Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using The Arts to Build Executive Function

"Executive function" is one of the latest buzzphrases in education; this replaces the more-familiar "oganizational skills" or "time management" descriptors of the past. It is becoming clearer that in our increasingly distracting and multi-tasked world, students need strategies and explicit instruction in developing these skills, but methods of teaching executive function can vary widely and are generally met with groans and blank stares.

Enter The Arts. Apparently, using The Arts (music, dance, song, art) in class relaxes the brain and makes it more receptive, open and organized; teachers can use color, sound, light and patterns, as well as movement, anticipation and "curious objects" to open up a student to organization.

I love art, and I love making art with students. One of my fondest memories with students is taking a lunchtime art class with them; my planning period was during lunch, so I took a couple days a week and sat in on their art class and worked on the same projects they did. This changed the dynamic with my students and me; they got to see me struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies, they got to be better than me at something and we had relaxed conversations about whatever. There was some uncharitable grumbling from other teachers that I was "goofing off" during my planning period, so I must not have had enough to do, but the time with the kids was invaluable. It was a rejuvenating break in the middle of the day, and I found myself relaxed and more focused on the days I did art.

Perhaps this is the key in the research. Art itself takes time and attention, a thoughtful shift in focus. If we can tune out all of the mental chatter (the little voice that tells us we can't draw or dance or sing, the one that wakes up right around 5th grade as we begin to measure our work against others instead of just creating for the sake of creation), perhaps we can also learn how to tune out the distractions of daily life, organizing, prioritizing and vitalizing out daily executive functioning.

At any rate, this is a great excuse to make art daily. As if anyone should need an excuse...

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