Advocacy Through Academic Research

Some implications to consider about formal reports

Taking information from a long, formal report such as How Creativity Works in the Brain straight into everyday teaching practices is not easy . On the other hand, the importance of being mindful of the context, aka ‘the big picture’, should not be underestimated either.

Both the importance and the difficulty of translation in teaching practice is confirmed, for instance, by an earlier report on the same topic on Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain, Findings and Challenges for Educators and Researchers from the 2009 Johns Hopkins University Summit  when it “studied how training in the arts can influence other cognitive processes through the underlying mechanism of attention”.

However, the report also highlighted that further work was needed to make the insights contained in the report a classroom reality.

At a basic level, translation should involve researchers working hand-in-hand with educators in the classroom to understand and address specific needs and questions. As methodologies emerge and are tested, effective strategies should be published in the form of tool kits for dissemination to teachers. For broader availability and consumption, tool kits and other resources should be posted in central Web-based repositories for interested professionals to consult. Educators should provide this information to parents as much as possible in order to allow parents to be strong educational partners with schools on behalf of their children.

This blog examines how to translate the valuable evidence of academic research in planning and assessing drama programs in the classroom.

Translating research into practice

Understanding the structure of a formal report

Understanding the structure of a formal report such as  How Creativity Works in the Brainallows the reader to view the key messages of the research. From the number of chapters to the hypothesis being examined, this is the context of the research that holds the ‘gems’ of information that can make a difference in helping you to communicate the benefits of an arts education.

A sense of urgency is building around the need to harness and spur creativity to answer a broad range of societal concerns. Creativity and innovation, along with critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, are viewed increasingly as essential for enabling our workforce to better compete in knowledge-based economies. At the same time, hundreds of millions of dollars and more than billion Euros are pouring into large-scale efforts in the U.S. and in Europe to support medical research and technologies that can improve our understanding and manipulation of the human brain. The time is ripe for creativity research to assist in and benefit from those larger efforts.

Collaboration saves time and effort

Don’t do it alone.  Bring together a reading group in which you share the reading of the total report. Use a mind-mapping tool (I use LUCIDCHART) and outline the chapters so that you can make the interactions with specific key points as memorable as possible. For How Creativity Works in the Brainput together a group of 4 or 5, with each teacher reading one of the four chapters. Use Google Hangouts to discuss the main points. Speaking from experience, there’s no need to fear the many scientific terms that appear through reports on the impact of cognitive science on learning. Channel your energy into calibre of the insights reported through the research.

How Valid Is The Source?

In a study cohort of 100 students, Hardiman’s team sought to determine if the arts, when used as methodology for teaching ecology and astronomy, would produce better retention of information than would other forms of experiential learning. The study was grounded in a literature review suggesting that 1) memory depends on repetition and 2) certain types of elaboration improve memory. This review of studies in the cognitive sciences and experimental psychology pointed to a range of interventions and effects on memory, but the researchers posited that the arts engage children by repeating academic concepts in a unique way that enhances retention of learning. A summary of Hardiman’s study was published in Mind, Brain, and Education (Hardiman, Rinne, & Yarmolinskaya, & 2014).

Students in 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms were chosen for their potential to shed light on a “4th-grade slump” described in research literature as affecting the creativity of 50-60% of U.S. children around the age of nine. (Torrance, 1968). The Kennedy Center- sponsored study involved data collected from 796 students and their parents and teachers over three intervals during one school year. Self-reported data from students indicated the following outcomes, compared with those from classrooms that were not arts-integrated (Chand O’Neal, 2014):
  • more positive attitudes about the arts
  • greater class participation, including asking questions
  • more frequent experiences of being positively challenged
  • belief that the arts helped them better understand non-arts subjects, including math and science
  • better ability to apply the arts to everyday things
  • better resources for solving problems outside the arts domain