Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education

Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education by Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberly M. Sheridan (Teachers College Press, 128 pages, $24.95)

Studio Thinking looks inside the “studio classrooms” of five visual arts teachers (including Beth Balliro, Kathleen Marsh, and Mickey Telemaque of CES Mentor School Boston Arts Academy) to discover that arts education benefits may not be what we have been told recently. In reaction to the increasingly weakened position of the arts in our schools, many arts education advocates have posited that the arts are important because they improve student performance in those subjects heavily scrutinized by No Child Left Behind. The authors argue that justifying the arts via this dubious and secondary utilitarian value is likely to be ineffective and frustrating.

Studio Thinking provides a framework for the value of arts education itself. When two of the authors recently published a study concluding that arts classes do not necessarily improve students’ overall academic performance, the backlash was bitter. With Studio Thinking, these researchers maintain and expand upon their original thesis, stating that depending on content and teaching methods, students can develop “Studio Habits of Mind” – such as the habits of engaging and persisting, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, and more – that are likely to transfer to other areas of their lives and academic achievements. Additionally, Studio Thinking sets the stage for studies on the transfer of arts learning to other disciplines, studies that would contribute to a meaningful case for the value of arts education.

Studio Thinking is not a recipe for teaching a studio class. Rather, it provides a set of lenses, “Studio Structures,” that support constructivist teaching in any discipline in which instruction keeps content-area work at the center of student learning. While the authors built this framework by looking closely at the practices of five high school visual arts teachers, the resulting description of studio classrooms is valuable to educators at all grade levels, disciplines, and contexts.

Kyle Meador is a School Development Program Associate at CES.