Sections include: The questions educators need to have answered; The bridging of the tactical gap between neuroscience and education; The arts as an agent for behavioral change; The arts as impetus for engagement; The need for evolved skills; The need for communication
The purpose of the roundtable discussion groups was to provide a venue for communication and collaboration among educators, researchers, and advocates focused on cognition and the arts. The anticipated outcomes included: educators generating research questions based on the real needs of the classroom; researchers understanding the practical needs of education practitioners; and researchers and educators collaboratively planning how studies could be designed and conducted in authentic settings to inform educational practice.
The roundtable discussions involved more than 270 summit participants, with approximately ten participants per table.
Roundtable participants included:
- Educators from pre-K through higher education
- Summit panelists
- Neuroscience researchers from JHU and other universities
- Educators of pre-service teachers
- University professors and researchers of other disciplines
- University administrators
- School administrators and leaders
- Advocates from arts organizations
- Museum directors
- Policy makers
- Businesspeople interested in education
- Other professionals related in some capacity to education or neuroscience
Given the heterogeneous mix of attendees and panelists, the leaders of the summit arranged the discussion groups to create the richest possible variety of interests, voices, and expertise.
Each table was chaired by a facilitator who was assisted by a recorder to capture as much of the discussion as possible. Prior to the summit, facilitators and recorders attended work sessions to discuss how to frame questions and lead discussions to enhance the collaboration of the education and research communities. While the facilitators were prepared to move the conversation along a common thread of discussion, they also knew that they should allow the group to flow into conversation that was relevant to the day’s earlier panel discussions and the group’s interests.
Roundtable Discussion Summary
The invitation to the groups was kept intentionally broad: “…to explore and test how the arts might contribute to improving students’ academic experience and learning.” While the roundtable proceedings ultimately focused on the generation of research questions or proposals, much of the discussion included broader topics. The many different points and issues that arose in the roundtables have been organized into six major categories (among which there is some overlap and interconnection):
The common thread among all these categories is a focus on children in the classroom. Rather than looking to neuroscience or the arts for a magic formula to explain the learning process, roundtable participants sought to segregate cause and effect. Educators experienced with arts integration were convinced of its benefits, but they (and their principals and school boards) are under pressure to show hard evidence. Will arts-integrated curricula lead to students who demonstrate creativity and higher-order thinking? Will arts-integrated curricula help students learn course content better? Will it help them become more engaged in learning? Will it result in higher standardized test scores? Is there support from educators across all disciplines? What is the pedagogical basis for building curricula on principles that transcend the empirical success of overt practice?
The text that follows is a synthesis of the teachers’ discussions from each of the 27 roundtables; the questions and comments are organized according to the six themes above. Bold text indicates questions asked by educators participating in the discussions.
1. The questions educators need to have answered
Despite provocative findings from the brain scientists, teachers wanted to first clarify their expectations. There was certainly no consensus among educators about what was needed from neuroscience or how to move forward with arts integration. Perhaps the only common ground was that creativity and creative moments are wonderful in themselves (and good for learning), but almost impossible to orchestrate.
A general and very representative question from educators was, “What can I do now? I feel overwhelmed.”
There were at least two sources of this frustration: first, educators don’t know where to go to learn what is available, especially in terms of arts integration and brain research, and second, not all of the educators present at the summit were familiar with arts integration.
What are the societal attitudes toward education and arts education?
The diverse constituencies of the roundtables guaranteed that there was no single answer to this question. Many artists and artist-educators were confident that in general, the public wants art in schools; some teachers and administrators were not so sure. This doubt was not linked to current budgetary constraints.
As was pointed out during the educators’ panel, school administrators feel mounting pressure to increase test scores. Many are choosing to hire additional teachers in remedial reading and mathematics in place of art teachers.
The role of parents in accepting and promoting the arts in education permeated discussions throughout the summit. Confusion and intimidation about research, its usable practical applications, and reasons why the arts are important for cognitive development exists in the home.
Yet, as Dick Deasy points out, in a recent survey conducted by the Imagine Nation advocacy group, 91 percent of all voters say the arts are necessary to build imagination.
What will it take to prove that arts integration is valuable for improving performance on tests as well as for providing enjoyment?
It should be noted that the core argument here is not about whether to offer the arts in schools, but whether educators should pursue the integration of learning methodologies that are characteristic of drama, the visual arts, music, and writing into the curricula of other disciplines.
Several roundtable participants pointed out that art is no longer taught in their schools. According to the Alliance for Childhood’s Crisis in the Kindergarten report, 48 percent of kindergarten classrooms in New York and 64 percent in Los Angeles have decided there’s no time for art activities; 60 percent in New York and 67 percent in Los Angeles reported not enough time for dramatic play.11 The larger question is inherently economic: Can the United States afford to abandon the training of creative ways of thinking and learning in the hope that these skills will come from some source other than specific training in the arts? The economic basis for teaching children critical skills through arts integration is perhaps an argument worth developing through research.
