This is the quick-fix version of my essay for the Arts Policy Library about “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” edited by Richard Deasy. I hope this will give you brief overview of what the Compendium is about, and what I took away from it.
- “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development” is a literature review featuring 62 arts education research studies, summarized and analyzed by leading experts across the disciplines of dance, drama, “multi-arts,” music, and visual arts.
- “Critical Links” has two ambitious goals: first, to identify strong arts education research that explores transference (“instances in which learning in one context assists learning in a different context”); and second, to inform curricular designs and practices that will enhance the quality and impact of student learning in the arts.
- The review examines studies by discipline (dance, drama, “multi-arts,” music, and visual arts) and found a broad range of correlations between the arts and various skills in diverse contexts. Particular attention was paid to reading and language skills, and of note were findings that appeared specifically related to a discipline, such as music linking to spatial-temporal reasoning (“the ability to visualize spatial patterns and mentally manipulate them over a time-ordered sequence of spatial transformations,” Wikipedia, modified as of June 30, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial-temporal_reasoning).
- The studies cover a wide range of different types of research methodology, including qualitative research (which takes a number of variables into consideration, and emphasizes looking at those variables in the environments where they’re found) and meta-analysis, a high-level process that compares the results of multiple studies addressing a set of related research hypotheses.
- Regardless of the methodology, most of the studies revealed correlations between learning in the arts and academic and cognitive development.
- However, throughout the Compendium, reviewers emphasized a need for further research to reveal the qualities of learning so that we can be better informed with how to move forward with future program design. In other words, we may see a link between engagement in the arts and improved SAT scores in a meta-analysis study, but we do not know exactly what the students were learning in their arts experiences that may have led to academic achievement.
- To better understand what is being learned and transferred to other skill-sets suggests a need to focus on more rigorous qualitative research that asks rich inquiry questions that may point to the nature of the learning. Meta-analysis has already corroborated some of the broader claims for why the arts are important in educational settings by showing links between learning in the arts among a myriad of students to academic and cognitive development. With the knowledge of vast previous research, we can begin to look more closely at the nuances of what is being learned in the arts, and how what is being learned transfers to other areas of learning.