Artful Learning is a school improvement model that stimulates and deepens academic learning through the Arts.

Artful Learning is adaptable to any learning community or educational system. Its flexibility allows it to be integrated into other school-site initiatives or serve as the central instructional methodology. The arts-based skills and strategies magnify student engagement and demonstrably improve cognition, as well as provide differentiation to meet the needs of all learners.

The four main quadrants of the Artful Learning model (EXPERIENCE, INQUIRE, CREATE and REFLECT) encourage and support best teaching practices while improving the manner in which both students and teachers learn. Classrooms systematically employ the four quadrants to strengthen understanding, retention and application.


Explore the implementation of
an Artful Learning School
Students experience and respond to a large Concept using a Masterwork (art, music, drama, dance, scientific innovation, architecture, literature, mathematical formula, etc.) and respond through sight, sound and movement. Serving as a catalyst for immediate student engagement, the Masterwork awakens ideas, emotions and new understandings through visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. Students leave this phase curious and wanting to know more.

Students begin a substantive investigation triggered by questions and observations generated by the Masterwork experiences. A Significant Question guides the inquiry. Students employ a variety of research techniques and hands-on explorations, using the interdisciplinary content to investigate the subject matter even more deeply.

Students design and complete an Original Creation – a tangible, artistic manifestation that synthesizes and demonstrates their understanding of their newly acquired knowledge. By focusing on how best to represent the academic content from their unit of study, students’ thinking moves from divergent to convergent. They first construct a prototype, then continue to evaluate and revise their work until their final product, the Original Creation, is ready for presentation.

Students ponder the journey they have taken through the Unit of Study and ask Deepening Questions about what and how they learned. They document this process through detailed narratives, maps and metaphors. Students discover new ideas and connections while also considering practical applications of their new knowledge. Going through the process in the Unit of Study, students have acquired valuable new skills which will help them become more self-directed as learners.


Learning across the curriculum with the Arts
Moving beyond arts infusion or integration, Artful Learning allows students to use the Arts as windows into every content area. They will also use arts-based strategies as tools for exploring interdisciplinary content and expressing what they have learned.

Student engagement linked to academic rigor
Students will find their own learning strengths using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities that permit them the greatest access to, and participation in, the process of learning and understanding. Rigorous Units of Study challenge and motivate students to make an investment in their learning.

Research-proven, high-quality professional development
Educators and leaders will be energized and inspired by Leonard Bernstein Center Trainers, who will lead them through the process of mapping their curriculum and creating profound Units of Study while building a sustainable infrastructure. The UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) 2004/2009 Report found that teachers believe Artful Learning makes them better teachers, that the training is classroom-friendly and practical, and that the approach leads to greater collaboration amongst staff. Schools receive three years of intensive professional development and expert technical support. Initial training builds understanding of the Artful Learning approach, Curriculum Mapping, Unit of Study design, Leadership Development and Arts-Based Skills and Strategies; the training would providing a variety of experiential and reflective practices. Educators will build their knowledge of collaborative learning communities, common assessment, cadre formation, professional portfolios, and other topics. Throughout - the emphasis is on team building and sharing of expertise. Standards for Artful Learning professional development are compatible with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) criteria. Educators working for National Board Certification can document their expertise using their activities as Artful Learning practicioners.

Leadership Support
The school principals with the school-site leadership teams will artfully use multiple skills to build the creativity of the school community. Thoughtful coaching by Leonard Bernstein Center Trainers encourage leaders, the leadership team and all members and partners to assume increasing responsibility for leadership as the program grows. A self-sustaining learning culture where leadership is shared through the whole community is the final stage.

A culture of continuous learning for all
Artful Learning Schools implement best teaching practices validated by established researchers and their own school-based research. A culture of continuous school improvement, aligned with the components of school reform, is embedded in all school processes.


The Leonard Bernstein Center employs exemplary standards of service unequaled in the following areas.

