By Ashley Weinard, NCMA Educator and Project Manager, The Big Picture
Noise, movement, mess, mistakes. Not the first words that come to mind when you think of an ideal learning environment. How about engagement, persistence, exploration, expression? Is that more like it? All these words, predictable or not, describe learning in the art classroom on any given day.
Yes, it’s noisy. Students and teachers talk, reflect, share, collaborate. Kids move about as they experiment with materials and different vantage points, test new solutions and peer over their friend’s shoulder. Teachers circulate from child to child, pointing out strengths, reflecting on challenges, prompting new directions.
Mess? Experimentation and exploration are always messy.
And, most importantly, mistakes happen in the art studio…often. As a Lee County middle school student once said, the most important thing he learned in his art class was that a mistake can change into a discovery. In learning theory terms, that’s called persistence, resilience, self-efficacy. We call it life-changing.
In their book Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, Project Zero researchers Lois Hetlund and Ellen Winner spell out how the structure and activity of studio instruction are inherently unique and beneficial to all types of learners. What looks like chaos to some observers is actually organized instruction that falls into three formal categories: Demonstration-Lecture, Students-at-Work, and Critique. The art teacher plays the role of facilitator, demonstrator, mentor, coach, observer. The noisy, messy movement you see are students engaged and actively exercising 8 specific habits of mind:
Engaging and persisting
Stretching and exploring
Understanding the art world
Each of these studio habits has a place outside the art classroom–in the science lab, writing class, on the playground, a social studies field trip, the real world. They can be adapted to fit a non-studio environment. Or, the non-art classroom can be altered to look more like the studio. If you teach something other than art, consider how you might do some stretching and exploring of your own. Integrate one of these studio habits or structures into your everyday and discover the difference.
Art teachers, are your students practicing each of these habits? Are you? Envision and create a studio where these habits–along with all their cognitive and social benefits–are boldly visible to those peering in from the outside. You might be lucky enough to have someone stop in to ask, “How can you work in all this chaos?” With a smile you can say, “Just fine. Come see why….”