If we know that using the arts can create a deeper learning experience and enrich the curriculum, how can we prove that the arts help to keep kids in school?
The tone of the roundtables was pragmatic, as revealed in frequent discussions of the question, what is it that keeps children in school? For some it’s athletics, and for others it’s the arts. That is a testable phenomenon. Scientists are more apt to provide the approach for testing, but educators need to provide the questions.
Many teachers shared stories of students who became more engaged in school once they joined the cast of a play, a choral group, or a musical ensemble. The interest in school seemed to be generalized to all classes, not just those in the art form. Students had a greater sense of purpose and felt more connected to the school culture when they were engaged in an interactive art program. This was also the theme of Dr. Kagan’s speech.
Many participants wondered if data were available to support these stories. Do we have longitudinal studies that show the immediate and long-term impact of arts programs in schools? If engaging in arts programs can be shown to have a substantial contribution to retaining kids in schools, then reducing the high school dropout rate would be a strong reason to keep arts programs. As participants reported, many districts appear to be dropping arts programs and adding remedial classes in reading and math to increase test scores and school engagement. Unfortunately, this practice may be producing the opposite effect. Studies show that the number one feeling that students report they experience in school is anxiety; they also frequently report boredom.12
Both within the roundtable discussions and during the panel presentations, a recurring theme was the joyfulness of learning and how the arts can promote such an atmosphere. Preliminary research on the nature of improvisation suggests that creative learning is inspired when inhibitions and formal rules are suppressed. Engaged, playful learning in the arts makes for better educational practices, but do we have evidence that this may be more effective learning?
How do tactile experiences affect the emotional, social, and psychological well-being and development of children? What are the neurological implications of the arts?
Would increasing creativity through the arts correlate with improvement in other subjects?
The research shared at the summit is a first step in connecting the arts to learning outcomes; however, the focus of educators seemed to be more involved in moving beyond how the arts help achievement in reading and math. They believed that new research should focus on how the arts can influence and potentially improve broader domains associated with schooling. Teachers know intuitively that the arts can have a profound effect on emotions. The arts, especially the performing arts, also foster group collaboration, which would have an impact on psycho-social development. Teachers were clear that these are the types of research question that neuroscience and cognitive science researchers should address.
The research on creativity has begun to show differentiated neural networks at work using electroencephalogram (EEG) and cerebral blood flow (CBF) measurements when subjects are engaged in divergent versus convergent thinking tasks. Participants suggested that similar studies be designed using real classroom strategies. For example, a study could look at the cognitive mechanisms involved in filling out a worksheet in (a very common activity in classrooms today); this condition could be compared to executing a plan of action or engaging in a hands-on activity on the same topic. Educators were curious to know if the current studies could be crafted to address these real educational topics. If students are creative in an art form, say the visual arts, we should study how those skills might transfer to creativity in writing an essay or interpreting a poem.
What criteria, if any, should be applied in evaluating art products?
The fact of iterative discipline (repeated practice) that is intrinsic to the arts surfaced many times. There was explicit concern that too much focus on the finished product might overshadow the benefit of the creative learning process that led up to it. Teachers wanted to know how to develop test measures to assess cognitive performance in areas thought to be related to artistic development but not explicitly related to artistic output. There was discontent with current standards in the arts, which were said to be controversial and, as currently written, not necessarily able to promote creativity.
How do you quantify whether arts integration is working? You can quantify attendance, but attitude is hard to measure.
The most important issues to come directly from educators had to do with clarifying what an arts-integrated curriculum might look like (i.e., a fully developed pedagogical model that could be applied in multiple subject areas); how the application of such a model might change the profession of teaching; and how to assess learning, creativity, and cognitive development through arts integration beyond content test scores.
How do the arts help redefine teaching? How do you reframe teaching as a creative profession that increases student and teacher engagement? What are the outcomes? If we improve the creative aspect of teaching, how will test scores be affected?
The idea of an arts-integrated curriculum seemed to resonate with educators as a way to redefine the teaching profession. The arts foster the engagement of children with others in collaborative projects and also engage the teacher as both a guide and a participant, thereby increasing the personal connection and engagement between teachers and students. Research shows that students benefit when they believe that they are connected to caring adults in the school environment.13
Clearly, teaching with and through the arts will demand that the measures of learning outcomes match the methods of teaching. Therefore, state accountability measures will need to change to reflect a more creative, collaborative kind of teaching—more open-ended divergent thinking as opposed to the convergent thinking that current educational strategies and testing programs require. Divergent thinking and creative problem solving were identified by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills as required competencies for the future workforce. How can school practices and workforce requirements be so disconnected?
2. The bridging of the tactical gap between neuroscience and education
Participants spoke of the need for an effective translator to bridge the gap between science and its application in schools.
