Judy Willis

The Brain Learns Creatively When Arts Are in the Picture

The current theme of the critical role of the arts in providing students with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child promotes thoughts about how the arts can "increase students' college-, career-, and citizenship-readiness in all subjects as well as keep them engaged in school and contribute to their social and emotional health."

The arts are not optional, separate entities that can be isolated into short periods of playing with clay. The arts, by nature, are opportunities for creativity. There is creativity for personal expression in art interpretation as well as in artistic production and performance. The increasing buzz about a creativity crisis comes at a time when neuroscience and cognitive science research are increasingly providing information that correlates creativity with intelligence; academic, social, and emotional success; and the development of skill sets and the highest information processing (executive functions) that will become increasingly valuable for students of the 21st century.

The neurological term for the processes directed by these networks is executive function or, in education terminology, higher-process thinking. Some of the ways to describe some of the executive functions when relating the arts to creativity and the thinking processes include conceptual thinking, transfer of knowledge; judgment; critical analysis; induction; deduction; prior knowledge evaluation (not just activation) for prediction; delay of immediate gratification for long-term goals; recognition of relationships for symbolic conceptualization; evaluation of emotions, including recognizing and analyzing response choices; and the ability to recognize and activate information stored in memory circuits throughout the brain's cerebral cortex that are relevant to evaluating and responding to new information or for producing new creative insights (academic, artistic, physical, emotional, or social).

It will take more time and study to make more direct correlations between the research and teaching. However, the good news is that the implications of creativity-related research show that artistic expression and interpretation correlate with the brain processing associated with creativity, long-term memory, concept construction, and the activation of the neural networks that are used when the brain processes information using the highest forms of cognition.

This is the first in a four-part series on creativity and the critical importance of the arts in providing students with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child.

Judy Willis is an ASCD author and expert on learning-centered brain research and classroom strategies derived from this research. Connect with Willis on ASCD EDge and on her website, RADTeach.com, and follow her on Twitter.

Comments (7)

Sandy Reiberg

October 20, 2010

Thank you so much for a clear and concise summary of the critical need for the arts in every child’s education.

Jim Clapp

October 21, 2010

Underscores the critical role arts and other “extra-curricular” studies and activities play in the development of children. They need much more than the four Rs to grow and realize their full potentials. By extension this means that they also need physical activity, both structured and unstructured, to promote healthy bodies, and social interactions, to become caring, functioning members of society. While we are far from a reasonably complete understanding of the brain, and how it develops, we know enough to state confidently that the arts are vital and should not be discarded to make way for more test prep!

Julia Barwell

October 24, 2010

This is truly one of the most important things I have taken away from my 30+ years as an educator. There is an incredible program that began less than ten years ago in Tucson, Arizona, called Opening Minds Through the Arts. It’s approach to the arts is about integrating it into all aspects of the curriculum. The more we see programs like “OMA” in action, the more we will understand the arts’ impact on developing the whole child. Visit the program’s website at OMAmodel.org.

Leeann Rhoades

October 27, 2010

Dan Pink writes how right brainers will rule the world.  Sir Ken Robinson in his book, Element, talks about the importance of finding our passion.  I wholeheartedly believe that on of the best ways to find our passion is through the arts.  Arts integration connects learning to our understanding of humanity.  Study in the arts leads learners to individual success (self-efficacy), improved quality of life,and committed engagement in the learning. 
I am writing on arts integration for my doctoral thesis.  Please send my any good resources you have.  Thanks

Kira Campo

October 28, 2010

I enjoyed the post very much. 
One question: what measures of testing do you feel can or should be used to reliably identify the forms of “artistic expression and interpretation” which correlate to the specific benefits (i.e. creativity, long-term memory, concept construction, and the activation of the neural networks that are used when the brain processes information using the highest forms of cognition) you refer to in the article?  Would the research necessarily have to be in the form of longitudinal studies?

Dr. Judy Willis

October 29, 2010

Hi Kira:
Check out the research by Jung and by the team of Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, as they have done the cognitive and neurosci research. Also check out the Edutopia blog about creativity. I think your question would be great to post on the Whole Child discussion area under my blog, just as you posed it to me. I’ll include it in this email in case you didn’t save it. I’d love to know if there is any other research out there besides this compilation I’m sending you.
Perhaps you will do the next step of the research!
Carpe diem,
Judy
http://www.RADTeach.com


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For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.
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