Wanted: a neuroeducation teaching model

“A child’s opportunity to benefit from the arts should not be restricted by the ZIP code where they live,” said Nancy Grasmick, Maryland state superintendent of schools, during the Learning, Arts, and the Brain conference May 6 in Baltimore. But because few educators understand the benefit of arts learning, the arts are among the subjects and methods of teaching that are perennially in danger of cutting when funds grow tight, most often in less-wealthy school districts.

Grasmick sat in the audience during the day of presentations on how children’s brains change as they practice an art, and then participated in the small-group discussions on how educators could apply this knowledge. At the end of the day, she used her time at the podium to challenge the more than 300 attendees to act on what they had learned.

Currently, she said, “neuroscience is not guiding the decisions we’re making in education.” Teachers, principals, and administrators know little about the science, “even though every day I say they’re brain clinicians” because they foster children’s brain development.

Why isn’t neuroscience part of the conversation? “Because we don’t have a critical model” of how the arts foster cognitive development and how to apply the science to the classroom, she said. She challenged the teachers in the audience, and especially those who teach teachers, including conference sponsor Johns Hopkins University, to create such a teaching model.

“Today’s information is huge,” she said of the new research presented. State educators should use it and work together to build courses allowing teachers-in-training to absorb the science behind learning, she said. “We can use that model for arts educators to understand the cognitive benefits, as well as the emotional and affective ones.” These new teachers and school administrators would help form a secure foundation for arts education in public schools, one that would not shift with the winds of schools funding.

“Unless we have people who are prepared and knowledgeable in these areas, we will be in jeopardy every time a dollar is cut in the budget” or a given arts advocate leaves a certain school, she said.

Nicky Penttila

Learning Arts Brain Grasmick Small Group - Content
Nancy Grasmick, Maryland state superintendent of schools, makes a point during the small-group discussions on how to use the results of brain research to improve learning her during the Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit, at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore on May 6, 2009. (photo by Nicky Penttila)

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