Education Matters—Sanford School's Private School Blog

An Art Curriculum for Life

Posted by Betty O'Regan on December 22, 2015 at 3:00 PM

If you ask young children what they want to be when they grow up, the most popular career choices are artists or athletes...and an occasional paleontologist. No matter where their dreams take them, though, they will rely on the skills, behaviors, and qualities that develop during a high-quality art education experience.

Sometimes these are areas that aren’t stressed in any other part of their education; sometimes they reinforce practices students are learning in their academic subjects. Some of these artistic behaviors include:

  • Problem-finding (research, visualize possibilities, think divergently)
  • Problem-solving (revise, refine, reinvent, infer and understand)
  • Experimenting (improvise, explore media, innovate)
  • Developing an array of work habits (plan, persevere, engage, set goals, organize, discuss, take risks, practice, rework mistakes)

The process of devising, creating, and revising art allows students the chance to practice these skills creatively. These skills are so valued by today’s employers, that some of the nation’s top business schools are offering courses that deliberately foster students’ critical thinking and creativity in order to cultivate fresh approaches to identifying problems and developing solutions.

How exactly does a good art curriculum help? Stanford researcher Elliot Eisner’s exploration of the value of the visual arts explains it best in his 10 Lessons the Arts Teach.

 "The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem-solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity." 

At its essence, Eisner finds that a thoughtful, quality art curriculum leads students to get comfortable with new experiences, see the world in a new way, value multiple perspectives, and use their developing world view and tool kit of resources to approach new challenges in creative ways.

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Topics: Arts

The Value of a Performing Arts Program Reaches Beyond the Stage

Posted by Clint Williams on December 15, 2015 at 3:00 PM

At many times during our adult lives, we are asked to stand before a crowd and speak, deliver a presentation for work, or even offer a toast to a happy couple. Speaking in front of a group of people can make your palms sweaty and your heart start to race. Without a podium to lean on, one can feel exposed and uncomfortable. Experience in the performing arts can empower students to express themselves in public forums with effectiveness, skill, and confidence for the rest of their lives.

In addition to participating in performance ensembles to get comfortable in front of audiences, I encourage students to make room for acting courses in their busy schedules. An introductory acting class, for example, teaches technique and skill and provides experience in developing excellent public speaking skills, including:

  • Body language
  • Hand gestures
  • Proper vocal inflections.

More important to students’ future success, however, such a class provides a setting in which students learn—through constant trial and error, success and failure—how to evaluate their own progress. Students learn from their bold mistakes in a safe, non-threatening, teaching environment, giving them the unique opportunity to receive immediate feedback, make adjustments, and improve on their performances. Through this rehearsal process, students gain confidence and self-understanding and learn to manage their emotions and decision-making processes.

Life frequently throws us curveballs when we have to think on our feet. Who wouldn’t want to be prepared to respond rather than be caught off guard? Improvisation skills are valuable for handling these situations, whether on or off the stage. A good improvisationalist will never be at a loss for words. I begin many of my classes sparring with students, having fun volleying conversations back and forth, to prepare them to speak and reason extemporaneously. Improvisational acting teaches them to react and engage quickly so that no matter what comes their way, there is no wrong response; they don’t get stumped, they just keep moving.

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Topics: Education, Arts

Art Makes Kids Smart

Posted by Lynn Casto on December 8, 2015 at 3:00 PM

Ask art teachers about the superstars in their classrooms; they will report that their students are the smartest kids on campus. Research supports these claims. Student involvement in the arts— whether theatre, dance, music, or visual—develops skills linked to improved performance in other disciplines. These include:

  • Reading acquisition
  • Phonological awareness
  • Sequence learning
  • Long-term and working memory
  • Spatial relationship
  • Student motivation
  • Observation.

However, the need to quantify the value of art education in relation to alternate academic disciplines is flawed and predicated on recent trends cutting the arts in favor of targeted teaching to standardized tests.

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Topics: Education, Arts