Investment, Capacity Building and Sustainability
Program expenses for the Artful Learning trainings are entirely upfront costs, paid annually, over a three-year period. Research-proven professional development and personalized support introduce and imbed the methodology over this concentrated period of time. Teachers and leadership team members are empowered to manage an Artful Learning School without constant financial maintenance once the trainings have concluded. By the end of the three-year implementation, the school community will have built the capacity to sustain the Artful Learning Model without further investment or expenditures. It is the expectation of the Leonard Bernstein Center to develop an invested cadre of educators and leaders that does not require a trainer present in order for the process of Artful Learning to continue with authenticity. Standard or Deluxe Program option costs are an annual expenditure for three-years.

Some Artful Learning Schools do request additional technical support from the Leonard Bernstein Center after the three-year implementation. These requests are reviewed, discussed and designed to serve the agenda of the school within the framework of Artful Learning. A fee is determined for the customization to include development and on-site facilitation.

By thoughtfully building the infrastructure of support with the leadership teams at the school, multiple educators are qualified to lead the discussions for their school improvement through the professional development modeled for them by the Leonard Bernstein Center Trainers. In time, other motivated educators will join this team who share the investment made with the Artful Learning Model and continue training each other to build the capacity as an integral way to deliver the curriculum, without additional cost beyond the initial three-years of professional development.

Fidelity of Implementation
The Leonard Bernstein Center has proven that the Arts and the artistic process could be employed to any discipline for learning across the curriculum. Through extensive research and nearly two decades of implementations across the country, Artful Learning Schools demonstrate Units of Study that utilize rigor, cognitive complexity and deep understanding through a commitment to collaborative and independent learning - demonstrating high levels of student engagement and academic achievement.

Customization and Response
The Leonard Bernstein Center and Trainers realize that educational practices are in constant flux and must adapt accordingly to provide customized service to each school - both in preparation of, during, and after the professional development sessions. While it may be more practical for other providers to deliver a formulaic product with little variance to account for specialized school and student learner needs, the Artful Learning Model systems refuse to subscribe to this notion that one-size-fits-all. Instead, the Leonard Bernstein Center and Trainers study and review the current conditions at each school site within the context of district and state education requirements. The unique framework of Artful Learning embraces other initiatives: already in place, those that will be adopted and others that will be retired - designing trainings and follow-ups that incorporate every variable the educational team is responsible to address.

During the on-site professional development, constant analysis, review and modifications are made by the training team to meet the needs of the large group, as well as individual teachers who may require more advanced or simplified mechanisms to deliver their grade level curriculum using the Arts and the artistic processes, while monitoring the rigor and cognitive complexity of the Unit of Study design.

Customized design on the front-end and immediate responsiveness to meet the local needs of the school throughout the implementation, within the framework of the Artful Learning Model to build and sustain capacity, are unprecedented and the Leonard Bernstein Center maintains these as core values.

Frequently Asked Questions about ARTFUL LEARNING®

What evidence is there that the Arts, or the artistic process, enhances learning?
The most comprehensive survey of research into the effects of arts education is the 1999 document Champions of Change, produced by the Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The studies found not only that students with high levels of arts participation did better than their peers on achievement and behavior measures, but that this difference was more significant in lower socioeconomic groups. The studies also concluded that arts learning enhances critical thinking and positively affects learning in other domains. A follow-up document (2002), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, provides additional evidence. The full text of both documents can be found at

How do we know that the Artful Learning Model works?
In addition, he arts profoundly enrich personal lives, which is the most important reason for teaching them. But they also contribute to a vibrant and healthy economy, directly generating a significantly large number of jobs and producing wealth for communities through tourism and leisure services. Business leaders now recognize that the arts help students to build the skills they will need to succeed in work and in life. The artistic process develops creative and critical thinking skills, skills valued by the business sector where participants need to be able to form opinions, think creatively and make informed judgments. The artistic process also builds collaborative workforce skills, inasmuch as students are taught to think, work and create together. As well, it cultivates core values that underlie democracy, for students learn to take responsibility, respect others and become lifelong learners.

