i3 Arts-Integration Project Delivers Content in Special Education Classrooms

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

For teachers in New York City’s District 75, which serves more than 20,000 special needs students across the city, an innovative arts-integration approach to instruction is improving students’ social-emotional and communications skills and helping students and teachers to achieve both individual and classroom goals.

Supported by a $4.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from OII in 2010, the Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) project is also being adapted by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where special education leaders are using the project’s arts-integration techniques to help achieve a system-wide goal of reducing the number of self-contained classrooms and schools. The Urban Arts Partnership, which manages the EASE grant for District 75, began leading professional development sessions for LAUSD teachers two years ago, and this year is working with 45 teachers in L.A. and nearly 350 in New York City.

The EASE arts-integration approach is “simple yet elegant,” according to Kathy London, the arts instructional specialist for District 75. “These are things anybody can learn,” she told Education Week recently. The arts, rather than being just an add-on to existing lessons, become an organizing framework for lessons. The arts are “a vehicle for delivering content,” noted London.

Participating teachers in grades K-5 have two dozen arts activities that are adapted to fit with content in other curriculum areas. Most District 75 students have behavioral goals — following directions, exercising self-control, and communicating with other students, for example — and EASE is proving very effective in achieving those outcomes. In the 2012-13 school year, for example, more than 75 percent of participating students made progress in each of five of the social-emotional goal areas.

EASE evaluation researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University are analyzing substantial amounts of both quantitative and qualitative data gathered during the past four years, and plan to issue two impact studies, one based on the state’s alternative assessment for students with disabilities, when the project concludes in 2015.

To read the Education Week article, Arts Program Shows Promise in Special Ed. Classes, click here.

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