Rubrics and an Arts Integration Community of Practice

Article excerpt

* What skills do young people cultivate while they engage in the artmaking process?

* Why are these art-focused experiences a critical component of the educational experience?

* In what ways is student learning a function of sustained arts exposure?

* Do the arts seem to have a purpose and a place in educating students with disabilities, particularly with the impact of No Child Left Behind and its focus on academics in this standard-based era?

In the project described in this article, researchers at VSA arts attempted to determine the value of embedded arts education (sometimes called arts integration) for students with disabilities (see box, "What Is VSA arts?").

Many have argued that the intrinsic value of the arts (music, dance, visual arts, drama, and creative writing) in and of themselves should be a sufficient reason to teach these subjects in schools, and many arts educators agree with that rationale. However, when schools are facing cuts in their arts programs and teachers must focus on preparing students to pass state assessments (von Zastrow, 2004), knowledge about how and when the arts affect learning can be useful. For these reasons, VSA arts, as part of its mandate to encourage the use of the arts in teaching students with disabilities, decided to investigate the impact of arts integration (see box, "What Are the Goals of Arts Integration?").

Almost no information is available to help teachers evaluate either the quality of art and artistic experiences of students with disabilities or the effects of artistic experiences and arts integration on social, cognitive, academic, or artistic skills (see box, "What Does the Literature Say About Evaluating the Artistic Experiences of Students With Disabilities?"). Instead of simply assessing the contribution of instruction in the arts, we wanted to evaluate the effects of incorporating arts-based instruction in teaching specific content and skills.

Because teachers often use rubrics as tools for organizing criteria for judging or scoring students' work, the authors decided to investigate the potential of rubrics as measures of the results of an integrated arts approach. One of the values of rubrics is their flexibility as an authentic assessment measure. Educators can adapt rubrics to many situations to help them evaluate the quality of students' work (Taggart, Phifer, Nixon, & Wood, 1998). In addition to the flexibility of rubrics, the previously mentioned lack of research on evaluating the artistic experiences of students with disabilities also drove us to use rubrics.

We focused on developing a framework that could enable us to better understand student learning in and through the arts, as well as help us distill specific teaching skills and competences that lead to successful arts integration. We created a basic evaluation framework by surveying existing evaluation literature, generating an evaluation framework, and exploring the implementation of the basic framework in classrooms. We then used this framework as a tool in our research to enable teachers and teaching artists to translate the often intuitive and ephemeral understanding of learning in and through the arts into something more tangible and concrete.

Developing Rubrics for Measuring Learning in and Through the Arts

To prepare a background guide for teachers and artists that would help them devise and use rubrics, we wanted to find or develop a model for using rubrics that measure the quality of artistic products or performance and measure the effects of art activities on learning. When we conducted research on the possibility of using rubrics, we found that many state standards of learning include standards for demonstrating proficiency in the arts and for measuring the influence of arts integration (Pistone & Lowther, 2004).

VSA arts was interested in presenting several examples of rubrics to teachers and asking them to use the examples to build rubrics that met their specific needs and circumstances. …