This month, as part of the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series, I have decided to tackle the question, How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?
This may seem like an odd topic for me as anyone who knows me well can attest to my complete lack of artistic talent (especially visual arts) and mediocre musical skills. However, over the summer, I read The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools by Dr. Mariale Hardiman. In learning about two of her targets — Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, & Concepts as well as Teaching for Extension & Application of Knowledge — the arts played a central role in enhancing the potential for student learning within more traditional subjects.
Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, and Concepts requires students to gain a deeper understanding of a domain of curricular knowledge such as history or science while forging stronger connections between their learning experiences and their long term memories. Arts integration creates hands-on experiences that allow students to make those deeper connections. As they delve into topics through drawing, painting, music, and even drama, they generate new types of information and learning artifacts as well as physically engage in the learning process. These active learning experiences not only help students to make varied neural connections to the content but also engage them in more divergent thinking – generating multiple, varied solutions to a problem.
Most assessments in traditional subjects value convergent thinking and encourage students to generate a single, correct, response. However, the arts inspire creativity, incite students to seek out novel approaches that demonstrate both their content knowledge as well as their critical thinking, and support Teaching for Extension and Application of Knowledge. In her book, Dr. Hardiman describes a language arts teacher who encouraged students to design a guidebook of survival tips for their community based on their understanding of themes from the novel, Hatchet, as well as a biology teacher who placed her students into “medical teams” charged with diagnosing the genetic disorder of a fictitious patient. In this latter example, the students collaborated to diagnose the problem, determine a solution, and then present their findings to their peers.
In Assessment and the Learning Brain, Hardiman and Whitman state that to determine the innovativeness of a school, ask about their thoughts on assessment. Innovative schools provide their students with multiple opportunities to creatively demonstrate their learning and can be characterized by motivated students who focus on mastering domains of knowledge rather than performing on tests. Instead of considering the arts (and technology – had to fit that in) as something to “fit in” with a traditional curriculum, we need to start considering it a necessary strategy for forging deeper connections, engaging in more creative and complex thinking, as well as inspiring students to learn.