Research-Based Arts Education

Are you looking to enhance your instructional decision making with research-based practices? Are you looking for a comprehensive overview of current arts education studies to cull insight and evidence for your specific art form? Prepare yourself for an intellectual feast. Editor Richard Deasy’s compendium of 62 studies (172 pages), Critical Links: Learning in the arts and student achievement and social development, offers you just that and its free for the downloading.

While providing researchers and funders of research promising lines of inquiry and study, this compendium also offers educators and artists alike a summary of best teaching practices as established by current research. Particularities lie in each of the 62 studies and are probed by the summaries and commentaries written by the contributing reviewers. Five essays then trace common threads found in the group of studies within dance, drama, music, visual arts, or multi-arts.

A common line of inquiry that unites Critical Links focuses on the cognitive capacities that are developed by learning in the arts such as thinking skills and problem solving as well as transfer of arts skills to reading and mathematics. Studies also tracked changes in motivation to attend school and growth in student self-confidence. Taken together the studies demonstrate 84 core relationships between arts and other outcomes of interest to educators.

What are the overarching implications of this publication? James Catteral, one of the contributing scholars explains it best, “First, the accumulated research of skilled scholars carrying out their work in a range of established methods is unambiguous: the arts contribute in many ways to academic achievement, student engagement, motivation, and social skills. Notions that the arts are frivolous add-ons to a serious curriculum couldn’t be farther from the truth. While education in the arts is no magic bullet for what ails many schools, the arts warrant a place in the curriculum because of their intimate ties to most everything we want for our children and schools. Critical Links identifies many arrows pointing in positive developmental directions.

While it is fashionable and valid to focus on the academic and social effects of the arts (and this volume unquestionably bolsters such a fashion,) acting on the basis of the findings and conclusions of Critical Links could have the effect of reversing an important equation. An expansion of arts programs in the schools could lead to a generation with greater skills and interest in the arts than today’s young adults who came through rather arts-starved school systems— i.e., to a society that supports the arts for many reasons, including the aesthetic. Any worries that interest in the non-arts benefits of the arts somehow undermines the “true place” of the arts in our society could prove completely wrong-headed. Expansion of the arts for some of the beneficial reasons supported in Critical Links could fold back and contribute to an America more widely interested in and supportive of the arts.”

Critical Links offers an intellectual smorgasborg for arts educators. Pick and choose as your tastes direct you. But don’t just devour the offerings because they interest you. In this day and age of “scientific efficacy studies” and “research-based teaching,” these studies will help you command art’s seat at the curricular table.

Source: Deasy, R.J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student achievement and social development. Washington, DC: The Arts Education Partnership