Nov. 20, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A multidisciplinary team at The Catholic University of America is designing an educational program aimed at enhancing the literacy of special-needs children by incorporating arts into the classroom.
Begun last May, the Interdisciplinary VSA arts Project at CUA is studying ways to revamp the CUA education department’s curriculum that subsequently will serve as part of a larger initiative to set new standards for teacher preparation nationwide.
CUA faculty members in the fields of art, drama, music, education and architecture will discuss their findings at a conference titled “Higher Education: Integrating Arts and Disabilities” Nov. 21 and 22 at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California, Md. Professors engaged in similar research at Lesley University in Boston and Plymouth State University in New Hampshire also will attend.
The project is funded by a $110,000 grant from VSA arts — a nonprofit international organization that creates learning opportunities through the arts for people with disabilities. As part of the project, the CUA team will develop a proposal with VSA arts to align arts education standards with special education standards at the national level.
“This project is very relevant to education reform and how we can think differently about bringing arts strategies into the classroom,” says James E. Modrick, VSA arts’ vice president for affiliate and education services.
“[President Bush’s] No Child Left Behind [program] calls for highly qualified teachers to meet the needs of every child but traditional curriculums sometimes fall short of equipping teachers with the required skills to do that,” Modrick says.
Education research indicates that incorporating the arts into classroom instruction “enhances the higher-order thinking skills of young people,” he adds. “They enjoy the arts; they’re engaged and therefore attend more to what’s going on in class.”
The project also will provide CUA education students with innovative strategies for improving the literacy of special-needs students by incorporating art, drama and music instruction into the elementary and secondary classrooms.
Studies have shown that reading and literacy are facilitated by arts activities that help students break the phonetic code, says Carole Brown, CUA project director and research associate professor. “Drama and movement activities that foster spatial skills facilitate writing. Music facilitates spatial awareness and mathematics.”
As part of the project, CUA’s team of professors from the departments of art, drama and education and the schools of music and architecture are working together to create an innovative education curriculum that includes arts coursework, says Brown. Their research ultimately could lead to a modified master’s program in special education that would include arts-based approaches to instruction.
“Catholic University is poised to be able to integrate and demonstrate the research that shows the link between drama, language and literacy,” she adds.
The team is exploring the possibility of creating courses that would be co-taught by professors from different disciplines. The team also may arrange internships for CUA education majors with Washington, D.C.-area arts organizations, says Brown. A potential partnership with Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., would allow drama and education majors to work alongside each other at the multi-disciplinary theatre arts organization for young people.
Modrick said that the project is a good fit for CUA because of the university’s relatively small size, its flexibility and its “well-recognized” arts and education programs. “CUA is well equipped to implement large-scale programs quickly,” says Modrick.
For additional information or to arrange interviews with CUA faculty members, contact Katie Lee or Chris Harrison in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.
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