Art and Higher Order Thinking
By: Anthony Deland
Through the arts we can reach all of the levels of higher order thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy, Krathwohl’s Affective, and Simpson’s Psychomotor. Art making is very squarely in the psychomotor domain while the artistic and creative processes operate in both the cognitive and affective domains, often reaching the highest levels which the taxonomy outlines. In a very practical way
Research shows that art is also an incredible way to include all of the different learning styles and many of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Woolfolk, 2008); this makes art invaluable to differentiated instruction techniques. The “Champions of Change” report commissioned by the Arts Education Partnership tells us that, “…These ‘problem’ students often became the high – achievers in arts learning settings. Success in the arts became a bridge to learning and eventual success in other areas of learning. (p. IX, 1995)” This document also says that, “Boredom and complacency are barriers to success. For those young people who out grow their established learning environments, the arts can offer a chance for unlimited challenge.” (p. X, 1995) Erikson tells us that at stage five of development teenagers are dealing with Identity VS. Role Confusion. Through the arts students can explore these ideas and perhaps find answers inside themselves, within their creative process or through exploring the final work itself. It is this connection with the inner world of students that provides such a powerful tool for education; a real connection to the student’s every day life outside of school. Art also provides an outlet for frustrations and rebellion that may take other forms if not addressed by giving students the skills to convey and express complex emotions. Through art they may better understand themselves, others and the world around them. According to Harry Broudy,
Creative modes of artistic expression gave students the opportunity to explore personal experience through artistic investigation and personal inquiry. Artistic modes of expression make possible sustained cogitation upon complex issues of life. The education of the imagination means that students can acquire images of art that function as associative and interpretative resources supplying context that broadens and deepens comprehension. (2009)
“Champions of Change” also tell us that art programs help children living in poverty and other low Socioeconomic Status (SES) individuals. It is known that 25% of students in the US live below the poverty line. Art addresses a number of issues that are affecting low SES individuals. Art can provide an outlet for the stress and frustration that living in poverty creates. Art is also teaching critical problem solving skills and creative thinking which will, in the long run, help Low SES individuals solve the problems that are keeping them in a low SES situation. Art programs can help to alleviate some of the stressors of poverty by helping individuals to creatively solve the problems of daily life making things easier on the day to day level. Art is an invaluable part of education and can be a powerful factor in ending poverty. The critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving skills, which art teaches can be applied to all sectors of education and life. The arts, in a project based, experiential way, (Fiske et. al, 2009) teach us how to learn.
Art teaches higher order thinking
If we look at Bloom’s taxonomy adapted for the arts we can see just how the questions we ask in the artistic process teach higher order thinking skills. During a critique in class students will be asked questions which move them to think at higher levels. Each question can be directed at one of Bloom’s levels. Students will be asked to evaluate art: What is your opinion of the painting and why do you think that? Synthesizing is using the imagination to redesign the painting. What ways would you render the subject differently? Analyzing, students postulate as to what the artist was trying to accomplish with this piece of work. Application: If you could interview the artist, what questions would you ask, what do you want to know about this work and the process involved in creating it? Students can show understanding by, “getting” the work. What is the subject or theme? Knowledge of the work comes by simply describing it. (Steinecker, 2009) The above gives an example of how students are applying their cognition during a class critique, but the act of creating art employs these skills as well. When constructing a work of art we must ask ourselves what medium to use, what style, what we will paint (concept, idea, emotion, subject matter), why we are painting this, how can we achieve the aesthetic we are aiming at, and finally and most importantly, when is it finished.
As artists we are constantly taking risks and applying all of our critical thinking skills to the act of creation. During the process there are many decisions we must make by reviewing our knowledge of methods and styles and choosing the best for each piece. We learn to delve into our repertoire and critically decide what, of all that we know and all we have available, is the best for this particular project. It is a controlled situation where students are able to see direct consequences of their decisions and actions. This process mimics many of life’s challenges and with practice we can be prepared to face these eventualities. Sometimes this can be a huge risk, especially that last question of “is it finished”. When we add one more thing it can ruin a work of art. Being unafraid and jumping forward is a huge risk but delivers a huge reward when you succeed and is necessary to reach the level of Artist. Students learn the value of calculated risk taking and can immediately see its rewards. This is true for all risks we take, but in the act of creating art students can learn and embrace this without the serious risks which some of life’s decisions carry.
Art is higher order education; it affects all levels of cognition and can be utilized at any stage of development, but its emotional connection and expressive aspect fit especially well with adolescent’s developmental stage. It offers a proving ground where students can experiment with using critical thinking in the decision making processes and risk taking exercises without the high risk of failing in a do die or situation like life often presents us. Art also offers our children insight into themselves, others and the world around them, creating more compassionate, understanding and balanced citizens. Art is invaluable to a student’s education; we must bring arts back into the curriculum if we want to teach our children to contribute to their communities in a positive way.
As an art educator this research has huge implications for me. Aside from supplying data to back up what is intuitive to all artists. This research provides a way forward. Art educators must begin to be deliberate in creating curriculum which emphasizes the abilities of art education that these studies highlight. Higher order thinking can and should be carefully cultivated with intention and planning. This research also provides ammunition for activists. Advocates for the arts can now go to the board of education, or who ever it may concern, and provide them with the scientific evidence and data that they crave, and even need, to bring art back into schools. I plan to create art projects and curriculum which embrace the higher order thinking skills that art can teach in a very purposeful manner; art for higher order thinking, instead of higher order thinking as a byproduct of the artistic process. I also plan to become an advocate for art in our schools, I have always known the importance of art, but now I have evidence that it really affects kids and can be a truly motivational and beneficial force in their lives.
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