The arts are not just about expressing your emotions, they are much more than that.  I, in no way want to devalue the arts as a means to express oneself.  In fact, I don’t know how I could have made it through much of my adolescence without a piano or a tape player to help work through my emotions.  (Am I dating myself?  Yikes!)  But, in honesty, I think I developed many critical skills along the way through an education that was steeped in the arts.  In my case, mostly music.

An education in the arts can really develop most of those skills referred to in previous blogs, those critical skills that students need to succeed.  Maybe innovation and creativity is obvious, but what about some of the others?

For example, take initiative, motivation, reflection and self-criticism?  Here are skills that are sought after, but how do you practice them?  When anyone puts together an aesthetic piece, be it a poster, a sculpture, a movement or sound, there is time for this.

I think about my fourth graders who will be putting together a biographical poster to accompany themselves as they become an historical figure in a grade level wax museum.  It is my hope that as they work toward a final product, they take the time to reflect, self-criticize and revise the content.  So is the same with the one-minute speech they will make.  Students will need motivate themselves as they write it, practice it and present it many times for the audience of “museum-goers”.   Presenting this information through a visual piece and drama not only teaches content, but allows students to practice some of these other skills.

In a study by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, the value of the arts for art sake was brought to light for many people.  Too often the arts are credited to raise test scores or make you smarter, but the truth is that the arts do so much more.  These “habits of mind” that Winner and Hetland discovered through their research are very much related to the skills discussed by Pink, Wagner and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Because art is a process, students not only learn content, but practice skills including collaboration, self-direction, critical thinking and accountability.  Think of a musician playing alongside another.  The accountability of that person to know their part is very high.  If they don’t practice, they are letting themselves and their teammates down.  Think of the collaboration dancers achieve as they move together in various degrees of tension and fluidity.  By working and practicing together, they create something beautiful.

These skills take practice and the arts provide a way to do so.

For the full article by Winner and Hetland, Art for Our Sake, click here:

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