Merryl Goldberg

In considering quality, engagement, and partnerships, I’m really thrilled to be writing about DREAM and TELL!

Developing Reading Education through Arts Methods (DREAM) is a four-year arts integration program funded through the United States Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement: Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program.

Theater for English Language Learners (TELL!) is a multi-year project with funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts in Education category.

Both programs are partnership programs involving school districts, a university, and professional artists. In this post and my next one, I will describe each of these projects. This one introduces DREAM.

“Some schools don’t have what kids need to enjoy school,” said Jordan Zavala, 9. “I used to have a hard time reading, but since I’ve been in Mr. DeLeon’s class I’ve done better because we act out what we learn. It’s really been fun.” (San Diego Union Tribune 2/10/12)

The DREAM program is a partnership of the San Diego County Office of Education via the North County Professional Development Federation, and Center ARTES at California State University San Marcos.

The program’s goal is to train third and fourth grade teachers to use visual arts and theater activities to improve students’ reading and language arts skills.

Started in June 2009, the program offers one-week Summer Institutes coupled with coaching by professional artists throughout the year. Ten school districts have had teachers participate in the project, representing 141 teachers and approximately 3,000 students.

Recently, we released results of the DREAM research via national press conference:

  • Our research has shown that arts integration is an extremely powerful tool for improving reading.
  • Standardized test scores in DREAM have improved by an astonishing 87 points.
  • Students beginning the year as the lowest performing students ended the year with the most gains in reading test scores.
  • Using theatre to teach literacy is an especially effective instructional tool.

I believe there are three key factors that underlie the quality and success of DREAM. They are:

1. A firm belief that children and teachers capability given the opportunity

2. That the arts are a highly effective tool and/or methodology for engaging learners

3. A team approach to participation, planning, and implementing the program sets the stage for success

Children and Teacher Capability

This research gets at the heart of accountability and children’s capability.

Students from 10 school districts were randomly assigned to be in either a control group: teachers who did not receive the DREAM professional development, or to one of two treatment groups: teachers who went to a week long summer institute (only), and teachers who went to the institute and then had an additional 20 hours of coaching by a professional artist who came to their class.

All third grade kids in our research started out on statistical equal footing as measured on the California Standards Test for English Language Arts. The kids in the control group (the group without a DREAM teacher) averaged a 25-point improvement over the year.

The kids in classrooms with the teachers who attended the institute only had an average 41-point improvement. And, the kids in classrooms with teachers who attended the institute and received in class coaching gained the astonishing 87-point improvement.

The DREAM research pointedly reveals how much of an effect arts can have in releasing children’s capabilities and potential.

In our research we have also followed kids’ transformation into active, engaged, learners—and documented the achievements and reflections of their (in their own words) rejuvenated, inspired, and invested teachers.

This research highlights how the arts can be, and ARE, vital to education.

The arts engage students and teachers and provide a foundation to 21st century skills such as creative, reflective, and critical thinking. The arts open up the natural abilities of children to wonder, to take risks, to feel confident, to be disciplined, and understand that learning is not a simple matter of “either/or” it is (indeed life is) more complex.

The DREAM Team Approach

DREAM Team builds capacity: solid infrastructure, focused planning 

Infrastructure: The program is a partnership between the university and the county office enabling good communication and ability to collect data

Planning and reflective practice: The team includes county office staff, university professors in arts and reading, and artists; built into the program is constant reflection and review of practice

Evaluator well educated in Arts Education research: The researcher/evaluator’s background not only informs our ability to collect data, but is instrumental in the evaluative process of the project itself.

Providing carefully planned and thoughtful summer institute combined with in-class coaching: Both the summer institute and the coaching are directly linked to the reading texts for the grade levels, state standards in reading, visual arts and theater, and includes instruction on assessment of student learning

Engaging teachers as professionals and treating them with utmost respect: Teachers engage with authors and professional celebrities in arts, and engage in constant reflection via discussions and blogging. We also provide them with a professional setting for learning and provide them with small amenities that go a long way (breakfast, beverages, supplies, nice setting for learning).

Visit our website to view the DREAM video as well as tap into the webcast of the press conference and look for a description of TELL! in my next post.

3 Responses to “DREAM & TELL!: Arts Integration Models at Work (Part One)”

  1. Jane Remer says:

    Interesting design for arts integration (but using the arts to achieve other than artistic ends)…I’d like to know how the coaches were identified, trained and the content of the training…I wonder if arts process and learning quality was given equal weight in the formative and summative assessment process

    • hi Jane,
      Merryl here; thanks for responding and questioning! We have a dissemination website: which has lots of information….
      More importantly, however, your questions made me realize I need to constantly remember to frame our work from both the arts and the literacy pieces. Wonderful arts making in visual arts and theater at the core of what we do in DREAM and are a vital aspect of our evaluation of the teachers and the students. The coaches have been woring with us for years and meet biweekly for several hours each session to talk about their work and engage in brainstorming many aspects of learning with, through, and about the arts.

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