Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Arts Voices: Middle School Students and the Relationships of the Arts to Their Motivation and Self-Efficacy

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Arts Voices: Middle School Students and the Relationships of the Arts to Their Motivation and Self-Efficacy

Article excerpt

Introduction and Background

I taught theater for eleven years part time and five years full time. My part time experience was predominantly with weekend and summer theater programs. My full time teaching took place in both urban and rural middle schools. The locations were different but the students really weren't that dissimilar. Both schools had a comparable racial and socio-economic ratio. Each school offered a strong selection of arts courses for the students. The arts affected students in the same way no matter where I went to teach. While teaching theater I saw the impact that drama could have on a student's behaviors, attitudes, motivation, and belief in self. Students were provided an outlet of expression, ideas, and interpretation. They had a chance to shine in class and on stage. Theater class was a place where they could succeed while they may have failed in other subjects. I had parents thanking me for involving their child in theater productions because they were awed at the difference that it had made in their son's or daughter's self-esteem, motivation, creativity, and confidence. As I progressed in my teaching career, I became increasingly aware that the arts had the potential to make a difference. I began to pay closer attention to the other arts-based courses offered at the school and noticed similar impacts being made in young people's lives in those classes as well.

The research on arts education is ever growing. A review of the literature over the past ten to fifteen years reveals that there are gaps in the research. This study seeks to fill some of those spaces. There is a lack of research on arts education and older students (Catterall, 2002). Elementary schools, rather than high schools, are commonly the focus of studies and there is wide gap in the literature pertaining to arts in the middle schools. Another hole in the research relates to the arts in rural schools. Catterall, Chapleau, and Iwanaga (1999) as well as Horowitz and Webb-Dempsey (2002) advise researchers to pursue in-depth qualitative studies that take the student's participation and experiences into account. Only a small fraction of arts education literature includes the voices of the students (see Baum, Owen, & Oreck, 1997; Hughes & Wilson, 2004; Wolf, 1994). The data collection methods used for this study included questionnaires, focus-group interviews, and follow-up one-on-one and focus-group interviews to gain the opinions, narratives, and voices of the students. The young people that I taught in the past always had opinions about their arts-based classes and this has led me to the challenge of sharing other young people's perspectives on the arts courses in their schools.


The purpose of this research is to investigate the relationships of arts education to personal motivation and selfefficacy in middle school students in rural schools. Understanding personal academic motivation was approached through gaining the perspectives of the participants in the study and ascertaining how they feel about what individually motivates them in school as well as in their learning in arts-based discipline courses. Self-efficacy is also known as confidence. The study looked at whether arts courses can have any impact on students' confidence in their own abilities and talents.

As a former theater teacher I had witnessed the difference that theater had made for my middle school students. I had personally experienced the increase in motivation, self-efficacy, as well as self-esteem and creativity in my drama students. When I decided to pursue my doctorate I knew that I wanted to focus my attentions in research to arts education. As a researcher I knew that wanted to look at the intrinsic values of the arts to young people. I also knew that I desired to hear the voices of the students. It was always clear to me that the young people in my classes had opinions and when prompted would happily share them. …

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