Improve Cognition

Through arts education, teachers can observe and enhance students' cognitive abilities by engaging them in activities that foster problem-solving, creativity, and higher-order thinking. By incorporating frameworks such as the Studio Habits of Mind and the 21st Century Skills, educators can cultivate critical cognitive skills like envisioning, reflecting, and collaborating, ultimately preparing students for success in both academic and personal realms.

Assess and Strengthen Cognitive Skills with the Arts

The cognitive realm refers to the development of the brain and the ability of the mind to engage in learning. Neuroscience studies the formation, structure, and function of the brain. Psychology focuses on a child's skills in perceiving, processing, expressing, and conceptualizing both taught and experienced information. Teachers can identify when students are cognitively prepared to learn by considering students' capacities for decision-making, attentiveness, focus, reflecting, analyzing, following instructions, or staying on topic. Arts education intrinsically contributes to cognitive development because art-making involves problem-solving, creativity, imagination, and higher-order thinking. Observing students' cognitive ability during art-making helps teachers evaluate and strengthen students' cognitive skills.

Below are summaries of two frameworks that describe the benefits of arts education: The Studio Habits of Mind and 21st Century Skills. Elliot Eisner's "The Ten Lessons the Arts Teach" list is also provided.

8 Studio Habits of Mind

A team of researchers observed effective visual arts classrooms and identified eight dispositions, or habits of mind (and four teaching structures), that describe the real benefits of an arts education and how a classroom could operate like an art studio. The 8 Studio Habits of Mind and the Four Studio Structures provide insight into what the arts teach and how they are taught and are observed in the performing arts and the visual arts. The book Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education contains a full description of these dispositions and teaching structures.


Learning to use tools, materials, and artistic conventions and to care for tools, materials, and space.


Learning to engage with a project on a personal level and to focus on and persevere through art tasks.


Leaning to mentally picture what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a work of arts.


Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.


Learning to carefully observe the world around you and examine works of art more closely, so that you see what might not be readily or obviously visible.


Learning to think and talk about art by making interpretive claims and evidenced-based judgements about works of art.


Learning to reach beyond your baseline capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to learn from mistakes.


Learning about art history, current practice, and interacting with other artists and the broader artistic community as an artist yourself.


21ST Century Skills: The Six C'S

The 21st Century Skills embody mindsets that are critical for students to develop. The ideal implementation strategy is to incorporate the 21st Century Skills into all learning experiences within the district, including across grade levels, subjects, and embedding them into each educational experience.

Success and achievement in the arts demands engagement in imagination, investigation, construction, and reflection in multiple contexts. "These meta-cognitive activities nurture the effective work habits of curiosity, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration, each of which transfers to the many diverse aspects of learning and life in the 21st century" (19, Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning located at:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests, "Anyone who has ever seen a student become excited, energized, and confident through artistic exploration has seen first-hand how arts education engages children and contributes to their overall development...while each of the arts disciplines has its own unique set of knowledge, skill, and processes, the arts share common characteristics that make arts education powerful preparation for college, career, and a fulfilling life." (21st Century Arts Map.)


Communication is at the heart of the arts. Through studying the arts, students develop a vast repertoire of skills in processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating meaning. Effective communication builds collaboration and cooperation.


Critical thinking is the essential, intellectual process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to belief and action. Through critical thinking and problem solving, that students learn the higher-order thinking skills necessary to engage in artistic processes and, therefore, begin to achieve artistic literacy.


Creative practices are essential for teaching and learning the arts. The arts are steeped in process and involve the interplay of artistic skills, individual voice, and the unexpected. Creativity is given great emphasis in the arts and requires a learning environment in which students are encouraged to imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect. The arts' natural fusion of logical, analytical, thought and playful unexpectedness provides students with extraordinary opportunities to exercise their creativity through artistic processes. Creative processes evoke deep, meaningful engagement in the arts, can be fluid, vary from person to person and project to project, and require intense cognition that can be developed through arts engagement.


Collaboration is the process through which two or more people or groups work together to realize common goals. Collaboration requires that each person in the group contributes and fills a specific role. An inherent part of arts instruction, examples of collaboration may include all the students in a performing cast or ensemble; the partnership between a single artist and his or her peers and audience; or, a shared visual arts project that incorporates the ideas and techniques of multiple artists.


Students in today's schools need to be prepared to participate as citizens in a global society. Citizenship includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for civic virtue and active engagement in our society. Citizenship connects with arts education in numerous ways, including giving students an opportunity to exercise choice and decision making about the creative and artistic process. Citizenship engages students in the why behind the art, pushing students to engage in art making that reflects the historical, cultural, and societal issues that are often described and portrayed in artistic creations.


In a world saturated with increasing technological advancement, it is important that youth are taught the skills required for human connectivity. Helping young people develop their character helps them authentically connect with each other by building individual dependability and expanding young people's ability to show compassion and feel concern for others. Schools, along with parents, community members, and teachers, contribute to character education by explicitly teaching and reinforcing thoughts and actions that encourage students to contribute to the way people work, play, and learn together as families, neighbors, and communities.

Click here to download a printable version of Elliot Eisner's "The 10 Lessons the Arts Teach."

10 Lessons the Arts Teach

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