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.