highlights from key national research on arts education

Drama

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Dramatic play, rhyming games, and songs are some of the language-rich activities that build pre-reading skills. The problems many children face in learning to read could be prevented with high-quality instruction that incorporates a range of pre-school language-building activities and early exposure to stories and books.

source: Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections, 1998, p. 1
Arts Education Partnership
Referencing Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998


Regular, frequent instruction in drama and sign language created higher scores in language development for Head Start students than for a control group not offered drama and sign language.  Drama and sign language were used to tap the physical, kinesthetic, and visual abilities of the 60 Head Start children studied. The four-year-olds participated in activities combining drama and sign language for four days a week throughout the 1987–88 school year. The children in the drama/sign language program scored significantly higher on the Head Start Measures Battery, Language Scale, than the 60 children in the control group.

study: Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections, 1998, p. 20
Arts Education Partnership
Referencing Youth Theatre Journal
American Alliance for Theatre & Education
Drama and Sign Language: A Multisensory Approach to the Language Acquisition of Disadvantaged Preschool Children, vol. 6, No. 3, 1992


Imaginative play, coached by a teacher, enhances important learning abilities that help kindergarten children make physical and social sense of the world around them.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, pp. 24–25
study: Role of Imaginative Play in Cognitive Development


In re-enacting stories, kindergarteners who stepped out of role to direct others in the enactment, or question the direction of the enactment added to their understanding and recall of the story more than their less active classmates. 

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, pp. 54–55
study: "You Can't Be Grandma: You're a Boy": Events Within the Thematic Fantasy Play Context that Contribute to Story Comprehension


Dramatic play appears to increase tendencies of early elementary school children to be thorough and explicit in their conveying of stories critical to success in school settings where these skills are required in written and oral language activities.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, pp. 44–45
study: The Effect of Dramatic Play on Children's Generation of Cohesive Text


First and 2nd grade students who participated in drama to re-create a story they have heard read aloud have greater understanding of the story than those students who only heard the story.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 30
study: Children's Story Comprehension as a Result of Storytelling and Story Dramatization: A Study of the Child as Spectator and as Participant


Pre-writing exercises in drama and drawing significantly improved the quality of narrative writing of second and third-graders.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p.32
study: Drama and Drawing for Narrative Writing in Primary Grades


Ten weeks of in-class drama coaching in a remedial third and fourth-grade classroom helped the teacher and students transform their approach to reading and improve the students' attitude about and success in reading.  Dramatic training and expression offered students the opportunity to contribute their own background knowledge and understanding, improve their accuracy and momentum, broaden their understandings and expressive choices, and begin to see themselves as actors, or active readers.  That sense of achievement positively affected their self-perception.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, pp. 56–57
study: The Flight of Reading: Shifts in Instruction, Orchestration, and Attitudes through Classroom Theatre


The use of creative drama with fifth-grade remedial reading students to act out stories read in class enables them to better understand what they read and also help them better understand reading they do not act out such as reading exercises found in standardized tests.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 22
study: The Effectiveness of Creative Drama as an Instructional Strategy to Enhance the Reading Comprehension Skills of Fifth-Grade Remedial Readers


Fifth and 6th graders' participation in improvisational drama throughout a school year resulted in greater use of expressive and interactional language skills as well as more traditional classroom informational language skills. Informational language skills involve lower-order thinking skills while expressive language used by these drama participants reveal and develop the ability to speculate, imagine, predict, reason, and evaluate their own learning—or, higher order thinking skills. Interactional language skills were found in students' exchanges with each other and later reflection on interactions.  Students' own reflections on the improvisations brought up moral issues, not typical in information-driven classrooms. The authors believe that, "Drama puts back the human content into what is predominantly a materialistic curriculum".

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Developments, 2002, pp. 50–51
study: Nadie Papers No. 1, Drama, Language and Learning.  Reports of the Drama and Language Research Project, Speech and Drama Center, Education Department of Tasmania


Creative drama exercises improved learning-disabled students' behavior and speaking skills necessary for success in the classroom. Regular and special education teachers determined which skills were necessary.  Learning-disabled students were tested with a comparison group before and after creative drama exercises.  Those who received creative drama improved social skills such as courtesy to others, self-control, focus on classroom work and following directions.  They also improved their oral expression skills.  These benefits were sustained when tested again two months after the end of the creative drama program.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 20
study: The Effects of Creative Drama on the Social and Oral Language Skills of Children with Learning Disabilities


An analysis of many research studies on the effects of classroom drama exercises showed positive effects on language development including written and oral story recall, reading achievement, reading readiness, oral languages development, and writing.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 47
study: Strengthening Verbal Skills Through the Use of Classroom Drama: A Clear Link


High level of involvement in theater co-related to high levels of achievement in reading proficiency. Low socio-economic status (SES) students highly involved in theater outscored the low SES students who were not involved in theater in reading proficiency. The 9 percent advantage of high-theater involved 8th graders grows to a 20 percent advantage by 12th grade.

source: Champions of Change, 1999, p. 14
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, University of California at Los Angeles
study: Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theater Arts


Original writing of plays by high school drama students made them more cooperative and confident learners in terms of valuing their own ideas and valuing their contribution to the group through improved attendance.  They also became more active learners in terms of seeking out additional information and insight through library research and group discussions.  These confident attitudes and behaviors led to more sustained activities of learning rather than giving up in the face of doubts or complex problems.

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 28
study: An Exploration into the Writing of Original Scripts by Inner-City High School Drama Students


Rural highschoolers' writing and presenting of original poetry, with the help of encouraging instruction in both, improved speaking skills, comfort with speaking, and self-image. 

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, p. 30
study: A Poetic/Dramatic Approach to Facilitate Oral Communication


Many students in a theater acting program reported that the intense review of Shakespeare texts in preparation for performing helped them not only master that difficult material but also improve their reading of other complex material such as math and physics texts.

source: Champions of Change, 1999, p. 82
Harvard Project Zero from the Shakespeare & Company Research Study
study: 'Stand and Unfold Yourself': A Monograph on the Shakespeare & Company Research Study


Acting out texts creates compelling learning experiences for students that also benefit parents and the broader community. Students in the Shakespeare & Company program learn Shakespeare's difficult texts through the process by which an actor analyzes and works with the text of a play and a company of actors. In so doing the acting program meets the six criteria for rigorous and relevant project-based learning: authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active exploration, adult relationships, and assessment practices. "These performances are not simply school-room exercises: they are authentic acts of communication, culture, and community. When they are successful, they are demonstrations of deep understanding that make the complex and difficult world of Shakespeare's text lucid, vibrant, relevant, and moving to everyone in the auditorium."

source: Champions of Change, 1999, p. 84
Harvard Project Zero from the Shakespeare & Company Research Study
study: 'Stand and Unfold Yourself': A Monograph on the Shakespeare & Company Research Study


Shakespeare's plays can be effective, through step-by-step investigation of their life-like complexity and meaning, at getting students to engage deeply with their own experience, a process that is linked to all types of learning. "'Unfolding' is used to describe how students open themselves to learning processes through the study of Shakespeare: acting, working in creative communities, and linking self-knowledge to social and intellectual development."

source: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002, pp. 48–49
study: 'Stand and Unfold Yourself' A Monograph on the Shakespeare & Company Research Study