Integrating the Arts into the Core Curriculum and Cognition

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time understands the power of integrating the arts into the core curriculum. After doing it for so many years, it is clear to us that it increases engagement, lifts the emotional climate in the classroom, makes students want to come to class, increases retention and much more. It's no surprise that David A. Sousa in his book How the Brain Learns, discusses how it also increases cognition saying that integrating the arts in the core curriculum "generates conditions that educational researchers and cognitive scientists say are ideal for learning." He goes on to discuss how they "develop essential thinking tools: pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observations of the world; and abstraction from complexity" (217).

In our present climate of high-stakes testing, many schools are responding to lower than preferred scores by adding more "drill" and rote work; however, these efforts, although well-intentioned, are misguided at best. What students clearly need is to be educated in various ways that integrate the arts, engage them in the subject matter by hooking it in with previous knowledge or making it important to them in some way, and making that work interesting for them to study. Let's face it, the recent brain research tells us that the brain is more like a sieve than a sponge and will strain out anything it perceives as having little importance, relevance or connection. So if the brain is literally dumping this material out almost as quickly as it is going in, then what is the point? Integrating the arts increases cognition because students are able to see the value of what they are taking in, and the brain is not dumping the material out at such a high rate. Because students are having a good time while learning, their survival needs are taken care of and their emotional levels are satisfied-both blocks to learning if they "kick in" and cause anxiety or fight or flight response, and the way is clear for new learning to take place. And because they tend to "get it" the first time and strengthen their learning through rehearsal, less time is needed for remediation and reteaching. Some things to think about when your school is coming up with strategies to get those test scores up.


Excellent article..I thoroughly agree!! I used to be an "Odyssey of the Mind" coach and this short article really hits the mark!
Excellent article..I thoroughly agree!! I used to be an "Odyssey of the Mind" coach and this short article really hits the mark!
Meg said…
Concise -- and well put. Thanks!
jcrowley said…
Sadly, our current push toward testing and away from integrating arts is not only hurting students and inhibiting learning, it's killing teaching and teachers.

Married to a veteran teacher who comments daily on the low morale in schools among teachers who can no longer use art or even much artful teaching, and students who are numb to rote learning and "flat" information, I see the enthusiasm and spark dying rapidly in a man who loves teaching. He and his colleagues literally count the years until retirement, scheming to think of how to get out sooner.
This is unfortunately true, and sadly the stress and morale issues in some teachers are communicated to the students. But it doesn't have to be this way; we need to educate the stakeholders that "drill and kill" and rote learning are not the keys to doing better on high-stakes testing. It's engaging the students and getting them excited about learning--digging deeper instead of skimming the surface is going to get the desired results. And the research is bearing this out.

I'm sorry to hear that your husband is demoralized; I would urge him to keep integrating the arts and locate the research that he can share with administrators on the efficacy of this approach. It's not easy but it can be done.

Thanks for the comment and keep the faith.

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