Neuroeducation research can shed light on cognitive-development processes. What do those familiar with cognitive development notice when teachers use strategies from the arts that deepen engagement? How might they explain why these strategies work or suggest other strategies? What do they notice in students who are deeply engaged in arts activities? How is this different from what
happens when students are engaged in more traditional learning activities?
The desired benefits of such analyses are greater insight into how parents and teachers can foster cognitive development; a better understanding of students who are spatial/kinetic learners; and insights that can help teachers deliver on the promise of the arts.
Representatives of both domains voiced concern that we are asking too much too early from the neurosciences. A conservative approach was called for, in which neuroscientists should be given time to conduct research and disseminate the results. In the meantime, educators would continue to use what they know from the biological sciences to inform education.
What should be the relationship between neuroscientific findings and arts-integrated coursework?
Some of the findings that relate music and math pique my curiosity about the role of research. But how do we maintain the current learning model as we begin to shift toward integration?
Educators familiar with arts integration and convinced of its benefits questioned whether neuroscientific evidence was required to justify it. If educators are convinced of the positive effects of the arts, why wait for scientific substantiation of those effects?
This question of which should come first is critical to sorting out the relationship between the two domains. Should biological analysis be performed first, generating utilitarian conclusions later, or should educators continue to practice what they believe is effective pedagogy, analyzing it through the lens of research as it is released, to improve on the utility that was already known?
The discussion clearly focused on the dilemma that teachers face when they want to implement art-infused instruction and creative problem solving and still cover all of the content in the curriculum. The mismatch between this style of teaching and how students are tested dominated the conversation. Educators feel powerless to change the system; they feel that the most convincing way to demonstrate the benefits of arts-infused pedagogy is through scientific research. They believe research from the brain sciences could provide the portal for policy makers to change the current system of assessing reading and math largely through multiple choice tests.
Educators acknowledged that schools are dominated by accountability, but the metrics do not indicate if learning has occurred. They wondered if neuroscience could provide a counterbalance against the often unreliable metrics that drive education and educational policy. Broadly, educators would like to know some of the specific underpinnings of cognitive science that can be applied immediately, along with what neuroscience can tell them about how people learn.
Do brain images really measure things that are applicable to the classroom? Could researchers start in the trenches with the people who are teaching kids rather than starting with imaging?
In addition to questioning the emerging nature of the neurosciences, some educators felt that neurological research is bound by technologies, such as imaging, that measure brain impulses, structures, neural networks, and blood flow. Educators would like to know what technologies exist that are able to measure the outcomes of applied research in the classroom. Such measurements, it was suggested, might be useful in teaching students social-emotional skills, such as self-regulation and attention to task. An almost universal question among the roundtables was whether fMRI scanning reveals patterns of brain activity that are characteristic of certain experiences and generalizable for larger populations.
Some of the participants who heard Dr. Kurt Fischer from Harvard speak at the event the day before the summit spoke of the research schools he has instituted. Dr. Fischer described how neuroscientists were working with teachers in a school setting to frame research questions and design studies. Participants wanted to suggest that this model be expanded to focus on the influence of the arts on student performance.
Translational research (having a neuroscientist alongside the teacher in the classroom) was discussed today; can we study this translational model to compare arts-integrated schools and non-arts-integrated schools?
Discussions across multiple roundtable groups touched on the notion of the “research school,” where scientists and teachers collaborate to conduct research based on the real needs of the classroom. In this model, an educator would be a co-principal investigator along with the researcher, working collaboratively to craft the research question, determine the dependent and independent variables, and test the intervention of arts-integrated programs against control schools that are equally matched demographically but do not integrate the arts. Participants wondered how EEG or neuroimaging might enhance this type of study.
Does retention of learning objectives increase as a result of arts integration? What about long-term memory and the ability to apply learning?
The arts seem to be cross-modal, experiential, and emotional; how does that relate to memory? What happens at the brain level in skills-based learning versus experience-based learning?
What's happening when students are engaging in multi-sensory learning versus more traditional learning activities?
Anecdotally, educators discussed how retention of content seemed to increase when teachers used the arts to teach and reinforce learning objectives across multiple content areas. They speculated that, like the EEG creativity studies, when students are engaged in artful activities, more neural networks would be engaged than in learning during traditional rote tasks. The participants were also very curious about how the arts influence long-term memory and how that could be studied. Would measurements of curriculum-based assessments, along with measures of brain activity, inform the field? Are we able to measure long-term memory systems versus working memory systems through imaging?
If the arts evoke emotion, then there would seem to be activity in the limbic system as well as the frontal lobe. How far along is the research community in being able to map how input, which in this case is arts-infused learning, changes brain structures to result in lasting memories?
Participants discussed the phenomena of flash-bulb memories that are created by sudden emotional events. These memories usually last a lifetime. Yet many people often say that when they were involved in some art form or hands-on activity in school, their memory was akin to a flash-bulb memory. For example, people often remember when they participated in a play in school, or built a science project, or attended a concert. They don’t typically remember the quizzes they took or the worksheets they completed. If arts-infused learning does produce more lasting memory for content, skills, and concepts, that would be a powerful impetus for complete change in how we teach and what we measure in schools.
