EQ & The Arts

In their seven year study on The Arts as an Effective Intervention Strategy for At-Risk Youth, for the California Endowment, Susan Anderson, Nancy Walch, and Kate Becker (2003), found definitive evidence to suggest a connection between early adolescent arts involvement and an increase in academic achievement and self esteem. In her 1998 study of 60 after school programs in 20 cities, Shirely Brice Heath found that as compared with the US Department of Education Longitudinal database of 25,000 students, those receiving an arts based after school education were “25 percent more likely to report feeling satisfied with themselves; 23 percent more likely to say they can do things as well as most other people can, and; 23 percent more likely to feel they can make plans and successfully work from them than students in the national sample” (1998). Further, the study found that students who participated in arts programs were, among other things, higher academic achievers overall, more likely to win academic and other performance based awards, and more likely to attend school.

“A growing body of evidence documents the power of the creative arts in engaging and redirecting disorganized and harmful behavior of youth” (Davis, Soep, Sunaina, Remba, & Putnoi, 1993; Heath, Soep, & Roach, 1998; Mello, 1994; Milkman, Wanberg, & Robinson, 1996; Stone, Bikson, Moini, & McArthur, 1998; Weisel, 1999). If we consider it logically, a student who feels good about him/herself, does well in school, and has effective communication and relationship building skills, is less likely to drop out of school, abuse drugs or alcohol, engage in risky sexual behavior, bully or allow themselves to be bullied, or commit suicide—something that 6 students under the age of 20 do everyday in the United States (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001). In short, utilizing the arts as a means of building social emotional skills can help ensure that students will have a better quality of life in the present, and have a strong foundation upon which to build a positive future.

MUSIC supports EQ

It is no surprise that music holds the potential for transformation. On the Raising Small Souls parenting website authors offer an elucidating description of the thinking behind that assertion: “Music connects children who may not otherwise discover they have anything in common; sharing a love for certain types of music creates an almost automatic bond…helping provide children with a framework in which they can socialize”. Music can create “a relaxed atmosphere for communication or shared activities; participating in music – either as dancing, studying, or playing an instrument – gives children a sense of confidence that they take into their interpersonal relationships. Confident kids tend to attract friends!”

Further “music can provide an emotional outlet for children; the effects of music on mood are well-known, and these effects hold true for children too. Children can learn to manage their feelings by listening to music to calm them down, give them energy, or help lift their mood; recognizing emotions is another way that music helps children develop emotional intelligence; music helps kids to “hear” what certain feelings sound like, and they can learn to tell what emotion is evoked by a particular piece of music; that helps them get “in touch” with what they are feeling; appropriate self-expression springs from a sense of self, and music (especially early music education) can help immensely with this; the lyrics of songs can also help children understand complex emotions related to specific events or situations.”

In her paper The Effects of Music on Student Psychology, Sharon Lee Ball (2011) presents her findings on the power of music to improve the lives of adolescents, noting how students “use music in their everyday lives to manipulate their moods” and citing a recent national essay competition, in which “1155 American adolescents submitted essays acknowledging the benefits of listening to, performing, and studying music as an academic subject in school” (Pg. 3). “Two-thirds of these students said they listened to or performed music for personal enjoyment, expression, and to release or control negative emotions. They agreed that relating to the lyrics, whether writing, singing, or listening, let them know they were not alone, and helped them cope with difficult times in their lives. Students claimed that musical study helped them hone their study skills, which applied to other academic areas. Some also claimed that it had kept them from sinking too deeply into depression or attempting suicide, as some of their non-musical friends had done” (Ball, Pg. 5).

These assertions are supported by Emeka Obiozor Williams, who illustrates his successes using music as a life-skill teaching tool for students with emotional disabilities. His mission with the particular program he discusses in his article, is to “encourage positive and active participation of these students, promote perfect school attendance, encourage good behaviors, deal with anger management and motivate committed learning in the classroom” (Pg. 17). Over the period of one school year, the author worked with his students—a mix of African American, Latino and Caucasian youth–in the Emotionally Challenged program on Life Skills, as well as created opportunities for acquiring reading, math, writing and social skills. His lessons included profiling different hip-hop artists and music, examining “their lyrics and changing some of the songs to reflect positive messages, with support from internet-generated instrumental rhythms..”. “The students recited the poetic lines from the songs, read aloud the word syllables, and wrote brief constructed responses (BCRs), essays, critiques and reflections on the life of these artists, their messages and the implications to the society” (pg. 18). The students would work both independently and on “related group projects, book reports, class presentations, individual hip-hop music compositions” as well as “design posters, CD covers” (pg. 17). Additionally, they partook in class discussions and debates.

What Williams found was that apart from increased subject matter facility, his students were more engaged with the material, more enthusiastic about classroom participation and demonstrated increased interest in reading and writing, and a stronger commitment to school in general as evidenced in greatly improved attendance records. He also saw an overall improvement in students’ self-esteem, self-awareness, social awareness, listening skills, communication efficacy, as well as an increased ability to interact positively with one another.


