Visual arts: Habits of mind that encourage higher-level thinking skills


May 4, 2015 by HCDE Communications

Visual arts: Habits of mind that encourage higher-level thinking skillsThe role of visual arts in developing children’s higher-level thinking skills is often overlooked. In the age of testing, it almost seems like visual arts is the lost art as schools continue to lose art instructors.

Visual arts teachers teach the craft of the visual arts. These include technique, tools and their use. However, they also introduce students to a new world—the visual culture of galleries and art museums. Most importantly, they cultivate cognitive and attitudinal dispositions central to learning.

An article in last week’s Houston Chronicle outlined the need to think outside the box versus memorizing facts (Missing link: Restoring arts education could make a big difference when it comes to testing.)

The editorial says this: “…Texas Region 4 middle school students completing more arts courses passed the STAAR history test at a 16.6 percent higher rate than those completing fewer arts courses.  These double-digit higher pass rates held up for the science, reading and math assessments, according to Texas Cultural Trust, a statewide nonprofit.”

To argue the case for introducing the visual arts back into schools, maybe it’s important to point out the benefits.

Visual arts researchers have identified 8 Studio Habits of Mind which go hand-in-hand with visual arts. They are developing craft, engaging and persisting, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, stretching and exploring, and understanding the art world.

In particular, the researchers say that stretching and exploring allows students to learn to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process and learn to judge one’s own work and working process and the work of others.

Sounds like higher-order thinking skills to me.

The Houston Chronicle editorial mentions that 86 percent of principals cite lack of funding as a barrier to arts education. Hopefully, principals can bring more visual arts instructors and organizations back into our schoolhouses to realize and actualize the benefits of visual arts learning. They could, if education leaders would commit to making visual arts a priority.


Studio Thinking:  The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education (2007, Teachers College, Columbia University), written by five arts educators (Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, Kimberly M. Sheridan and David Perkins) who received funding from the J. Paul Getty Trust to conduct research on visual arts in secondary schools.  Their goal was to map visual arts teaching in ways that teachers and researchers would see more clearly what visual arts learning looks like.

Houston Chronicle editorial (May 1, 2015) Missing Link: Restoring arts education could make a big difference when it comes to testing

About the Blogger:
Mary Lynn Johnson is curriculum director for social studies at HCDE. The veteran Spring ISD teacher, former assistant principal and program director follows her passion to share the educational advantages of learning about the past. Her first love is teaching social studies and turning students and teachers on to history, geography, government and economics. Her zeal as a social studies leader earned her the 2012 Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association “Supervisor of the Year” award.

One thought on “Visual arts: Habits of mind that encourage higher-level thinking skills

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