It’s All About (Brain) Connections!

By |2018-09-20T22:15:23-07:00May 20th, 2013|

Editor’s Note: Please welcome our newest contributing writer, Pat Klos, to EducationCloset!  Pat is an Arts Integration Specialist in Anne Arundel County, MD and has been featured in Edutopia and national conferences for her work in this field.  We are so honored to have her on board and writing for us each Monday.  To learn more about Pat, visit our About Page.  Welcome, Pat!

I’ve said, at least a hundred times, arts integration is a no-brainer! We’ve learned from the work of scholars like Eric Jensen, David Sousa and others that the arts have a positive impact on the learning process.  Jensen (2001) calls the arts a brain developer. Sousa (2006) says that the arts develop “cognitive competencies that benefit learners in every aspect of their education” (p.215). These sources underscore that learning through the arts helps students make stronger and more significant cognitive connections.

The tricky part is getting students to retain what they have learned, right? If we want this to happen then perhaps we need to keep brain research forefront in our in minds.    How do we get it to stick in their brains? The answer: ask questions.

Recently I reread an excellent article by Deidre Moore here at Education Closet that discusses the importance of using questions to guide reflection at the end of the lesson and creating closure. The article got me thinking about what brain research has taught us about metacognition, retention and closure, and about something that I have been talking about with teachers who lament—‘I did an arts integration activity but it didn’t help[my students] remember it when it came time to taking the test!’

My question to them is: did you take the time to ask the kids to think about and articulate what they had learned?  Often we assume that kids have put two and two together.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.  What I have learned is that in an arts integrated lesson not only is it critically important to intentionally articulate the connection between the art standard and the content standard to the student, but, just as importantly, to have the student articulate it to himself as well. Let’s not leave it to chance!

Jay McTighe, author of Understanding by Design, advocates using a closure approach called the Three Minute Pause. This is a summarizing technique whereby students stop periodically during the lesson, turn to a neighbor to verbalize a summary of new material and pose questions for clarification. During this kind of activity the brain’s working memory is rehearsing the information to be stored.  Research shows that experiencing this rehearsal substantially increases the probability that the memory will be stored in long term memory (Sousa, 2006).   Just what we want to happen!!

In an arts integration lesson, teachers I am working with are now asking four important questions to guide students toward creating memory pegs and connections to the lesson (orally and/or in writing).   The goal is to have them articulate a connection between the art and the content.  We want them to think about what they have experienced in both: put two and two together.  The questions are:  What did you learn about the art? What did you learn about the content?  How did learning about the art help you to learn about or understand the content?  And, finally, what did you learn about yourself as an artist?  If you want students to remember what they have learned and experienced and, build on it – be sure to ask them.


Sousa, David (2006). How the Brain Learns.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Jensen, Eric (2001).  Arts with the Brain in Mind. ASCD Books.  Retrieved from

McTighe, Jay and Grant Wiggins(2005).  Understanding by Design.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


  1. Jennifer May 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    So important to make that explicit closure? The use of the meta-cognitive question is a key strategy to increase student learning. Thanks so much for reminding us of this!

  2. Deirdre May 23, 2013 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    I LOVE that final question, “What did you learn about yourself as an artist?” I don’t believe I’ve ever asked that in quite that way before. You are so right that it should be asked regularly as it’s probably the one that is most important to the artist her/himself and will make the whole experience that much more memorable. Thank you for sharing that!

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