Monday, November 25, 2013

"Art makes you smart"

Here is an article published in the 11/24/13 New York Times about some research and data collected from school age children who went to an art museum, some for the first time. The information validates some of the goals of teaching art:
  • critical thinking
  • increased social tolerance
  • historical empathy
  • (my personal favorite) divergent thinking

FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent. 

Here at Capitol Hill we are trying our own small experiment to see if the new art program has a measurable impact on a certain area of learning.  I won't say anymore at this point, but if there is a difference in the specific test scores after my targeted projects, I'll be certain to announce it. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Talent verses Learning

Without writing a complete research paper, I wanted to speak to my core philosophy of art education.
I believe that skills, understanding and creativity processes are totally learn-able.  I have not always understood this as wholeheartedly as I do now, but have been convinced as I have seen it happen consistently and repeatedly during my many years of teaching.

I hate to say it in writing, but I went to school in the 1970's when the approach to art education was to provide opportunity and let students "create," explore and see what happens.  While I enjoyed exploring, I remember even then wanting and asking for some systematic instruction, other than just "go for it."

As an artist and teacher (though I did not get my art education degree until 16 years ago) I have always taught art as a series of steps in a process. I did have to answer in my mind, was art class to be offered with an elective attitude, as in students can come but only try as hard as they feel like? Or were the activities and exercises in class requiring mandatory participation?  I had to reconcile my early training with my belief and commitment to art education, and to my teacher/parent/adult observation that successfully participating in any endeavor requires strong work ethic and that strong, solid, consistent work ethic is key to successful adulthood.

In my MAT program at L+C I learned about Vgotsky's zone of proximal development, and that theory articulated why I should require students to participate in art class. 

Vygotsky's Example of the ZPD
Vygotsky (1978) provides an example of the zone of proximal development by illustrating how two children of the same age chronologically (10 years) and mentally (eight years) solve a given problem at their developmental level. Vygotsky’s example suggests the two children should arrive at the same solutions to the problem, but when the children are given the opportunity to solve the problem with assistance (social interaction and the child’s active participation in the problem); it shows that one child can solve the problem at a twelve-year-old level, and one at a nine-year-old level.
more on Vygotsky

As a teacher sets up learning opportunities along with instruction, students master those skills and expanded understanding and are able to do more and more complex and sophisticated visual communication.  They learn and grow.

Society often sees art as difficult or ambiguous, but my experience with students is that they learn it quite quickly, and even abstraction and emotional art forms make complete sense to their youthful minds.  Kids are good at art!
...and I am happy to bring it to them.