visual arts and drama.

“It is simply not enough to teach using state or national standards of performance as a foundation; we need to teach students to think within the arts,” Johnson said. “Skillful Thinking is a method that will enable these students to take their knowledge in the arts one step further, encouraging them to find artistic solutions to problems outside of the narrow definition of what is traditionally thought of as ‘the arts.’”

Eason added, “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 School of Music will provide professional development to all 121 arts educators/50 schools in the Kansas City, Kan., district through a series of summer workshops and academic-year follow-up sessions. The Institute 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. The Institute will also provide grants administration support.

The project stresses four objectives to achieve its overall goal:

• KCK Teachers will gain skills and knowledge that will enable them to integrate Skillful Thinking techniques into the benchmarks and behavioral indicators for the National Arts Standards.

• Teachers will incorporate Skillful Thinking techniques into their classrooms so that higher-order thinking is being taught along with material that addresses the National Arts Standards. Teachers will model these skills through transformed teaching techniques, which will result in an improved classroom environment.

• Students’ acquisition of Skillful Thinking will lead to academic gains, including improvements on the national arts standards.

• An innovative train-the-trainers model will allow the Skillful Thinking benchmarks and behavioral indicators to be maintained after the life of the grant.

“Our overall goal for this new project is to strengthen the structure of arts instruction by infusing Skillful Thinking into all aspects of learning and assessment in the arts, which will further advance the education of the whole student,” Johnson said.

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