Such arts-infused experiences often occur in the home, yet most parents do not have a basic understanding of the potential impact of the arts on cognition, social-emotional development, executive function, or memory development. “Many parents resort to the ‘because I said so’ school of parenting because they don’t have the answer to why the arts matter” said one educator. “It might seem like the right thing to do, but parents need to know why.” Whether it is encouraging a child to practice a musical instrument or paint a picture, understanding this information will influence how parents support and guide their children’s artistic decisions.
Are museums important places for providing subject matter or interactions that promote the most learning and brain development? We should observe children in museums (and other less structured environments) and develop methods of quantifying their learning.
Looking at learning in out-of-school contexts seemed important to participants. Assessing how museum experiences contribute to learning, memory, and attention could be in the domain of cognitive scientists as well as educational researchers. Because of the constraints of conducting studies within the school day, looking at after-school and museum experiences as a way to assess the power of the arts seemed to be a popular notion among the participants.
In an activity like creative writing, what happens to the brain as students use words and metaphors to engage in something outside themselves? How are different parts of the brain engaged?
Participants wanted more research focused on creative writing, drama, and the visual arts. A good deal of the morning discussion (the research panel) focused on music; they wondered if music is used because its effects are more easily quantifiable. They also wanted to see a comparison of what happens in students’ brains when they are engaged in a kinesthetic learning activity versus a computer activity to engage the same subject matter. When should kinesthetic activity be used to enhance the learning process?
What is different in the brain when children with learning disabilities approach a reading task completely differently—either from whole to details or from details to whole? What’s happening in the brain, and what are the implications for how to teach these types of children?
Dr. Spelke’s presentation on the spatial/temporal perceptual abilities of infants resounded in the roundtables. It raised an important question about the timing and timeliness of intervention, and spurred other questions about the presence and duration of certain skills and abilities in the lives of children.
It was noted that the hardwired propensity for the arts during the early grades is extinguished in the middle-school years. Educators wondered if this loss of connectivity in middle school was the reason for the lack of transfer of skills learned in the arts to other academic domains.
Yet again, there was a call for the scientists to provide something concrete that teachers can use. For many educators, the implications of brain research (as presented in the research panel and elsewhere) were unclear. We know that students who practice music have different brain images, but is that good? What is the value to the student; what is the ultimate desirable outcome? High-level neuroscientific researchers should come up with a practical tool kit and create opportunities for interacting with schools to practice and implement the ideas put forth in the research.
3. The arts as an agent for behavioral change
This category comprises a discussion of the most important outcomes to consider as we evaluate the effectiveness of an arts-inclusive curriculum. Dialogue focused on assessing the effects of creative engagement on emotional and social developmental stages and the teacher’s role at every level. Areas in which improved outcomes were discussed at many roundtable discussions included attendance; student and teacher engagement; attention; emotional involvement; heightened sensory perception; transferable skills, especially analytical and creative problem solving; and students’ perceptions of patterns across disciplines.
Is it possible to follow students who had arts integration in the early grades throughout high school?
Is there a certain age or age group when exposure to music or other art forms produces the best outcomes with regard to learning development?
Much of the discussion at the summit focused on younger children. What about high-school students? Is it too late to help them? Do specific arts disciplines (e.g., instrumental music) offer greater potential in the later years?
The effects of arts-based curricula as they relate to age or developmental stages were persistent topics. Chronological limits to brain plasticity and the optimal time for exposure to certain arts forms were also discussed. At one extreme, there were issues of early childhood and the value of creative play in the early-childhood classroom. The importance of this issue is underscored both by the recent focus on academic objectives in early-childhood classrooms and the role of early-childhood teachers in children’s play. At the other extreme was the question of whether an arts-based curriculum in high school might come too late to impact a child’s learning.
How do the arts help students become more socially active and less self-involved?
I’m interested in how and why students who participate in the dramatic arts score higher in social development. How could you create a controlled study situation for students doing drama?
I’d like to see more research on what we as teachers can do to develop empathy through the arts. A big part of this is teacher education: how do we know the best methods to get teachers to engage with students?
What is the role of the arts beyond improving academic performance? How can the arts be used to foster creativity?
Social and emotional skill building is essential for meaningful, deep learning. Brain research shows that memory is impacted by social and emotional situations; they are integral parts of large units of memory that comprise what we learn and retain. As schools look to the arts to support social and emotional learning (SEL), they can provide conditions that allow for deeper engagement in the learning process.
Because arts education involves personal agency, divergent thinking, activities that promote social interaction and collaboration, and metacognitive activities, even the most at-risk students find a setting and language of expression that allows them to learn. Participants in the discussion defined the characteristics of emotional and social development that they felt could be encouraged through the arts and perhaps tested through research: self-management, problem solving and decision making, self respect, honesty, motivation to work, non-linguistic communication, respect for property, and awareness of social norms and responsibility. In addition, anecdotal reports of the effects of the arts on creativity were abundant, but experienced educators wanted a much more stringent analysis of what we know about creativity and how it can be fostered before ascribing causes.
