EXPLORING THE POTENTIAL OF ART-BASED EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES: A CASE STUDY OF ENGAGEMENT IN LEARNING THROUGH THE ARTS
Spreen, Carol Anne
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The purpose of this study was to explore the benefits of arts-based education for adolescents with learning disabilities (LD) placed in an inclusion program. The goal was to examine the potential of arts education as an inclusive curricular component that enhances students' engagement in learning. The study is framed within the education policy context in which many LD adolescents are at risk of dropping out of school due to the large gap between their basic skills and the expectations of standards-based curriculum. A quality arts program at a public charter school was chosen as the site for this case study that involved investigating seven LD adolescents' engagement in their music and drama classes during an eight-week curriculum unit through qualitative research methods. Based on the application of the social-constructivist theoretical framework, students' individual learning profiles, as well as environmental aspects of learning in the arts such as teachers' pedagogical styles and the classroom context informed the findings of this study. Students' narrative accounts regarding their learning experiences in arts education classrooms served as the primary source of information for the themes in the findings. Interviews with parents, teachers, and the school director were used to gain a comprehensive understanding of students' strengths and weaknesses in learning and to gain insights into the place of the arts in their overall educational opportunities. Qualitative methods of analysis were used to derive three over-arching themes based on students' experiences learning in the arts. The themes included 1.) "It feels like you open up to yourself," (The Importance of Nonverbal, Embodied Engagement in Learning); 2.) "You get to create what's your own;" "it has some thought part of it centered near you," (Student Ownership of the Learning Process); 3.) "In arts there is no wrong answer;" "it's a safer social environment," (Social and Environmental Context of Learning). These themes showed the importance of successful learning experiences for adolescents with LD within a diverse school curriculum that offers them multiple modes of engagement and expression. Participation in arts education classes enhanced LD students' self-efficacy beliefs and motivation, providing them with inclusive and meaningful educational opportunities.