Although nearly all educators value as an outcome for students skillful critical thinking, defined as well-reasoned reflection informing decisions (Ennis, 1987), many still choose to limit student decision-making and avoid opportunities to practice critical thinking. Art classes can be a locus of critical thinking when art teachers encourage a cycle of reasoning, reflection and evaluation leading to artistic decision-making. Popular educational resources set high standards for the thinking students do in art class. Research has shown that a rigorous art program can improve critical thinking skills.
Thinking critically, students reflect on, evaluate, and solve open-ended problems, questions, or issues. Many schools, however, still keep learning simple. Some educators claim that perfection of basic skills is a prerequisite for open-ended problem solving. Others perceive the majority of their students as not yet mentally, socially, or emotionally ready to be challenged with critical thinking in school. Others expect critical thinking to happen outside of school. Still others avoid open-ended problems that might lead to classroom management issues or indicate a lack of authority on the part of the teacher.
In the elementary or secondary art classroom, additional pressure against critical thinking comes from a teacher’s anticipation of the student art show and its audience. The show is expected to look good, reflecting on the artistic competence of the teacher. But the visible manifestation of art students’ creative problem solving can be messy and unpredictable. Choosing the safer route, many art teachers do the bulk of the decision-making themselves and encourage the students to be imitative, justifying this route as a way of boosting student confidence through attractive display and audience approval.
Dr. Nancy Lampert of Virginia Commonwealth University writes and teaches about critical thinking and art education. Her background as a professional artist, graphic designer, and art director informs her research. In 2011 she reported about an after school art program she and her graduate students designed and implemented to help children of low income families gain confidence and skill in art problem solving. Integrated pre- and post-tests showed a significant increase in students’ critical thinking performance. Her narrative of the progress students made described the struggle and discomfort students felt as they approached unfamiliar art problems, moving between creative and critical thought processes. The characteristics of the program that produced these results are commonly found in rigorous art education programs. Three components comprised the program model:
Lampert’s description of the art program pedagogy also may be familiar to art teachers interested in developing students’ critical thinking:
Lampert suggests that by empowering students to think for themselves, art programming with these components and processes may result in measurable growth in critical thinking skills. She anticipates that more empirical studies like hers are needed in order to demonstrate a generalizable effect. The implication of such research may be that similar art programming can be used as a way to teach critical thinking in school.
What Lampert reports in her article about “inquiry-based” art education looks a lot like what was described as “serious art education” by Lois Hetland in the first edition (2007) of Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Art Education. It is also recognizable in the 2015 National Core Art Standards and associated Model Cornerstones Assessments. Both of these resources have had a significant impact on art education in the United States, codifying high expectations for critical thinking in art class.
This type of art education may be one of several much needed opportunities for students to flex their reflective, evaluative, and creative thinking skills in school. Uniquely, however, visual art education also may help students to maintain, despite the tendency of school to erode it, a connection with the sensory world, perceived directly, unmediated by symbols systems of words and numbers. This connection involves observation and aesthetic awareness. More common in artistic thinking than in purely intellectual activities, metaperception parallels metacognition (Haroutounian, 2017). Students who are comfortable following set paths and discovering a predetermined correct answer may initially feel discomfort in a rigorous art program, as may those for whom words and numbers have become a comfortable insulator against the ambiguity and relativity of aesthetics and sensory perception. Nonetheless, both ways of stretching will help them grow into flexible, impactful citizens of the 21st century.
Ennis, R.H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In J.B. Baron & R.J. Sternberg (Eds.), Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice (pp. 9-26). New York: W.H. Freeman.
Haroutounian, J. (2017). Artistic ways of knowing in gifted education: Encouraging every student to think like an artist. Roeper Review, 39(1).
Hetland, L. (2007). Studio thinking : The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Lampert, N. (2011). A study of an after-school art programme and critical thinking. International Journal of Education through Art, 7(1), 55-67.
National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (2015) National Core Arts Standards. Rights Administered by the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education. Dover, DE, www.nationalartsstandards.org all rights reserved.
By Steve Heil, NBCT E/MC Art, NMAEA Middle School Director
Professional educators strive to meet needs, but often we think of needs as deficits in skill or knowledge, gaps to repair or weaknesses to shore up. Less common is the sense of a child’s need for help to develop high potential into talent. Without help, research shows that just doesn’t happen.
