Douglas Elementary is one of four Tyler ISD schools participating in Young Audience's National Literacy Research Project measuring the effectiveness of injecting arts projects into reading classes. Other participants include Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy, Jones Math-Science-Technology Elementary, and Andy Woods Elementary.
In this research project, entitled "Arts for Learning Lessons" (A4L), Douglas, students have illustrated the adventure tale, "My Father's Dragon," as a graphic novel. Fourth and fifth grade classes have created original illustrations and storylines, and most have given the dragon a unique name.
Young Audiences' A4L instructional program promises to improve reading scores for third through sixth grade students. Initial field testing in several other cities in 2006 revealed two-six times the gains on literacy skills and understanding for A4L students compared to similar students in the same school districts who received their school's standard reading curriculum.
"We blended arts and literacy, sparkle and learning science, action and academics to capture the best of both worlds," observed Dr. John Bransford, leader of the design team at the University of Washington. "Students learn in concert with one another, practice literacy skills with both texts and arts activities through cycles of creation, reflection and revision, and they put it all together in a presentation of the art and literacy they have learned."
A Tyler fourth grade teacher put it like this, "The lessons are really getting the kiddos excited about what they're doing!
They read selected stories, analyze what they read, write their own texts, and use an art form to present their understanding and ideas to others. I like the way they work back and forth in cycles of teacher-guided and self-directed learning."
Arts for Learning has created five instructional units to augment the school's literacy curriculum. Focusing on specific literacy objectives, the units focus on reading and writing in 12-15 structured, sequential lessons that last 30 minutes to one hour. Tyler ISD is participating in the first two units.
Teachers receive six hours of intensive professional development and follow-up consultation from Young Audiences chapter and district literacy staff to exploit reading/writing "sweet spots."
Tyler teachers have completed the graphic novels unit, and begun a second - interjecting "tableau" (freeze-frame theater) into "upside-down" fairytales (fairytales told from a different point of view or with a significant twist).
Young Audiences of Northeast Texas Executive Director Dana Sudduth explains, "In March, Young Audiences is bringing Cartoonist Julio Suarez to help each class create a cover for their graphic novel. And in May, Texas Commission on the Arts' Storybook Theatre will perform "The Two Little Pigs and T. H. E. Wolf" at Tyler Junior College's Jean Brown Theatre for the A4L students."
Young Audiences of Northeast Texas in partnership with Tyler ISD is one of seven national sites participating in this research for the 2007-2008 school year. Other sites include schools in Indiana, Wichita, New Orleans, Kansas City, New Jersey, and Northern California with a total of 162 teachers and 4,600 students participating. Tyler ISD and New Jersey will serve as summative sites for the research for 2007-2008.
On February 20-23, 2008, Sudduth will be accompanied by Douglas Elementary Lead Fifth Grade Teacher Dana Ogden and TAKS Reading Specialist Ronni Stefano to professional development at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. In Virginia, Sudduth, Ogden, and Stefano will work with the development team on adaptations to the units that Tyler ISD teachers have recommended, then they will receive additional professional training for future implementation of other units.
The 2006 independent study determined after 18 hours of instruction, the A4L students' gains were:
- Twice the gains of the comparison group on story comprehension, including the important skill of making inferences.
- Four times the gains of comparison students in understanding the "author's choice" of vocabulary and details to effectively tell a story.
- Six times the gains in visualization - creating mental pictures to better understand a text.
- Over five times the gains in understanding story elements.
Funding for local participation in Arts for Learning Lessons comes from the Texas Commission on the Arts and private Young Audiences donors. Tyler Junior College is co-presenter of the Storybook Theatre performance in May for all participating students. Funding for the national research project is from The Starr Foundation, The Dana Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Ridgefield Foundation and The Sequoia Foundation.
Information courtesy of Tyler Independent School District.