Saturday, September 28, 2013

A study of an after-school art programme and critical thinking

Lampert, N. (2011). A study of an after-school art programme and critical thinking. International Journal Of Education Through Art, 7(1), 55-67.

This article is very interesting to me, because I have been trying to introduce Project Based Learning in Tijuana, Mexico, and it has been hard for me explaining that a Project is not just a craft. Teachers seem to believe that they can design a project based on what they think students must learn and mix a craft and an exhibition in there, but sometimes the projects designed are not meaningful to the students, and they are not motivated. As I read this article I was able to think of strategies for teachers to link art to critical thinking, thus making the projects meaningful and important.
The article describes a study done in a community arts programme designed to enhance critical thinking skills in children by engaging them in enquiry-based art lessons. Ten urban elementary children participated in the 12 week study. Eight undergraduate students enrolled to be part of the programme. All of them had worked with children before and all had interest in serving their community. The children were assessed in their critical thinking skills two times, at the beginning and end of the study. The results of the test showed significant increase in the children´s average critical thinking from the pre-test to the post-tests.
I found the definition of enquiry-based or open-ended lessons very useful. The author says they are "classroom activities that require students to solve problems and answer questions that have more than one possible resolution" (p. 56). I think that if teachers who are new to project based learning focus on this kind of classes, they will be able to reach more useful and meaningful results.
The programme lasted twelve weeks, two afternoons a week, for one and a half hour sessions. It had three components: open ended, enquiry-based artmaking lessons; the children had time to talk about artwork with the group; the atmosphere in the classroom was friendly and welcoming (p. 57). These components seem to me like a recipe for success. If any class was planned this way, there is a guarantee that it would be interesting, motivating for students and reflective.
The undergraduates showed the children a variety of cultural examples when introducing lessons, but they did not suggested that they imitate the examples. They encouraged the children to develop their own personal visual expressions. I have learned at HTH that having models and examples prior to working is very useful because it gives students a guide and it motivates them to focus on their own work, without wasting time finding out what is expected of them.
At the beginning of each lesson, the undergraduates would show PowerPoint presentations with artwork from several artists and "the children interpreted what they saw and explained it to the group, as a form of critical enquiry. Also, for most lessons the children completed worksheets prior to artmaking. For these worksheets students sketched or listed ideas for their art prior to creating it" (p. 57) I believe that brainstorming before starting is key to creating true work. When it comes from reflection, it shows the person´s true identity and it becomes important, meaningful and intrinsically motivating.
The author gives a synopsis of the first two lesson plans, their description and examples of the children’s works, general thoughts about the experience, and summaries of the undergraduates’ written reflections of what they thought, observed and heard in the community art classroom (p. 58-62). The synopsis was very detailed and included pictures and dialogues from the classes. This was very helpful for me to understand how the mood and feel of the lessons was.
It also included an explanation on how the discussion of the art pieces was conducted. The author mentions Barrett´s (1997) three critical enquiry questions about art: What do I see? What is the artwork about? How do I know? I find these questions very appropriate to use with people of any age, from kindergarteners to adults.
“…for the group discussions about the children’s artwork, a child would get in front of the group with his or her work, and often we would only need to ask, ‘What do you see?’ and the children were off and running – eager to have a chance to talk about what they saw in the artwork and what it meant. Sometimes the young students talked over one another, and sometimes they joked rather than give worthwhile interpretations of the piece, but for the most part, we had enlightening discussions with the group.” (p. 60)
“Our understanding of the boy’s art deepened through the group’s critical analysis of it. This was true with most of the children’s boxes.” (p.60)
“I hoped that the mixed signals they got would impress upon the children that things are not always as they appear, and that people often see the same thing in different ways. In other words, I hoped that we were opening the children’s minds to think critically.” (p.60)
“Through the course of the programme, we saw a steady increase in the children’s ability to communicate their ideas with words and images. And as the children learned more about themselves, we learned more about the children.” (p. 63)
“…by the end of the programme the children were far more comfortable with problem solving and analysis when it came to choosing and discussing images that were representations of their identities.” (p. 64)
“…amongst the teaching of manual skills, formal elements, and the various other necessary components of most US public school elementary art curricula, units that
are interlaced with enquiry may sharpen students’ critical thinking skills…” (p.64)
This article was both inspiring and helpful for me.   I had not been able to express to teachers what a good project, a good class or even a good discussion should look like, and the article gave me a lot of ideas on how to introduce critical thinking and a reflective environment in the classroom.  I personally have been very interested in introducing art in schools, but had not found a way to do it in a meaningful way.  The ideas given by the author are very detailed. 
The only thing I would say is that I was left wondering a bit about the testing and the results.  Te author mentions that they used the Test of Critical Thinking (Bracken et al. 2003a), which is free and available to the public. I would have liked to see more of the results of the children both in the pre-test and the post-test since only one graphic was presented to explain their improvement on critical thinking.  She does mention that future research might be necessary and it would replicate the study with a control group. 
Cited sources of interest:
Barrett, T. (1997), Talking about Student Art, Worcester, MA: Davis Publications,
Bracken, B., Bai, W., Fithian, E., Lamprect, M. S., Little, C. and Quek, C. (2003a), Test of Critical Thinking, Williamsburg, VA: The Center for Gifted Education, College of  William and Mary.
Bracken, B., Bai, W., Fithian, E., Lamprect, M. S., Little, C. and Quek, C. (2003b), Test of Critical Thinking: Examiner’s Manual, Williamsburg, VA: The Center for Gifted Education, College of William and Mary.
Danko-McGhee, K. and Slutsky, R. (2007), ‘Floating Experiences: Empowering Early Childhood Educators to Encourage Critical Thinking in Young Children Though the Visual Arts’, Art Education, 60: 2, pp. 13–16.
Lampert, N. (2006a), ‘Enhancing Critical Thinking with Aesthetic, Critical, and Creative Inquiry’, Art Education, 59: 5, pp. 46–50.
Walker, S. (2001), Teaching Meaning in Artmaking, Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.

1 comment:

Alex Owens said...


I had come across this article too in my research! Good pick and I think it is a fitting choice considering your research interest and school. I also appreciated your reflection of your fellow teachers and their misconceptions about PBL. I shared many of those before I came to HTH. I believed that PBL meant to just make some art project or craft that served as an extension of the lesson I "taught"- ie stood up in front of the students and talked. However, as I too m discovering here, PBL learning is a much more thorough design that replaces those lectures with hands on project. A project should not only be a final assessment, but it should be the driving force behind the class and curriculum. In that effort, students will gain a deeper sense of the content, but also learn skills that are vital to "the real world"- collaboration, critical thinking, self-discipline. I think that was apparent in the quote you choose- "Our understanding of the boy’s art deepened through the group’s critical analysis of it. This was true with most of the children’s boxes" PBL is not arts and crafts- most of the time the final project is not that important. Instead, it is the process that is vital to any good learning environment, especially with PBL. It may be messy and chaotic, but, much like a good art class, that process of collective making only encourages creative and critical thinkers.

I am so interested in your efforts to bring PBL to your school in TJ and look forward to our site visits!

Post a Comment