The greater a student’s potential in any area, the greater the need for teachers to help. Consider students with high potential in visual art. Think of one of your best art students ever. At what point did school begin to fully meet his or her art education needs?
For many high ability visual artists, their first real challenge comes in the advanced art class in high school, but it is only the beginning of what’s needed to propel them forward. And waiting this long to meet the need for appropriate challenge can be problematic. This particular realization is linked to the broad shift in thinking about school, evident in the Every Student Succeeds Act and in the waves of policy that are now eddying outward from it: All students have a right to be challenged in every class.
We want to begin to meet their needs as soon as possible. Also, while differentiating for the students with the highest potential, we strengthen our art program for all students and better meet our professional goals. Here are a five guidelines with specific examples to develop your students’ visual art potential into talent:
Nurture a positive identity as a visual artist. High ability visual art students can feel different from others in negative ways if not supported. Define artists by their practices and behaviors, such as those found in the Studio Thinking Framework, and the National Core Art Anchor Standards, and help all students see the connection between their own artistic behaviors and their identities as artists. Keep records of the developing behaviors, too, using individual student folders, a customized, artistic traits and behaviors-based gradebook, or tech tools like ClassDojo. Even the youngest children will benefit from specific teacher feedback that helps them recognize in themselves the traits of an artist. An example of this type of feedback would be: “I like the way you have been improving this project over several class periods. That is the endurance a professional artist needs to meet difficult challenges.”
Provide opportunities at all ages for intellectual independence as an artist. Many young artists benefit from early exposure to creative production, not just imitation, exercising their problem-finding skills, not just problem-solving. Well-planned portfolio assessment for all students, for example, can make room for student voice and choice, allowing students to find unexpected ways to meet course learning objectives. Two pedagogies that promote problem finding include thematic learning around big ideas and a choice-based art studio, recently summarized by Leslie Gates in the March, 2016 issue of NAEA’s Professional Journal, Art Education.
Provide opportunities to learn alongside other high ability visual artists. Similar ability grouping benefits students with high potential, especially when collaborating on a project that demands from each student the same type of input. To put this less familiar approach in context, consider school sports as a prime example of talent development common in US schools, assembling the most capable players on one team, giving them opportunity to motivate and inspire each other as well as their cheering fans. Imagine a crowd of fans supporting your highest ability young artists, and what impact that might have on their growing talent. That’s the power of ability grouping.
Provide vision and a path. Help young artists imagine a career in visual arts and show what steps to take toward that career. Make career investigations a regular part of your art program in order to show the diverse pathways and destinations in the field. Visual artists work for large companies, small companies, and independently. Some manage personnel. Some do research. They may work with computers, makeup, fabric, steel, or paint. Some build businesses of their own, while some work for others and earn pensions. Some work on one long-term project, while others meet monthly deadlines or produce singular, unique events or performances. There is a high demand for a wide variety of visual arts professionals in the 21st century.
Mentor for emotional support and insider knowledge. Professionals in any domain understand how to behave and how to negotiate professional successes, relationships, and setbacks, all of which young visual art professionals will need to learn. If at all possible, set up a mentorship program for young visual artists. Those who learn the unwritten rules and develop appropriate attitudes early are at an advantage in developing their talent. It may be that you are in a position to train students yourself in many of the psycho-social skills needed to succeed, including collaborating with others on design, dealing with deadlines, using critique constructively, staying focused on a goal and persisting, communicating well, and developing charisma. The more sure a student is of their passion for visual art, the sooner they need to forge connections with mentors in the field.
Where student needs are too much for us to accommodate in the classroom, let that be the starting place for advocating for their needs beyond the general provisions at school. By recognizing and documenting our students’ needs, we can begin to stretch our programs in exciting new ways.
Gates, Leslie. (2016, March 3). “Rethinking Art Education Practice One Choice at a Time.” Art Education. http://doi.org/10.1080/00043125.2016.1141646
McCarthy, John. (2016, January 27). “Timely Feedback: Now or Never.” Online at Edutopia.org. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/timely-feedback-now-or-never-john-mccarthy
Hetland, Lois, Winner, Ellen, Veenema, Shirley and Sheridan, Kimberly M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. Teachers College Press, NY.
