Intended to serve as an example about how to incorporate the arts into the classroom, Why Arts Integration Improves Long-Term Retention of Content written by Luke Rinne, Emma Gregory, Julia Yarmolinskyaya and Mariale Hardiman is an informative guide to research addressing how the arts can aid the retention of information. Citing studies from 1932 through 2010, Rinne et al. (2011) describe how the arts can be used as a methodology that can enhance learning in the classroom.
In their paper, Rinne et al. (2011) explain “long-term memory effects” and how the arts can be used to take advantage of these effects. What follows is a brief review of each effect.
The Effect of the Repeated Rehearsal of Information on Retention
It has been demonstrated that the “repeated rehearsal of information” has a positive effect on long-term retention (Rinne et al., 2011). Rehearse more, remember more. Well, almost. Some researchers think it isn’t how often one rehearses information that matters, but instead how information is elaborated upon or how it is linked to other information (Craik & Watkins, 1973), as cited in Linne et al., 2011). Rinne et al. (2011) make the case that activities from the arts can be integrated into classroom content and used as prompts to “elaborate rehearsal” thereby generating “sustained attention” and motivating students to learn.
The Effect of Elaboration That Adds Meaning on Retention
Help learners think deeply. Rinne et al. (2011) suggest teachers call upon students to write a story, a poem, a song or create a piece of art incorporating the information they want students to learn. Placing information in some sort of context requiring learners to process information at a deeper level aids memory because it establishes a more “elaborate memory trace” (Rinne et al., 2011).
The Effect of Generating Original Information on Retention
When learners are prompted to generate information in response to some sort of cue, they remember the generated information better than if they only read the same information (Rinne et al., 2011). There are many thoughts about why this is the case. Some think custom-generated information requires a deeper level of processing and more cognitive effort, while others think it is the uniqueness of the information generated that aids retention (Rinne et al., 2011). Whatever the reason, the authors suggest teachers encourage students to generate their own information — both verbal and visual — to aid their retention of new content.
The Effect of Enactment on Retention
Acting out is a good thing. Evidence suggests translating material into actions helps learners recall information. There are a couple ideas about why this might work. One has to do with motor encoding and the fact that acting out requires learners to use motor encoding and verbal encoding during physical movement (Rinne et al., 2011). The other idea cites the “unusualness” of the actions that makes information easier to remember (Rinne et al., 2011). The value of using the performing arts as a learning tool is proposed and Rinne et al. (2011) suggest teachers pair “novels, stories, or poems with (the) enactment of key segments” to enhance student learning about the literature or topics discussed in class.
The Effect of Oral Presentation on Retention
Talk to yourself. Speaking words aloud results in better retention than reading words in silence. This works because when reading aloud, the spoken words are made distinctly different from the words that are read in silence (Rinne et al. (2011). The authors recommend that arts activities requiring students to write songs or take part in some type of theatrical performance be used as learning tools to take advantage of this effect.
The Effect of Effort on Retention
When a certain amount of effort is required for a learner to make sense of new information, retention of this information is enhanced (Rinne et al., 2011). The interesting thing about this effect is that learners are not consciously aware of the fact that they will have achieved comprehension after exerting effort because all they tend to see is another learning goal before them (Rinne et al. (2011). To turn ho-hum learning goals into activities requiring some effort to comprehend, Rinne et al. (2011) suggest teachers turn to the arts and call upon students to find content embedded in some type of art form. The aim is to present learners with an art form “that requires interpretation or ‘decoding’ by the observer” Rinne et al. (2011). One of the examples Rinne et al. (2011) offer is the use of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans to bring attention to commercialism in American culture. The thinking here is that effort spent on interpreting will lead to better retention. Some researchers, however, think it isn’t the amount of effort exerted, but the uniqueness of the effort. Are you beginning to see a trend? The distinctiveness of a thought or action appears to be central to the arguments made by some neuroscience researchers.
The Effect of Emotional Arousal on Retention
Emotionally charged content is easier to remember than content linked to events that leave emotions parked in neutral (Rinne et al., 2011). To take advantage of this, Rinne et al. (2011) recommend teachers replace “fill-in-the-blank” type of activities with activities from the arts promoting the “expression of emotional content.”
The Effect of Pictures on Retention
Information presented as pictures is retained better than the same information presented as words (Rinne et al., 2011), so the authors recommend teachers use images when images can be used to convey information that could just as well be presented as words. Using pictures as a learning tool will lead to better retention in older children and adults (Rinne et al. (2011)). However, this appears not to be the case with young children. The authors cite a study where researchers (Defeyter et al. (2009), as cited in Rinne et al., 2011) found that content retention is not achieved in children age 7 and younger. Defeyter et al. (as cited in Rinne et al., 2011) hold the opinion that image use does not result in content retention in young children because their “capacity for recollection” is still being developed.
Why Arts Integration Improves Long-Term Retention of Content is a concise practical reference and is recommended to educators who want to incorporate the arts into their curriculum and to parents, artists and advocates of the arts wishing to articulate the value of the arts to others.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:
to encourage public interest in plants?
Defeyter, M.A., R. Russo and P.L. McPartlin. 2009. The picture superiority effect in recognition memory: A developmental study using the response signal procedure. Cognitive Development. 24(3): 265-273.
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Rinne, Luke and Emma Gregory, Julia Yarmolinskyay and Mariale Hardiman. 2011. Why arts integration improves long-term retention of content. Mind, Brain, and Education. 5(2): 89-96.
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