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Leonardo da Vinci, world-renowned painter of The Mona Lisa, was a multi-talented renaissance man who excelled as an engineer, scientist, writer, inventor, sculptor, and musician. Although some may feel that if one is artistic that they cannot be talented in math, and that if one excels in math they cannot be artistic, da Vinci’s example and recent research suggests that not only can performing and visual arts education pair with other academic topics, it should. In particular, arts integration, an approach to teaching that combines performing and visual arts with other subject areas, is associated with greater academic success, improved memory, and a better school climate (Arts Integration Creates Positive School Climates, 2011). For the purposes of this post, “arts” refers to any kind of performing or visual art.
In February 2016, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) published their professional development program assessment of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ Institute for Early Learning through the Arts, where professional development for teachers on arts integration is a core strategy for maximizing academic learning and social and emotional development. AIR’s assessment of Wolf Trap Foundation’s strategy favorably demonstrated that arts integration professional development for teachers shows promise as a way of increasing academic success (Ludwig, Marklein, and Song, 2016).
Arts integration has a research-based link to improved memory as well, which could be connected to improved academic outcomes according to Harvard Project Zero’s program “Artful Thinking.” Artful Thinking is a systematic approach for incorporating creative and critical thinking in curriculum across subjects and engages students in different learning strategies than simple memorization. These strategies include things like “elaboration” where students create stories or pictures about the subject they are learning about, or “oral production” which involves creating and/or performing skits about the subject at hand (Vega, 2012).
Arts integration may also improve student academic outcomes via school climate improvements. Presented in an Issue Brief, Arts Integration Creates Positive School Climates (2011), the DC Arts and Education Collaborative found schools’ integration of arts into their curriculum had a positive impact on school climate by connecting with otherwise alienated students, improving teacher-student relationships, and creating a safe space for student voice and expression. This study showed that increased engagement and connection with teachers is linked with improved school climate and better student academic outcomes.
Research supports that arts integration is not about implementing something “extra.” Rather, integrating arts within existing structures, programs, professional development, and everyday curricula can facilitate more effective learning and an improved school climate via a more creative education.