How is work assessed?
Artful Learning is anchored in rigorous, interdisciplinary academic content, defined learning outcomes and performance standards. Benchmarks of understanding are demonstrated through a variety of differentiated, artistic responses that allow a platform of success for all learners. Unit of Study design is informed by the curriculum/instruction/assessment cycle and uses leading indicators in conjunction with school-level, district and state data to monitor the achievement process. Artful Learning teachers learn how to incorporate mandated tests and evaluations into a detailed and comprehensive assessment package, one that also includes a wide variety of other performance measures such as journaling mind maps, portfolios, and presentations. Teacher teams conduct and review common assessments regularly as part of their diagnostic practice; they use the evaluation to adjust instructional strategies, set goals, and identify special needs. Both teachers and students are encouraged to view assessment as part of the learning continuum as a detailed, comprehensive, reflective exercise in goal-setting for the future.

Will this approach take time away from required instruction?
No. Artful Learning does not change curriculum content - it is a framework for the delivery of curricular content. It prepares teachers to organize and present content in a new way, thereby continually challenging students to connect new knowledge with their own experiences in multiple disciplines. Teachers design Artful Learning Units of Study to meet their own needs. They become facilitators and mentors to students as the interdisciplinary units unfold in the classroom. Curriculum mapping and unit design, undertaken collaboratively by teachers with support from Artful Learning Trainers, allow content standards to be addressed and surpassed. This approach elevates the goal of teaching beyond content and skill, to learning itself as a lifelong habit and passion.

Will this help all students — even exceptional students?
Yes. The arts meet students at their own level of readiness. The approach allows academically challenged students, ESL/ESD students, or students with other exceptionalities to become engaged by a wide range of learning media, including music, dance, drama, and art. These students have the opportunity to learn through varied learning styles and to express their learning through multiple media. Artful Learning provides authentic challenges to currently high- performing students. Students are encouraged to make unlikely connections, to express and interpret their understanding through metaphor and symbol, and to think about their own learning (metacognition). Because their learning is analogous to an artist's oeuvre, it is always in development always capable of being improved, elaborated, rethought, re-expressed or absorbed into a more complex entity.

What are the roles of arts specialists and artists?
Arts specialists are an integral part of the instructional team in Artful Learning Schools. Students involved directly in visual arts, music, dance, and drama are much more creative as thinkers throughout their academic and professional careers. In Artful Learning Schools, arts specialists often start to collaborate meaningfully with their colleagues for the first time. In addition, the Leonard Bernstein Center encourages the inclusion of professional artists. Artists provide insight and motivation, and help to connect the school with the wider community and area cultural resources.

Artful Learning Schools - Emergent & Legacy Schools

Please contact and visit our schools to learn more about Artful Learning. The talented cadre of educators and leaders are transforming the lives of students and their communities.

Jackson Middle School
Portland, OR
Legacy School - 18 Years

Hillside Elementary School
West Des Moines, IA
Legacy School - 13 Years

Townline Elementary School, Hawthorn Elementary South, Hawthorn Elementary North
Hawthorn, IL
Legacy Schools - 13 Years

Wright Elementary School
Des Moines, IA
Legacy School - 8 Years

Midway Elementary - School of the Arts
Sanford, FL
Legacy School - 8 years

Danville High School - Academy of Creative Experiences
Danville, IL
Legacy School - 6 years

Salvador Magnet School
Napa, CA
Legacy School - 5 years

Hillcrest Community School
Bloomington, MN
Legacy School - 5 years

Fairview Elementary School
Bloomington, IN
Emergent School - Revival - Year 6

West Newton Elementary School - Decatur Middle School (Imagine Learning Community) - Decatur Central High School (ICE Learning Community)
Indianapolis, IN
Emergent Schools - Level III - Year 4
317-856-5237 (Elementary School)
317-856-5274 (Middle School)
317-856-5288 (High School)
Meadow View Elementary School
Castle Rock, CO
Emergent School - Level III - Year 3

Ottomon Elementary School
Orangevale, CA
Emergent School - Level II - Year 2

For More Information

To discuss how Artful Learning can be part of your school's learning experience contact

Links and Media

"Looking Up, Figuratively and Literally, at Wright Elementary"

"The Art of Learning at Hillside"

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