Saraniero, Patti. (Online July, 2016). Portfolios: Assessment Across the Arts, An introduction for arts educators to portfolio assessment. Online at Kennedy Center ARTSEDGE https://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/supporting-individual-needs/portfolios-assessment-through-the-arts
State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE). (2014). National Core Arts Standards. Palmyra, PA. http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/
Subotnik, Rena F, Olszewski-Kubilius, P., and Worrell, Frank C. (2011) Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science. Online at https://www.apa.org/ed/schools/gifted/rethinking-giftedness.pdf
Subotnik, Rena F. (2010). Mentoring for Talent Development, Creativity, Social Skills, and Insider Knowledge: The APA Catalyst Program. pp. 714-739, Journal of Advanced Academics, Volume 21, No. 4. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ906119.pdf
Here are some FREE opportunities to attend the ART Santa Fe 2016 Contemporary Art Show and the International Folk Art market.
1. If you are going to be in Santa Fe July 7-10, you may want to attend this show. Click this link for FREE tickets! https://asf16.eventbrite.com/?access=ASF16VIP
ART SANTA FE 2016 Contemporary Art Show
Santa Fe Convention Center
201 W. Marcy
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 5:00 PM - Sunday, July 10, 2016 at 5:00 PM (MDT)
Art Santa Fe 2016 will present its sixteenth edition of the show. This year's event will feature a wide range of exhibitors from around the world, bringing some of the most intriguing artists to Santa Fe. In addition, the show will feature leading local galleries, artists and art institutions.
2. International Folk Art Market, FREE admission on Sunday, July 10!
Information from Trina Harlow, IFAA Education Outreach Coordinator:
1) Free Ticket for Teachers: In this email please find an attached form which you can distribute to the NMAEA members for free admission on Sunday, July 10th at Market. New this year, teachers will need to show their school ID at the VIP Tent as they turn in the attached form and get their free access to the Market. Children 16 and under are free; anyone 17 and over in their group can buy a ticket for $15 at the market entrance. This information is on the form. Additionally, could you please ask all of your members to forward the form to their school and school district secretaries, and ask them to forward to all faculty and staff in their school or district? We would appreciate your assistance in helping us get these distributed. The form is very specific, so I won't duplicate the information here. Click here to download FORM.
2)Volunteer Opportunity: If any of your members would be available to help me with some educational outreach workshops I am doing with Rio Arriba Boys and Girls Club in 6 different towns north of Santa Fe on June 28, 29, and 30th please have them email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be doing a two hour workshop each morning and each afternoon at various community buildings or schools in Dixon, Abiquiu, and four other towns. The workshop is called "Amulets, Alpacas, and Arpilleras." We will be making Tibetan amulets and as time allows, children and youth will have opportunity to make a Bolivian alpaca sculpture and/or a Chilean arpillera. They could meet me at the location or ride out with me from Santa Fe. I will be driving a Kansas State University suburban so will have plenty of room. I need about two more volunteers at each of the workshops on those days and they could do a whole day or half day. Please have members who would enjoy volunteering for Market in this way email me at email@example.com. Additionally, I can provide a professional development certificate for any volunteers.
3) Ed Outreach Team: Finally, I am exploring putting together an ed outreach art team that would go to various non-profit childrens' and youth organizations throughout the year to do workshops. If any members would be interested in being on this volunteer team in an effort to expand the meaningful work of the Alliance is supporting artists from around the world, they can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I believe we would have a training on a Saturday morning in Santa Fe and then as groups book workshops I would try to schedule them with this team of assembled art teacher volunteers. Again, this is only in the exploratory phase right now and I am curious if any members would be interested. I could also provide a professional development certificate for this experience and could also possibly provide college course credit for teachers who need it for licensure purposes.
Tammy Crespin, NMAEA President
This blog will encompass all things relating to art education such as trends, lesson ideas, resources, and much more! If you'd like to see a particular topic here or would like to write a blog post, please send me an email.
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New Mexico Art Education Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. NMAEA P.O. Box 10037, Albuquerque, NM 87184-0037