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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Art Integration and Cognitive Development

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The arts have long been valued for their aesthetic contributions to education, and studies have been conducted to demonstrate their contribution to academic performance in an attempt to justify their inclusion in the curriculum. Art integration involves learning core content subjects (math, reading, language, science, social studies) through the arts (drama, dance, music, visual arts). The focus of this qualitative pilot study was to examine and describe how the arts are integrated with curriculum concepts to promote cognitive development. The theororetical framework was based on standard theory of intelligence and cognitive development. Curriculum concepts were taught through experiential methods and hands-on projects integrated with state Standard Course of Study. Data collection consisted of field ethnographic description and passive observation to identify behavioral correlates of cognitive and intellectual functioning as well as to capture how state standards are integrated within arts-based instruction. Field notes were analyzed to look for patterns, themes, and defining categories for data analysis. The focus of domain analysis was guided by semantic, means-end relationships related to instruction, learning, and types of processing information, as well as products of that learning. Taxonomic analyses were created of thematic units and how the different arts were used breaking thematic units into arts used, instructional vehicles/ learning activities, and types of cognition being used. A guiding principle was, how does this relate to cognitive/intellectual development? Cognitive correlates were listed as a type of domain yielding examples of different types of cognitive and intellectual processing. Systematic field study was noteworthy for thematic instruction through which curriculum concepts were taught. Thematic-driven and project-based learning often additionally required students to use planning, researching, imagination related to an overall instructional objective. Analysis revealed multi-layered and complex domains within instructional delivery. Context and culture were running themes across observations. Thematic units provided vehicles for cognitive development that promoted vocabulary development, reasoning, comparing/ contrasting, abstraction, integration of concepts, and conceptual development. This information informs instructional delivery and the use of arts-based instruction to promote greater understanding of underlying development of cognitive and intellectual abilities in the classroom.

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