Artful Thinking Palette

“I will incorporate the routines we practiced into my science lessons. I plan to use art as a basis for teaching the routines because it will be a new context for their thinking in my class.”

-Science educator who participated in an Artful Thinking training at the Crow Collection of Asian Art

Strolling along familiar streets, I suddenly saw intricate molding and stained glass windows that seemed to appear out of thin air. Knowing that theory was unlikely, I searched for another answer when it hit me. My observation skills had grown significantly since I started teaching using Harvard Project Zero’s Artful Thinking method. Teaching using Artful Thinking had not only deepened the thinking of the students, but mine as well.
Artful Thinking is a methodology developed by Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero. Teachers of any subject and parents can use Artful Thinking routines. Routines provide a structure to use while discussing a work of art. These discussions tap into the following “thinking dispositions:” questioning and investigating, comparing and connecting, exploring viewpoints, observing and describing, finding complexity, and reasoning. Since these dispositions are instrumental in scientific thought, Artful Thinking is the perfect way to transform STEM into STEAM. But fear not, you don’t need to know a lot about art or art history in order to use this methodology!
One of the main goals of Artful Thinking is metacognition, or thinking about thinking. By repeatedly participating in routines, students will start to realize when they are accessing each thinking disposition, therefore being able to make that kind of thinking happen in their everyday lives.

CArmbruster tour
Carolyn with students at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, TX

Let’s talk through the routine See/Think/Wonder in order to better understand the structure and questioning that makes up an Artful Thinking routine. An educator using this routine would ask the following three questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What does it make you think?
  • What does it make you wonder?

These questions prompt participants to use the thinking dispositions observing and describing, reasoning, and questioning and investigating.
The Artful Thinking methodology is extremely learner-driven, and educators using Artful Thinking routines take on the role of facilitator. It is much less about the information you have to pass along and much more about how you can guide people to think critically and creatively for themselves.
It can be daunting to get a group of students to participate in a discussion. Below are some tips to make sure you create an open and comfortable environment where everyone’s contributions are valued. Once everyone feels valued, they will not be afraid to speak up, and you will have a more vibrant discussion.

CArmbruster PD_2
Carolyn leading a teacher professional development session on Artful Thinking at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, TX

Use neutral and open paraphrase

For example, if there is a shape in a work of art that one student thinks is a dog, paraphrase as follows:
Student: “I see a dog.”
Facilitator: “You see a shape that reminds you of a dog.”
If you say the student is right, no other students would offer other thoughts on that point because they would think you already found the “right” answer. If you say the student is wrong, other students might think twice before contributing because they think they’ll be shot down. Instead, paraphrase neutrally leaving the possibilities open.

What makes you say that?

Ask students to support their assertions and conclusions with visual evidence by asking the question “What do you see that makes you say that?” This fosters critical thinking and is another way of validating a response without saying it is “right” or “wrong.” If the student can tell the facilitator why they drew their conclusion, the student is thinking critically and benefiting from the learning experience.

Link comments

Point out links between student comments, whether that is two students having a similar theory or two students interpreting the same thing differently. Showing that students can see the same thing and come up with two different interpretations can help demonstrate that there are a variety of valuable perspectives both in the classroom and in the world.

Make thinking visible

When the educator writes down student comments for the whole class to see, two things happen. Students feel valued (“The teacher wrote down what I said!”) and the class sees what the thinking dispositions look like (ex: the form of an observation as opposed to a question), therefore being able to replicate them on their own.

Information is neither first nor last

If you tell the students about the work of art first, they will not think as much for themselves, and they will not be as curious. Always start with observation—letting the students look quietly. After they have thought about the work for themselves through the course of the routine, add information. This can be as simple as reading some wall text at a museum or adding contextual information you think they would be interested in. After providing information, ask “What new thoughts do you have about this work?”

Think, Pair, Share

This format allows students to think for themselves, discuss with a partner, and then share to a wider group such as the whole class. The partner discussion is often the difference between shy students participating or holding back. By talking things through with a partner, they can sort out their thoughts and gain the confidence to contribute to a larger group discussion.
Art and science are often perceived as antithetical, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Science goes into art-making, and thinking about works of art can help people hone the skills they need to be successful scientists and humans. Artful Thinking can be the link that transforms STEM into STEAM.
Here is an image to practice an artful thinking routine right now.  What do you see, think, and wonder?

Jade mountain China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 18th century Nephrite Crow Collection of Asian Art 1960.36

I hope to see you soon at the Crow Collection for an Artful Thinking workshop or tour! Find more information below.
The Crow Collection of Asian Art offers 2.5 hour workshops in Artful Thinking to groups of up to 30 teachers or parents. Please contact education@crowcollection.org if you are interested in signing up a group of teachers or parents for an Artful Thinking workshop. For more information on Educator Programs at the Crow Collection, visit: http://crowcollection.org/learn/educators/
The Crow Collection also offers free school tours! The Art & Thinking tour uses Artful Thinking in the galleries. To learn more about tours, visit this webpage: http://crowcollection.org/learn/school-tours/
To learn more about Artful Thinking, read this short article: Tishman_Artful Thinking
To try the See/Think/Wonder routine, read this:

About Carolyn:

CA Educator Photo no signCarolyn Armbruster is the Educator Programs Manager at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas. She has a Masters in Teaching in Museum Education from The George Washington University and a Bachelors in Art History and French from the College of William & Mary. While living in D.C., she taught and designed education programs at the National Gallery of Art, The Phillips Collection, the National Building Museum, and the Spy Museum. She recently moved back home to Dallas to be near family and enjoys pottery classes and taking advantage of museums and cultural institutions with her husband, sister, and parents.

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Dr. