Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed February 12, 1998
Contact: Tracie Sweeney

A presentation to the AAAS

Study of arts, music may enhance young pupils' math and reading skills

Martin F. Gardiner of Brown University's Center for the Study of Human Development will discuss his work investigating how youngsters who studied the arts and music in their classrooms showed improved math and reading skills. He will speak Tuesday, Feb. 17, 1998, at a 10:30 a.m. news briefing and during a 2:15-4:15 p.m. session titled "Alternate Mechanisms for Motor and Visual Spatial Cognition."

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Training children in arts and music may enhance their acquisition of reading and mathematics skills, according to Martin F. Gardiner, a visiting research fellow at Brown University's Center for the Study of Human Development.

Data reported previously in Nature (May 23, 1996) by Gardiner and his colleagues showed that first-grade students who received visual and musical arts training as a regular part of classroom studies showed improved reading skills and were significantly ahead in math skills compared to control groups in other first-grade classrooms. By second grade, the group of students who received the arts training again were significantly ahead of the control group on math skills, but not on reading skills.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Feb. 17, at 10:30 a.m., and during a 2:15-4:15 p.m. session that day titled "Alternate Mechanisms for Motor and Visual Spatial Cognition," Gardiner will discuss new data as well as his earlier findings and implications for issues of implicit versus explicit learning.

Gardiner's research points to a cross-fertilization in learning. The children receiving the test arts program were given one hour of music and one hour of visual art each week. (Students in the standard arts program received 40 minutes of music and one hour of visual arts in alternate weeks.) The test arts music lessons used the Kodály method, which requires sequential learning in the same sense as reading or mathematics. For instance, the brain must learn how to accomplish such things as pitch, rhythm and melody. In the data published previously, there appear to be similarities in processing certain components in music, mathematics and, quite possibly, reading, and the brain seems able to apply what is learned from one application to other applications, Gardiner said.

The extent to which a student is aware of the cross-fertilization is unclear, Gardiner said. Neither teachers nor students involved in the studies he will review were told explicitly to make connections. The question remains as to whether making the connection explicit would be advantageous. "The possibility should be left open that implicit learning best takes place when it is discovered by the learner himself," Gardiner said.

One implication of the research, Gardiner said, is that the arts should be considered as important and essential as math, reading and writing. "Learning may be a much more rich experience than we currently understand," Gardiner said. If art and music are cut from a curriculum, "you may be losing more than the piece you're leaving out."

The data emphasize skill-building in multiple areas. "The arts are wonderful, essentials, in themselves," Gardiner said. "That they can also give broader benefit - that you can have your cake and eat it, too - seems lovely," Gardiner said.

While in Philadelphia, Gardiner can be contacted through the Brown News Bureau at (401) 863-2476.