Educators, policy makers, and researchers also agree that bringing parents into this conversation has the potential to change children’s skills, attitudes, behavior, and outcomes (some of this is already happening through back-to-school arts nights, portfolio assessments, free museum admission, and access to other cultural arts programs).
Many of the roundtable participants were interested in using theater to promote empathy in students. Theater is highly collaborative and encourages the kinds of habits of mind associated with highly developed thinking. Role-playing promotes taking on multiple perspectives and engenders genuine open-mindedness; it facilitates construction of more fully elaborated and unique problem-solving models, and it encourages cognitive and personal flexibility.
How can teachers of students with attention difficulties be taught to be more creative in practice?
Would it be possible to study the cognitive abilities of exceptional learners through fMRI imaging and compare these results to the same abilities as measured psychometrically and with standardized achievement tests?
Language and communication are often limited in students with autism, but we can tell if a student is engaged through movement. We’d like to see research about the age at which autism is diagnosed or reveals itself, and the effect of the arts on educational, creative, and social development.
I work in a multilingual school where 20 percent of the students have learning disability issues. Where is the research on how to improve learning for these students?
Of particular interest to many roundtable participants was the effectiveness of the arts-integrated curriculum for increasing and improving learning among students from special populations. This group included special-needs and special-education students, students who speak English as a second language, and students in disadvantaged environments. Many commented on the need for new directions for training, especially for teachers of low-income children. They suggested that arts-based teaching and SEL were strongly indicated as an important area for research.
Roundtable participants homed in on the potential effectiveness of different ways to present the arts to various groups of students. They wanted to know what could be learned by comparing special-education students’ exposure to art through alternative methods with regular-education students’ exposure to art through traditional methods.
In Critical Links, a research compendium of 64 studies published by the Arts Education Partnership, Deasy states that the influence of the arts may be greater on the academic learning for special-needs students, such as those with disabilities, living in poverty, and learning English as a second language, than for the general population of students. For example, for children with autism who lack impulsivity control or have language difficulties, music and movement seems to break through some communication barriers.
One teacher stated, “I’ve observed that impulsivity goes down when students are engaged in hands-on activities. For example, when students engage in a weaving activity they stay focused, chaos is reduced, and students talk nicely to each other. We need more information about the connections between creativity and impulsivity. What are the critical components of arts exercises that decrease impulsivity?”
4. The arts as impetus for engagement
Engagement is certainly an outcome of the arts, and it suggests a transcendent experience that frees the child from inhibiting norms and allows for self-expression.
Pedagogical best practices become better when they adopt a component of self-expression. Can we identify the resulting benefits in terms of improved student engagement, improved behavior, and more active learning outside the arts? Can neuroscience suggest the mechanisms related to these improvements?
Is there any way to measure the effect of an interest in the arts on attention? What is the relationship between concentration in the arts and concentration in other activities or subjects? How can we measure or evaluate the correlation between focus and attention and the outcomes?
Participants were keenly interested in Dr. Posner’s work on attention, and wanted to know how his research could be expanded to measure the effects of arts integration on attending behaviors in the classroom.
A roundtable discussion group brought up the point that while it can be argued that arts training increases attention, attention training does it more quickly. The arts may not be as good at improving attention as explicit attention training, but the arts also help with self-expression, collaborative ability, and many other things. The arts give meaning to content, which leads to student engagement, motivation, and success. If studies show that the arts can assist in engagement with other learning tasks, teaching methodologies would be greatly informed.
We haven’t talked enough about how children’s learning styles and natural intelligences may predispose them to benefit from exposure to the arts. Given the iterative discipline that is intrinsic to artistic practice, will children who lack strong natural intelligence or a specific learning style reap the expected benefits?
How do teachers engage students who are not artistically inclined?
Some leading cognitive scientists are now saying that while students may prefer one mode of processing over another, little evidence exists that teaching to that style is particularly effective. Yet teachers are told that they are supposed to adjust lessons to teach the visual learner, the auditory learner, or the kinesthetic learner. It appears that students are more alike than different in terms of how they learn. Given that, participants discussed that rather than focusing on one learning style over another, perhaps the focus becomes teaching with the arts, which would be a great way to infuse all modalities at once. It seems that this is more efficacious than trying to pinpoint how one student likes to learn versus how his peer likes to learn.
When discussing the engagement of students who are not artistically inclined, participants felt that given proper support and non-evaluative activities, all children can find some degree of success while participating in the arts. The focus, however, must be on the process and not the product.
What methodologies from arts integration help special-needs students, like those with ADHD, stay focused?
