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Artful Learning at Roosevelt Middle School

Eight years ago Roosevelt Middle School began a journey by implementing a new approach to teaching and learning called Artful Learning. The unique framework explores all academic subjects through the lens of the arts.

The groundbreaking program was the brainchild of the late American music icon, Leonard Bernstein. The renowned composer and conductor was deeply passionate about teaching, and his mission was to use music, visual, and performing arts to help teach, strengthen understanding, improve retention, and instill a love of learning in students.

Established in 1990, the program has been welcomed into schools across America, with more than 250,000 students nationwide having been exposed to its learnings. 

Active Learning. Deeper Insights.

Roosevelt Middle School’s Artful Learning Coordinator, Kathryn Graf, has been with the school since the inception of the program and explains how it has helped boost student understanding and participation: “Artful Learning allows students to learn through active experiences. Students connect with academic material in an emotional, personal way and are afforded opportunities to connect with each other and their teachers. Students can express their knowledge of any subject matter by creating something original as opposed to simply being tested.”

Graf goes on to describe some of the ways the program has been integrated into classes

“We implemented a few art-based skills and strategies throughout the year that the students enjoyed. For example, we used Tableaus to model lab safety skills. Math discussed the Fibonacci Number and how it relates to ratios, and I was able to expand on that when discussing ‘beauty in composition’.”

Artful Learning embeds the arts into the learning process through a concept-based, interdisciplinary model, which helps improve comprehension and academic achievement. Its approach is the result of over 20 years of research, collaboration and refinement with leading educators. Participating schools commit to three years of professional development for their educators to learn and implement the teaching model.

Artful Learning’s framework combines the sequence of ‘Experience, Inquire, Create and Reflect’ throughout the curriculum. Each phase encourages deeper engagement of students and is aimed at helping them ‘display understanding at a higher cognitive level through metaphorical thinking’.

Positive Feedback From Students and Staff

The school recently undertook a student survey, with one student commenting, “I think Artful Learning had a great impact on my learning experience. It united a lot of my classes on one subject, helped practice a deeper thinking process, and helped unite the class a little, making learning more pleasurable.”  

Another wrote, “It made things easier to comprehend and it wasn't boring. Sometimes reading out of a textbook every single day can get boring quickly, but this time we did something unique and interesting every day.”

The school also carried out a teacher survey, with one revealing that the highlight for them was “seeing my students get excited about the connections that exist between math and art, nature and the world around them. I've been saying this for years, and now they believe me!”

Another teacher who is new to the school said, “I had a blast making music with a group of creative, courageous, and diligent kiddos. It was amazing hearing them use Artful Learning words and phrases that were introduced in their classes, and the creative buzz in the room was contagious. Another highlight for me had to be the staff trainings. As a first-year teacher, and being new to Roosevelt, it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and connect with colleagues in a really unique and engaging way.”

Since RMS implemented Artful Learning in 2017, Graf says the program hasn’t changed but concludes, “The more experience we have with it, the more we implement it with fidelity. We are restarting Artful Learning training for all teachers at the beginning of the new school year and appreciate the VUSD’s ongoing support for this transformative learning engine.”



Learn more about Artful Learning at the Roosevelt Middle School website and with these short videos: