Researchers found that arts-led curriculums, like song and movement, can help students retain more of what they learn.

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Here's something to sing and dance about: According to new research by Johns Hopkins University, integrating the arts—like song, movement, and drawing—into science classes can help students learn better, particularly lower-achieving students.

Published in Trends in Neuroscience and Education, the study involved 350 students in 16 different fifth grade classrooms across six schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Students were randomly assigned to pairs of science classes: astronomy and life science, and environmental science and chemistry. Students either took an arts-integrated class first—where they rapped songs to learn vocabulary or made collages to classify information—or a conventional class, where exercises included reading texts and completing worksheets. If students took the arts-integrated class first, their second class was conventional, and vice-versa.

Researchers then tested students before and after classes as well as after the study to see how much information they retained. The findings? Students who took the arts-integrated class second performed better in this class, while students who took an arts-integrated class first performed just as well in the following class. The study's authors suggest that by exploring their creative problem-solving skills in the art-led classes, students were able to better grasp and retain information in the conventional class.

This study builds on previous research showing the positive effects of the arts on student academic success and improved memory. The latter is particularly important because, as Mariale Hardiman, Vice Dean of Academic Affairs for the School of Education at the Johns Hopkins University and the study's first author, tells Science Daily: "When we talk about learning, we have to discuss memory. Children forget much of what they learn and teachers often end up reteaching a lot of content from the previous year. Here we're asking, how exactly can we teach them correctly to begin with so they can remember more?"

Hardiman hopes that the findings of this study will further prove the importance of arts-based curriculums in all schools. "Our data suggests that traditional instruction seems to perpetuate the achievement gap for students performing at the lower levels of academic achievement. We also found that students at advanced levels of achievement didn't lose any learning from incorporating arts into classrooms, but potentially gained benefits such as engagement in learning and enhanced thinking dispositions," she says. "For these reasons, we would encourage educators to adopt integrating the arts into content instruction."

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