If you’re a regular or even an occasional reader of “Arts Education in the News,” you know that several years ago the Dana Foundation supported a consortium of neuroscientists to investigate how studying the arts might benefit cognitive skills. The project brought together Dana’s long-term commitment to neuroscience and the call from the arts community for scientific proof of the value of arts education.
Though proving causation between arts learning and enhanced brain activity such as creativity, critical thinking, memory, and attention remains elusive, these and other research findings continue to strengthen the correlations. These studies are of intense interest to teachers and school administrators, who want to know how to translate the findings into classroom practice, where to find credible information, and how to assess curricula—in the arts and other subjects—that claim to be “brain-based.”
Educators need not wait for absolute proof or new curricula that comes with a stamp of scientific approval. Armed with information and resources that already exist, educators can not only invent and test new approaches in their own classrooms, but they can better understand why the engaging techniques they have used for years are so successful. And there are plenty of helpful, inspiring, and credible resources available, if you know where to look.
You can start right here at dana.org. You probably already have discovered our two books: “Learning, Arts and the Brain: The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition” and “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain.” But did you know that you can hear the scientists explain their research (in language that non-scientists can understand) in one of the Dana podcasts?
Be sure to look beyond the Arts Education section of dana.org, too, as there are arts-related resources throughout the Web site. The column on the Dana homepage titled “Neuroeducation Focus” has a number of articles that can connect you to people and organizations involved in this developing field. Scroll through the offerings under “Gray Matters,” “Webcasts,” and “Podcasts” and you’ll find several programs and events about the brain that feature the arts in various ways. Here are a couple of leads from the “Webcast” section:
• Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, organizer of the Learning, Arts, and the Brain Consortium, discusses the research involved in the Consortium, findings, the importance of attention research, and what helps motivate people to the arts.
• “Music and the Brain: From Perception to Emotion” brought together neuroscientists, performing artists, and the public to discuss the interpretation of emotions, creativity, and improvisation.
If you are intrigued by brain science above and beyond what we are learning about the arts, you may want to subscribe to Dana’s monthly newspaper “Brain in the News.” By visiting the subscription page, you can sign up to receive “Brain in the News” and e-mail updates about what’s new on the Dana Web site.
You should definitely take time to follow the links on dana.org that tell you about Brain Awareness Week. Now in its fifteenth year, Brain Awareness Week (BAW) has hundreds of partners all over the world producing events (many of them involving the arts) that take place during one busy week in March (this year it’s March 15-21). More than 2,600 partner organizations and institutions, many working in the field of education, have participated in the campaign since its inception in 1996. You might consider getting your favorite school or arts organization involved as a BAW partner (free posters and stickers!).
The real Mecca for information about translating brain research into classroom practice is the Learning and the Brain Conference (LBC). LBC has become so popular that it now takes place three times a year and also sponsors special institutes. Arts educators need not wait until an LBC focuses on the arts and creativity as it did last spring. I’ve attended several of these gatherings and found that the brain science aimed at all educators is readily applicable to teaching of the arts and designing arts-integrated lesson plans.
The next Learning and the Brain conference, “Focused Minds: Enhancing Students Attention, Memory and Motivation,” will take place in Washington, DC, May 6-8. Michael Posner, one of the lead scientists in the Dana Arts and Cognition studies, will be a featured speaker.
It doesn’t take a brain scientist to tell a teacher when his or her students are more engaged, attentive, and better able to absorb the material being presented. But science is beginning to tell us why. Armed with the latest information, teachers can more efficiently improve their own teaching and their students’ success.
This is the final issue of “Arts Education in the News.” I have one last recommendation for some personal experimentation with brain science: Spend some time each day connecting with the art that speaks to you—remembering a favorite line from a poem, humming those bars of music that stir you, indulging in any dance that springs from the moment. I am not a neuroscientist, but I know that it’s good for you. Thanks for reading.