As the roundtable participants focused on how the arts might affect attention, often the discussion led to how the arts might address strategies for helping children with ADHD. Participants felt that more research on this topic would be helpful to all educators and parents. If students are more engaged when they are learning through an arts-based teaching style, as many teachers believe, then school practices must reflect this style of teaching. Yet, without empirical evidence, this could just be another neuro-myth that teachers buy into because they are desperate for answers.
5. The need for evolved skills
There was much talk about the 21st-century skills that students need, that the business world requires, and that the nation demands. These skills need to be better defined to further their promotion and development through an arts-integrated curriculum. The roundtable discussions made clear that skill development is required on multiple fronts: students must learn more creative ways to solve problems, and they must also retain what they learn and apply it to different subjects; educators must revise curricula and methodologies to encourage a new kind of learning; and the training of educators must change to inculcate revised pedagogical models.
Many roundtable participants were stymied by this issue, as it invokes fundamental change on many different levels. Such a curricular revision involves huge amounts of research and the discovery of new knowledge. It invites the participation of neuroscience without a clear view of shared responsibility. Neuroeducational research is widely perceived as a divining rod that can identify, record, and make judgments about brain activity, but by itself neuroscience cannot be held responsible for prescribing environments that trigger creative learning. The challenge of defining creativity and incorporating it into teaching and the training of teachers are not problems that can be laid at the doorstep of neuroscience.
The times are changing. A whole new set of benchmarks is on the horizon, and it’s obvious that the arts will have to be included. Teachers will have to be more than conveyors of content; they will also have to demonstrate manners of thinking and problem solving.
When you take away the valuing of the art or arts-integrated product and focus on the relevance of the project or process, what does that do for the classroom community? Does the framework of our assessment reach the differing levels of understanding that may exist in a heterogeneous classroom?
The educators asked about a new structure of assessment in response to an arts-based curriculum that fairly evaluates growth and sustained effort rather than grading a finished product. They wanted assessments and training that moved beyond measuring the end product and instead looked at the process of meaning making. The arts allow for process and performance portfolios. Benchmarks of growth along the way—like reflection, dispositional thinking, and revision—are valuable assessment points for gauging understanding. Professional development must be robust in addressing the process-versus-product approach.
How do we teach arts learning to pre-service educators?
Art educators at the summit offered comments like the following that reflected a marked change in the pedagogy of arts education: “We can no longer just teach processes and skills. The 21st-century classroom is a laboratory for the creation of intellectual content where teachers are actively promoting higher-level thinking.”
Art educators defined new goals that move away from elements and principles of the art form to a discipline-centered inquiry, where knowledge is constructed by students and teaching and learning must connect with the world beyond the classroom. The implementation of creative expression and imagination into the general curriculum was agreed upon as a primary objective. The real question becomes, how do we impact teacher-preparation programs? The answer was to begin with professional development through conferences and arts organizations. Schools of higher education would need to buy into and promote this new way of educating teachers. Policy change may need to be the driving factor that starts the change process.
Are any professional-development programs incorporating arts-integrated curricula and current brain-science findings?
How do you train teachers to invest in an arts-integrated program?
Educators felt that there was not enough translation of knowledge in the brain sciences into accessible language for teacher training. General-education training programs do not routinely include the pedagogy of arts education that would help bridge the gap between the two fields. Art educators are taught that through planning, collaboration, and specific strategies, teachers can encourage all students in creative expression and critical response. Several educators mentioned the Brain-Targeted Teaching Model, which provides an effective instructional model for teacher planning that connects the fields of brain science and education.
Many classroom teachers feel intimidated when asked to integrate the arts. It is critical that arts-integration programs provide training for all those involved. A story was shared by one of the panelists about how an arts-integrated program was unsuccessful at first because of lack of training and lack of expectations and goals. Once those were established, the school was transformed by arts integration. A well thought-out program, initial training, and constant evaluation and refinement are key components for teaching with the arts.
Arts integration is extremely beneficial and valuable but hard to do well on a consistent basis. Are there methods that allow children to maintain knowledge over a longer period of time? What is the long-term effect of using the arts versus not using the arts?
Where does change on such a massive scale begin? An educator pointed out that the model of higher education will have to change. It seems inevitable that higher education will require input from multiple sources, including neuroscience, to reinvent itself. Once we have better defined arts learning and adapted it and tested it across the curriculum in partnership with neuroeducation researchers, the designers of educational theory will have the evidence by which to guide practice.
Roundtable participants cited the need for tool kits. Sometimes this referred to compilations of neuroscientific research and learning that could be applied directly in the classroom. At other times it referred to teaching methodologies informed by arts education. We also need to use the resources we already have more wisely. One possibility is the current thinking about the unified curriculum, through which different disciplines are combined to teach students. Since there are some schools that have been recognized for expertise in arts integration (see page 63), having a synthesis of best practices would be helpful, followed by robust training programs.
