In August 2020 we kicked off a 3 month pilot project. It was an experiment, or Action-Research Focused, as we like to say in education. Its aim was to explore how well we could integrate Art across the curriculum with existing resources

Our thinking was that although Art can be taught separately in a very set curriculum there are real advantages to teaching in a more exploratory trans disciplinary way where students can experiment and hopefully deepen learning in connection with their current curriculum areas.

In three blog posts I outline the framework we used (Part 1), the benefits of integrating Art across the curriculum and the evidence and research which supports this before summarizing feedback from our students and teachers (Part 2) and give a preview into the future (Part 3).

Development of critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills

Today and tomorrow’s world is said to be VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) (OECD, 2018). Clearly, we are all experiencing this right now with COVID and from a school leadership perspective it would be entirely understandable to focus purely on crisis management in such an uncertain time. However, uncertainty is also a byproduct of situations rich with possibility for genuine learning (OECD, 2018). Creativity, imagination, critical and divergent thinking all help in such turbulent times and all happen to be capacities inherent in Arts learning (Burton, Horowitz, Albles, 2000). In this situation the  fact that this project worked suggests ‘in class’ innovation and experimentation has been mirrored on a wider school level.

Increasing academic attainment

While research is yet to show a direct causal link between Arts across the curriculum and academic attainment inherent benefits such as more positive attitudes to learning and increased well-being have been widely reported (Education Endowment Foundation). Nevertheless, some studies have demonstrated links between Art across the curriculum and higher test scores (see Waldon University). The New York times cites research examining pupil’s memory for academic subjects where researchers wrote two different versions of the curriculum, matched for content and timing, both involving active learning, but one including arts education. Pupils who had learned the material in the curriculum making use of arts remembered more (New York Times, 2009). Jindel-Snape et al (2018) conducted a systematic literature review to examine the association between young people’s participation in arts activities and academic achievement. They looked at 24 studies and concluded that such programs produced academic confidence in students.  Perhaps one reason behind these positive results include how Arts integration is an effective form of differentiation given that it taps into a range of interests and ability.

Multi-sensory learning

Another reason could be that enhancing learning via Art and Design means students are automatically engaging in multisensory learning. Multi-sensory learning means learning that involves students engaging with two or more senses. There are studies in neuroscience behind this approach and most teachers already use the audio and visual elements to their teaching. Art takes this to the next level by including touch and taking concepts from the abstract to concrete. As long as learning involves multiple areas of the brain research  suggests it can help students develop stronger memories of academic content. (Kumar, S. Prasanna, 2018; Heikkilä, J., Tiippana, K, 2016; Shams, L., & Seitz, A. R, 2008).

Increasing wellbeing and resilience

In addition to above-mentioned academic and competency -based benefits research outlines benefits to integrated Arts in connection with addressing stress. A recent study found visual arts production can actually change the wiring of the brain improving areas that help us manage stress. In the study, adults who produced art showed improved psychological resilience, a benefit that will likely help them better cope with future stress (Bolwerk, et al, 2014). Using Art in this way provides a valuable channel for students to follow and express their own ideas and interpretation of the world without fear of being wrong. This can also be a powerful way to build confidence and character. That confidence can then translate to other subjects and help them engage with content they may be unsure of (Worth, 2020).

Student feedback

We issued anonymous questionnaires to all groups involved in the project and the results spoke for themselves. 100% of students reported they had enjoyed this form of learning with all students reporting it had helped their learning to some extent. Here are some sample student comments

I think it helped me to see the Nazi reign from a different perspective”

“It gave a new concept of learning and a new way to learn”

“I liked having the freedom to do what we wanted and been given the freedom to express ourselves”

“I really enjoyed that I’ve had the choice in what to draw and how to draw it. This provided a lot more space for creativity and style”

“It helped me understand the topic a lot better”

“I found it really relaxing

We wish you a lot of fun and success with Art integral to learning. Your Academia International School Basel.

Author

Stephanie Wimmer-Davison, Vice Principal Academia International School Basel

More Information about Academia International School Basel
Feedback

We’re looking forward to your feedback about this blog article: pr@academia-group.ch

References

A. Bolwerk et al (2014), “How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity,” PLOS One, on the internet at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0101035.

Dan Davies, Rosalind Scott, Anna Robb, Chris Murray, Chris Harkins; Thinking Skills and Creativity
Volume 29, September 2018, Pages 59-70

Education Endowment Foundation https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/arts-participation/

Epstein D (2019) “Range” Why generalists triumph in a specialized world

Hargreaves, A and O’Connor, M “Leading Collaborative Professionalism” Centre for strategic education.

Heikkilä, J., Tiippana, K. School-aged children can benefit from audiovisual semantic congruency during memory encoding. Exp Brain Res 234, 1199–1207 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-015-4341-6

Kumar, S. Prasanna (2018) Improving Working Memory in Science Learning through Effective Multisensory Integration Approach
Online Submission, International Journal of Mind, Brain & Cognition v9 n1-2 p83-93 Jan-Dec 2018

New York Times (2009) Using Arts Education to Help Other Lessons Stick. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/04/well/family/using-arts-education-to-help-other-lessons-stick.html

Shams, L., & Seitz, A. R. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 411–417. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2008.07.006

Walden University. Does Art Boost a Student’s critical thinking?
https://www.waldenu.edu/online-masters-programs/ms-in-education/resource/does-art-boost-a-students-critical-thinking

Worth (2020) How a focus on arts can boost resilience and character TES. https://www.tes.com/news/how-focus-arts-can-boost-resilience-and-character