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Mar 13, 2015
by Stuart Milne
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Mariale Hardiman: "The arts are a powerful way to allow children to express themselves in ways we don't often give them"

Johns Hopkins University vice dean of education and former principal outlines the benefits of arts integration in schools Mariale Hardiman speaking at Session 547 | The Neuroscience of Art

Mariale Hardiman firmly believes the arts have a valuable place in the American school system – not just in Art and Drama classrooms, but in helping children to improve long-term learning across all subjects.

As a participant in Session 547 | The Neuroscience of Art: What are the Sources of Creativity and Innovation?, the Vice Dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University and former principal told Salzburg Global about the importance of arts integration in her Brain Targeted Teaching model, which she developed to correct an oversight in the education system.

“All learning is brain-based, but all teaching does not result in learning,” Hardiman said. “So while all learning is brain-based, all teaching is not. Therefore I develop a model and coined the term Brain Targeted Teaching - that is, teaching targeted to how the brain thinks and learns.

“As I developed the model, I realized that we had to move beyond traditional instruction - to really start to mimic what we know about active learning, emotional engagement and applying learning meaningfully. It seemed to me that all of that was naturally done through the arts.”

This approach involves students engaging in artistic activities – be it drawing, singing or performing, in subjects across the academic spectrum, including Math and Science.

During her session presentation Hardiman shared a young student’s drawing of a flower, in which she had applied skills acquired in Art class to demonstrate learning in Science class.

“I compared it to Monet, when Monet observed nature and then creatively portrayed it the way he wanted to. This child had observed not only flowers but also drawings of flowers. When they were asked in the Science classroom to draw the flower and label the flower parts, you saw how beautifully she created that.

“To me, that was not only an exquisite piece of art, but she was also conveying what she had learned in Science class. I think the arts are a powerful way to allow children to express themselves in ways we don’t often give them.”

While Hardiman believes all students ultimately benefit from arts integration, her research proves the approach has special rewards for those struggling to learn via more orthodox classroom techniques. 

“The paper that my post-doctoral fellows and I just published in the journal Mind, Brain and Education showed that students who are pretty adept learners are probably going to learn fine no matter how they’re taught, but the students who retained the most information from initial learning to long-term retention, measured about three months later, were the students who were at the lower end of reading achievement.

“That does not mean that those students had any problems cognitively, it’s just that they’re not kids who excel in test-taking. It could be that those are the students who need a different vehicle for being able to demonstrate what they know.”

Hardiman knows from personal experience that educators need to be mindful of students who feel they are not artistic and find these sorts of activities frustrating.

“When kids think about drawing they’re worried about the product, and they’re worried that their drawing is not going to look as good as the person beside them,” she said.

“I would have been one of those children. I was the kind of learner that, if I were given a choice of writing a 20-page research paper or demonstrating my understanding of a concept through an art medium, I would be in the library tomorrow, because that’s my safe space.

“I wish I’d been in programs where I had no choice but to present what I knew in some sort of artistic way. I think it would have expanded my world as a student.

“The one thing we stress for students all the time is that we don’t really care what your product looks like. We want you to be involved in the process – the deep thinking that being involved in the arts will help.”

It also seems arts integration has benefits extending beyond students’ academic abilities. Hardiman concluded her presentation with a photo of a group of boys in Science class using their bodies demonstrate the shape of water molecules.

“They came together and they held hands in a way that was so beautiful. One of the other children came up to me and she said, ‘You know, they don’t usually get along.’ They might have been fighting out in the playground the day before. To me, that was a powerful image of the arts being a force for peacebuilding.”


Mariale Hardiman was a participant in the Salzburg Global session The Neuroscience of Art: What are the Sources of Creativity and Innovation?, which is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running Culture and the Arts series. The session was supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/547.

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