Innovation: The Central Role the Arts Play in Student Learning: CTL 20th Anniversary Blog Series

The Arts Education Partnership identifies a number of strategies and approaches for school leaders, such as establishing a school-wide commitment through stated goals and budgeting and making arts learning “visible”...

Written By dwalker

On August 25, 2014

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This is one of a series of posts leading up to CTL’s 20th Anniversary forum and celebration, September 9th at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY.

By Dr. Linda Hargan, CEO Emeritus, CTL

linda H head shotIn celebrating its 20th anniversary with an education forum on inventing the next 20 years of education, CTL hopes to bring together educational leaders and stakeholders who can identify steps to achieving a more compelling and engaging future for our students and teachers.  This future is shaped by a vision of schools characterized by innovation rather than standardization, by creative approaches rather than lock-step responses. What better way to engender in schools a culture of innovation as David Cook describes in an earlier blog in this series (What is Learning Innovation?) than by making the arts a central part of students’ learning experiences?  The Arts Education Partnership makes the case:

“Every young person in America deserves a complete and competitive education that includes the arts. …Perhaps now more than ever—as the country becomes increasingly diverse, the world more interconnected, and the workplace more oriented around technology and creativity—arts education is key to such a system and to ensuring student success in school, work, and life.”

Its research brief, “Preparing Students for the Next America – The Benefits of an Arts Education” (Preparing Students for the Next America) could be required reading for everyone involved in the education enterprise.  It cites no less than 40 studies—all conducted within the past 15 years—that validate arts instruction and arts integrated instruction as an effective means to engage and positively impact achievement for students of all ages and abilities, most especially for those from low income and non-English speaking backgrounds, and to develop the thinking skills and capacities necessary for success in the 21st century.   These findings not only support student engagement and achievement but also suggest how schools can prepare a creative and confident workforce   to keep our communities economically strong and vibrant.

As a young special educator some 43 years ago I was fortunate enough to have an “arts therapist” visit my classroom two days a week for six weeks.  I was astounded by what I could learn about my student’s understanding by the pictures they drew and the stories they told, and even more surprised by how much my expectations for them, and their expectations for themselves were raised as a result. Later in my career, as a professional development specialist working with other teachers at every grade level and subject area, I saw in them over and over again the “aha” moment of recognition that for some students music, drama, dance or visual arts are the critical pathway to their learning and really extend the literacy spectrum as a way of knowing and showing what they know.

arts ribbonsMy granddaughter is beginning her sophomore year in high school, and a few days ago I asked which classes she was most and least excited about. She is thrilled to have both ceramics and photography as “fun” classes, but literally groaned when she identified advanced chemistry and geometry as “scary.”   Yet there are integral relationships among these subjects that could promote excitement and make learning meaningful for her and her peers. What if the chemistry teacher  used developing a photograph as an example of chemical reaction, or the ceramics teacher  used the firing process to demonstrate the changes in matter that occur with heat?  Could a well-composed photograph or sculpture be created without an understanding of geometry and objects in space? Such interdisciplinary connections should be a natural part of the curriculum, and in fact they inform the vision CTL holds for the next 20 years of education.

The Arts Education Partnership identifies a number of strategies and approaches for school leaders, such as establishing a school-wide commitment through stated goals and budgeting and making arts learning “visible” in the building, providing arts-based professional development and opportunities for teachers to plan interdisciplinary units of study, incorporating the arts into hiring and staffing decisions, involving parents and the local arts community, and rethinking the use of time, space and other resources. Moreover, parents can stay informed about what’s happening in their child’s school, and stay current on the research through resources such as Connecting with other parents and engaging in dialogue with school board or city council members about the importance of the arts, not only to their own children, but to a comprehensive and competitive education, are all effective strategies.  Finally, community leaders and stakeholders at all levels can identify and develop public policies that support arts education, appropriate  funds in school and municipal budgets, and oversee  their implementation.

Working together, school leaders, parents, and community policymakers can ensure an educational system in which arts and arts-integrated instruction are recognized as an essential and valued component for every learner, a component that helps us achieve powerful results.