IX. Arts and Learning
The most centralized way to look at the research on arts and learning is to obtain a copy of a compendium of research on arts and learning entitled Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development. Edited by Richard Deasey (2002), this publication is a review of 62 studies that examined the impact of the arts on mostly academic outcomes, although some of the studies looked at social and behavioral outcomes. The research is not conclusive, because most of the studies were correlational; that is, they showed a relationship between the arts intervention or activity and an outcome, but did not ascertain whether there is a causal link between the activity and the outcome. Thus, it is inconclusive as to whether the arts program caused the outcome or there was some other factor that led to the outcome.
In brief, the research has found positive relationships between participation in arts and learning of spatial reasoning, verbal skills, writing, literacy, and math skills. Positive impact on the participant’s self-perception and, in some cases, positive change in beneficial risk-taking were also reported. More recent research is examining neural pathways to observe the relationship, but these studies are very early and also not conclusive.
These studies suggest that art benefits the development of intellect and cognitive abilities. This is in addition to the emotional development that programmatic use of art in an intervention program generally has as a focus.
The research on Prodigy has shown some exciting results. Program completion rates are high, over 85% on average, and recidivism is less than 10% after 6 months. Both are important outcomes to achieve. Incompletion is associated with a high recidivism rate, whereas completion is related to a low one. Although these outcome measures are the raison d’etre for its existence, there are also some near-term results that may lead to a better understanding of the impact of the program.
Prodigy participants reported fewer mental health symptoms at the end of their program stay. This includes reduced measures of anger and depression. This is an important outcome, because mental health is strongly related to antisocial behavior among youth. The change was both statistically and clinically significant.
Gender differences were also reported. Females came into the program with a higher level of symptoms than did males, but at the end of the program there was no difference in symptomatology between males and females. Although females reported greater symptoms, their scores after the program showed no significant difference from the males, indicating a stronger program effect for females.
A behavior change is an observable change and so is easier to obtain views from others rather than relying solely on the youth’s self-reported perception. The research indicates that both youth (who self-reported) and parents reported there was improved behavior of the youth at the end of the program compared with the beginning. This is an especially encouraging finding, because behavior change is generally considered one of the more intractable changes.
Another measure, in particular, had encouraging results. The youth reported improvement in their belief about their academic skills and ability to do well in the classroom. This academic self-efficacy may have an impact on student attitudes and even behaviors and performance in the classroom, an assessment Prodigy is just beginning to undertake. Doing well in school, in the PYD model, is an indicator of increased resilience on the part of the students. This relates to the previously discussed research on academic performance, cognitive development, and the arts.