6. The need for communication
Impact, understanding, and ultimate internalization of content are very difficult communications goals to obtain. These goals are especially difficult when one is attempting to communicate with a wide variety of constituencies, including policy makers, educators, researchers, advocates, administrators, and parents. Who needs to know what, and who needs to know what first? Roundtable participants were not shy about establishing priorities for information dissemination:
Understand one another’s expertise, processes, and terminology.
Create and use a common, agreed upon, and well-defined language.
Determine what is already known by educators, education school faculty, neuroscientists, artists, and arts advocates, and make this knowledge available across disciplines.
Keep parents abreast of arts-integration strategies. For too long, parents have felt they have not had a strong voice in this growing and important conversation. They have not been partners with researchers or educators to better understand what is known or to help shape new research and practices. Roundtable participants expressed a strong belief that while the issues of communicating to parents and families are difficult, it is essential to the long-term growth and healthy development of children.
Create new, consistent communication channels through which to share knowledge about the arts and learning and to ask questions about what we don’t know. This forum should be developed for multiple audiences, including researchers, educators, and parents. This triad is critical. Researchers must better understand the classroom. Educators need to share what is working and ask questions about what they need to better understand. Parents need to have a basic working knowledge of learning and how the arts can enhance cognition so they can understand and reinforce what is happening at school and develop simple strategies to use at home.
Expand professional-development opportunities, including university certificate programs, at which researchers are part of the conversations.
Expand programs like the Learning and the Brain and International Mind, Brain, and Education Society conferences where there are opportunities to discuss content and share new ideas.
Capture hard data about arts learning in the classroom—developed in collaboration with educators and brain researchers— and systematically put it into the hands of administrators, school boards, delegates, representatives, and arts advocates to inform policy decisions. Develop relationships with members of the legislature for hearings and briefings.
Initiate longer-term studies that will fuel sustained interest in this subject, generate further research, and involve broader audiences of stakeholders.
Communicate consistently with members of the academic, professional, and mainstream media about learning and the arts.
Work with schools of education, public health, and social work across the country to integrate the arts and learning into course work.
Today we discussed only school, ignoring the third domain—home. How do we galvanize parents’ interest?
Educators have done a very poor job of explaining to parents how children learn in general, let alone how the arts might be an important aspect of cognitive, social, and emotional development. While bookshelves are full of parenting books about special needs, ADHD, bullying, and other problems, there are few texts for parents who want to understand how their child learns and how they can provide support. Parents are mostly kept out of the educational system.
Teachers, schools, and school districts need to bring families up to speed on the importance of arts and learning; parents must be convinced on their own terms to incorporate the arts, especially through creative examples and experiences. For example, invite parents to a hands-on lesson on the Civil War rather than to a classroom observation. Make the holiday concert a sing-a-long. Invite national experts to talk about creativity, imagination, 21st-century skills, collaboration, and teamwork. Bring artists, educators, children, and researchers together for a day of arts and play. These social and educational events are opportunities to show why the arts matter. Like their children, parents don’t all learn the same way; it will require different strategies and multiple events to begin to see parents change their attitudes and behavior.
Start an online newsletter that shares the arts and learning accomplishments of the school. Research has shown that when people in authority believe in an idea and consistently share it with others, attitudes begin to shift. Schools and staff committed to arts education are the best advocates for getting the word out and changing opinions. Share the research, but do it in ways that can be easily grasped.
Several initiatives were shared at the summit that showed promise in bringing parents into the conversation on a national level. One project taking shape to bring together families, educators, and researchers is a communications internet portal called Learn. Being created through a consortium of institutions including The Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Harvard University’s Mind, Brain, and Education program, Temple University’s CiRCLE program (Center for Reimaging Children’s Learning and Education), the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Learn will apply the science of learning to topics such as arts, play, stress, and more, plus share practical applications and allow for ongoing communications.
The Ultimate Block Party: The Arts and Science of Play is another example of bringing the science of arts and learning to communities, families, parents and educators. Scheduled in the fall of 2010, this Central Park-hosted event marries arts, play, and learning. The Ultimate Block Party will reach more than one million American families with strong messages about the value and science of the arts and play.
Several schools were cited for their proven achievement in arts integration: Italian schools in Reggio Emilia; the Lab School of Washington; the Baltimore Lab School; A+ Schools in North Carolina and Oklahoma; Chicago Arts Partnerships; Big Thought in Dallas; and Montgomery County, Maryland Arts Integration Schools. What can we learn from what they’re already doing that works?
There was broad concern among roundtable participants that due to lack of communication, we are reinventing too many wheels. How much are we, in fact, reinventing? In terms of the practice of arts integration, why not investigate examples like the schools listed above and begin to develop a blueprint of best practices? What are they doing that works, and why are they doing it better? What is generally applicable to all schools? Are neuroscientific findings being brought to bear and, if so, how? Are there insights about creativity that have yet to become common knowledge?
Participants noted that there is a tremendous amount of information that is not being shared, and some of the information that is being shared is inaccurate. What is needed is an accessible, user-friendly communications portal that enables stakeholders to learn about what is happening at other schools and what researchers are studying. There also needs to be a way for different audiences to communicate with each other to share and learn.
