Why We Remember: The Arts' Support for Retention and Retrieval

You know that the arts are enjoyable, motivating and freeing for students, but did you know that it’s actually helping them remember information more effectively?

In their paper, “Why Arts Integration Improves Long-Term Retention of Content”, researchers Rinne, Gregory, Yarmolinskyaya and Hardiman (2011) assert that arts integration strategies can help aid the retention of information, taking advantage of the effects of long term memory by commiting information to memory in a lasting way. The authors present the results they found in their recent study that showed students who participated in the arts integrated science lessons “outperformed their peers on standard measures of academic achievement." Hardiman and colleagues found that arts integration “benefits [student] general cognition through improvement of executive attention” (p. 89). Though not conclusive the authors suggest that students gain skills that transfer beyond the arts to other academic domains.

These long term effects on retention result from several well-studied qualities intrinsic to learning through the arts, including: (a) rehearsal, (b) elaboration, (c) generation, (d) enactment, (e) oral production, (f) effort after meaning, (g) emotional arousal, and (h) pictorial representation. Even if you don’t generally call the school spelling bee ‘oral production’ or discussing a photo in the textbook ‘pictorial representation’, it is likely that your students engage in many of these effects in some manner throughout the school year. The question is – are students engaging with these effects in a manner most conducive to them committing information to memory? 

Let’s take a minute to review these eight qualities of arts integration learning and see how they might be transformed into classroom strategies.

What students once crammed into their short term memory for a test can become a part of who they are as learners and the toolbox of information they can draw from as they meet future challenges. A winning combination of arts integration and engaging instructional design strategies can provide our students a way to relate what they are learning to their own life experiences for a more lasting imprint.