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Dr. Mitchell – Cognitive and Social Benefits of Arts Education

If you regularly read our blog, then you must be some sort of wizard.

And if you’re an avid follower, then you have surely gotten wind of the cognitive and social benefits of arts education.

Dr. Mike Mitchell, principal of Arts Academy in the Woods in Fraser, Michigan, is back this week to dazzle us with his academic prowess and take us on a journey through this topic.

So get ready to elevate your already wizardly status.

The Many Cognitive and Social Benefits of Arts Education

Students who get an arts academy high school education are receiving the same high-quality education as any other high school – but with some unique benefits.

But if you’re reading the blog, then you already know this.

It doesn’t hurt to reinforce it though. And Dr. Mike has the intellectual and educational chops to back this with research.

Cognitive Benefits 

In the past decade, there was an internal evaluation of the first half of the Ford Foundation‘s National Arts Education Initiative. They found a high correlation between students involved in the arts and increased academic achievement.

“It’s true!” says Dr. Mike enthusiastically. “There were tendencies to achieve better grades and standardized test scores. They stay in school longer and have better attitudes about self, school, and community.”

That’s good stuff. But there’s more.

There were further findings that the arts nurture a motivation to learn by emphasizing active engagement, disciplined and sustained attention, persistence and risk-taking, among other competencies.

Additionally, the authors found that these gains were supported by studies in neuroscience that demonstrate positive relationships between participation in the arts, cognitive development, and learning.

The Role of Endorphins

Yep. It seems that there’s an increase in the body’s production of endorphins while involved in art and music experiences. And when there are endorphins in the bloodstream, they have the effect of reducing the amount of cortisol, the hormone secreted during times of stress.

This reduction in stress increases students’ ability to concentrate, improves attention, increases memory, and enhances their learning potentials. And all of that equates to boosting student achievement levels.

Other independent studies back this. Several studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between participation in arts courses and increased achievement on SAT scores.

For example, it was found that students who were enrolled in arts courses for multiple years achieved at or above the national SAT averages in both the math and verbal portions of the SAT. And longer enrollment is also correlated to significantly increased scores.

Social Benefits

In addition to the possible cognitive benefits of learning in the arts, and in support of the idea that arts education is valuable in and of itself, several authors have described the social benefits associated with arts in education.

Dr. Mike cites one study stating that “the arts support qualities that are desirable in students, including creativity, originality, and expression.”

And other researchers have described positive correlations between participation in arts education programs and social skills such as self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy, and social tolerance.

Several studies have found that the arts contribute to a positive school environment by cultivating teacher innovation, a positive professional culture, community engagement, increased student attendance, effective instructional practice, and school identity.

Furthermore, there is an increase in teacher/student collaboration, we all as enhanced partnerships with parents and the community. In other words, the arts naturally foster cooperative learning and adult and peer relationship development.

The arts are also used to improve teaching about issues that pertain to social responsibility and social change. This could be because of the arts’ unique ability to help us explore our own thoughts and feelings as well as others’, critique ourselves and our worlds, express our voices and influence our social contexts by using nonviolent means.

“This is especially key for diverse groups of students who are more likely to struggle with issues of identity, voice, and their role in the community,” says Dr. Mike.

In fact, a literature review unequivocally emphasized the importance of the arts as a strategy for culturally responsive education that helps strengthen racial identity, resilience, and achievement.

And that’s more important now than ever before.

The Benefits of Arts Education AND Integration

Obviously, the research and literature provide substantial evidence for the benefits of arts in education. BUT there are even greater benefits when art is integrated throughout a school’s curriculum. 

Another study found four primary benefits for students who participated in art integrated curricula. The curriculum:

  1. allowed for multiple perspectives.
  2. helped create a safe atmosphere for taking risks.
  3. demonstrated that learning can be a pleasurable experience.
  4. led to an atmosphere where the arts and regular classroom curriculum naturally complement each other.

In addition, students were more responsible for their own learning, better able to connect their experiences to their learning, and had the improved ability to interpret content in ways that were meaningful to them.

Why does arts integration work?

“Because these activities engage students in several ways,” says Dr. Mike.  Arts integration allows students to use their hands, bodies, and voices in meaningful ways. Making art requires choices about how to interact with content. They create social interaction.

To break it down, students benefit from arts integration education by exhibiting the following traits that are correlated with improved learning:

  • Elaborate and creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Verbal and nonverbal expressive abilities.
  • Applied learning in new contexts.
  • Increased skills in collaboration.
  • Increased self-confidence.
  • Higher motivation.

And finally, the authors of the Chicago Arts Partners in Education (CAPE) schools described benefits associated with one specific integrated arts curriculum.

They found that the arts experiences helped to create analytically deeper, experientially broader, and psychologically more rewarding learning. These developments could have significant positive effects on student’s general cognitive growth over time, particularly if students experience arts-integrated learning in their classrooms on a regular basis.

Just as they do at Arts Academy in the Woods.

Are You Seeking a More Well-Rounded Education?

Aside from the cognitive and social benefits of arts education, it’s clear that an arts-integrated education offers something uniquely comprehensive.

And a comprehensive education is crucial to future success. Because the future will depend on the interaction of creative, entrepreneurial thinking with mathematic and scientific intellect and literary prowess.

It’s a package deal.

So if you’re curious about what an arts-integrated education can do for you or your child, request a tour of our school. And come and meet Dr. Mike in person.

Yeah, he’s real. And he likes nothing more than helping creative students enjoy learning.


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