How do we overcome translation problems to foster true interdisciplinary conversations? Academic journals contain research data and analysis but very little application to practice.
How do you take the research that has already been published and do a full-court press? How do we get education policy makers’ attention and bring the importance of creativity to the forefront of their minds?
Advocates want information, but how do we make it objective and persuasive?
We expect researchers to not only do excellent research, but to translate it for a variety of other audiences. This is fundamentally an unrealistic expectation. There are a few researchers who have the time or expertise to communicate effectively to a wide audience, including educators. One way to address this is to have researchers speak with educators and others to learn how to best present their research.
Short-term correlations between pedagogical cause and neurological effect are often provocative, but there needs to be more information about how to effectively use this information.
For broader change in education practice and policy, scientific advances about learning must be examined, tested, and sanctioned by institutions that train teachers. This sort of legitimization will build credibility and confidence and generate momentum that reaches up to the legislatures and down to the classrooms.
Many universities are adding courses to their programs that help scientists do a better job of communicating to a variety of audiences. In addition, a growing number of journalism programs now teach education and science writing.
Roundtable Participants’ Ideas for Future Research Studies
A major goal of the summit was to bring researchers, educators, and stakeholders together to frame research questions and determine areas of research that would be relevant to educators and possible for researchers to test. The entries below demonstrate a sampling of potential research drawn from discussions of the roundtable participants:
Sample Study #1
fMRI can help assess the creative act. Much of the discussion at the summit emphasized the potential of the arts to inspire creativity. It is just as plausible that solving math problems may have the same effect.
- What can you do to foster a creative approach?
- Is it possible that students who are creative are not creative by accident, but know they have this ability and can apply it to more than one subject?
- What are the implications of this for metacontrol and meta-awareness?
Sample testing populations would not be limited to children. For example, compare the brain activity of a math professor to that of a sculptor—each of whom engages in math and sculpting activities.
- For students, test a math group, a cello group, and a visual-arts group and analyze/ compare the brain activity of each group.
Sample Study #2
The fruits of interdisciplinary work are realized only through translation. Effective translation must serve three audiences: researchers, funders, and educational practitioners.
- What is the impact of an arts-based training tool kit that integrates neuroscientific cognitive research to improve an educator’s ability to develop reading and language skills?
- What do we know from neuroscience that affects pedagogy?
- How can we create lines of communication between the research and arts-education communities in order to move significant findings from the lab to the classroom?
Define the tool kit.
- Create and test a model for early integration.
- Create, refine, and test a model for early-elementary students.
Sample Study #3
We should agree on what the desired 21st-century skills are, how best to develop them, and how to test for them.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has offered to help schools teach the skills that will “enable their students to compete in the global market.”
Students in schools that integrate the arts into their curricula have higher achievement levels in the area of 21st-century skills than students in schools that do not.
- Do a comparative study of all students in the first, fourth, and eighth grades at two demographically similar schools—one with arts integration and the other without.
- Using standardized tests and the acquisition measures promoted by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, research the differences in student achievement, acquisition of skills, and transfer of cognitive skills across the curriculum.
- Test subjects every year for four years.
Sample Study #4
Are we a creativity-deprived nation?
Engaged, playful learning—as through the arts— prepares the brain to be more receptive to learning throughout life; this sort of learning should be integrated into current educational pedagogy.
- Neuroscientific research shows that brains have optimal malleability between birth and age six.
- The nation is moving toward an era of increased attention and resources dedicated to the learning experiences and needs of children in this age group.
- There is strong evidence that shows long-lasting gains and positive outcomes from appropriate and meaningful interventions with children in this age group.
Create a body of fMRI data for children 0-6 at play.
- Study the effectiveness of playful learning for insight into creativity and how to foster it and the development of executive functioning.
- Publish the findings to a broad audience.
Sample Study #5
Exceptional learners may exhibit inattention, poor executive functioning, or antisocial behavior.
Focusing on improvement in one skill area may improve not only that skill, but may also have positive repercussions for other areas of the students’ lives.
We need research to back up what we know about how the arts stimulate children. We need to connect some of what is known in the neurological sciences with the practice of teaching, parenting, and learning.
- How does the integration of the arts across the curriculum with a population of low-performing eighth-grade students improve the students’ reading growth?
- Can neurological analysis—on top of the arts-integrated activity—suggest which parts of the brain are involved?
- Will such an intervention result in higher standardized test scores, improved attendance, or lower dropout rates for these students?
Use a three-time-point model to test a group of eighth-grade remedial reading students. Pre-test; apply the split-half methodology for one semester, then re-test; swap groups and re-test.
- Design factors to analyze the differences between more improvisational arts-integrated teaching versus standard (less student-created work) arts-integrated teaching.
- Develop material to guide teachers and parents, with the understanding that this is not a graded activity.