Simply said, when we feel seen and heard, we are much better able to understand and appreciate the point of view of whatever we consider the “other”. When students are given the opportunity to explore and give voice to their identity and experiences through the written word—whether personal narrative, poetry, lyrics, prose or spoken word, they empower themselves to think beyond the confines of their immediate worldview, and tap into the rich emotional landscapes of their imagination. This is the thinking behind Susan Weinstein’s multi-year study of a Youth Spoken Word program (YSW) the findings of which she presents in her article A Unified Poet Alliance (2010).

The author initially explored the question of how creative writing enhanced adolescents’ development in her book Feel These Words: Writing in the Lives of Urban Youth (2009). She looked specifically at the way in which regular poetry and lyric writing encouraged the formation of what she calls “literate identities”, that is, the way in which students began to identify themselves as writers, and subsequently expressed that aspect of their identity. That ‘identity’ gave them a sense of belonging and connectedness to what had previously been perceived as an inaccessible ‘other’. She found that the kind of personal and social exploration creative writing encouraged in her students led to a greater curiosity and deeper inquiry into the creative texts they “encountered in classrooms, on the radio, in their neighborhoods…in writerly terms, focusing on the effectiveness of artists’ choices about language, tone, form, etc. (pg. 10)”. What she saw as a result—beyond improved reading and writing skills– were students with increased self-confidence, self-efficacy, direction and sense of purpose.

In her study of the YSW, she found that the students identified the same kinds of personal and social benefits from their creative writing involvement; amongst which were a more assured sense of self, a greater sense of self- empowerment, and an ability to voice and validate their own experience in meaningful ways. Further, Weinstein notes that students “began to view themselves as literate, capable human beings who rightfully belonged to a community of poets and writers. In order to move beyond what Joe [the classroom teacher] frequently referred to as ‘ascribed lives,’” they “redefined literacy to include their words, voices, and faces around the table” (2007, p. 83).


Similar such results have been found through movement-based programs; as per neurophysicist, Carla Hannaford (1997) “because movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, the whole body, and not just the brain, is an instrument for learning.” Sparkplug Dance has designed and implemented such programs, which Rachel Carnes documents in her Brattain Case Study, an inclusive arts-based residency pilot project conducted in one of Springfield Oregon’s lowest socio-economic elementary schools (2007).

The goal of their program was to get students excited about dance while teaching them about the physics of sound, including concepts like tension and pitch. In order to ensure that the program worked on all levels, partnerships were formed between teaching artists and classroom teachers, with the support of administrators and parents, and the community. Through various movement and music based activities such as “Witness: A whole body welcoming song from Africa”, the teachers created a “platform for a discussion of social, emotional and physical health.”

By the programs end, the students had indeed developed an appreciation for the joy and benefits of dance, while learning a good deal about the science of sound. To wit, prior to the start of the class, students were asked a series of questions designed to ascertain their understanding of each of these arts modalities. One of the questions asked was “What is dance?”; amongst the answers were: “Locomotor”, “Tap”, “Level”, “Past”, “Stomping”, and “Moving to the beat”. Several weeks after the class was over, the teacher returned and asked the same set of questions; in answer to the above question, the same students answered: “Dance is an instrument that’s in your body”, “Dance makes noise”, “Dance makes sound”, “Dance is communication:, “Dance lets you tell if someone is happy or mad:, and “Dance makes your body healthy by getting exercise”. The new responses indicate a deeper level of thinking and a greater awareness of what dance is, not just objectively, but personally. The teacher and author drew the same conclusion from their experience with this particular program as I myself have from work I’ve done with socio-economically disadvantaged and developmentally disabled populations: movement based activities have the power to transform adolescents’ understanding of themselves and the world around them (Carnes, 2007).

“Elizabeth Kemler is a passionate and talented educator, curriculum developer and author. She is always a pleasure to work with. Her collaborative, detail-oriented and responsive interactions ensure timely delivery of project milestones and successful implementation of newly created curriculum materials.”

Amanda Lynne Smith Dean of Curriculum at Ultimate Medical Academy

“Key to her success in the communication field is the fact that Elizabeth is a superb communicator in her own right. Our students consistently reported that she provides a clear sense of both how skills can be improved and why they are important in both school and work. She has always worked well with faculty and brings passion and idealism to everything she does.”

John Osburn Associate Director of CONNECT at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

“Working with Elizabeth has always been inspiring. The most enduring quality I have come to appreciate about her is her resiliency – a determination and willingness to return to the project, curriculum, or situation in order to more fully manifest the intentions and goals originally articulated. At the same time, she is capable of adapting, re-evaluating, and transforming a set of intentions to more fully meet the needs of those being served.”

Eliza Ladd Theater Professor & TBLS Trainer

“I saw a dramatic improvement in the quality of both my presentation skills and content in a remarkably short period of time. I cannot recommend Elizabeth highly enough.”

Thomas Zweifel CEO, Swiss Consulting Group & Professor, Columbia University

“I’d recommend Elizabeth to any company looking to improve the performance of their staff when it counts most – first impressions in front of customers, potential customers or investors!”

Todd Wiseman Senior Director of Sales & Business Development, KAYGEN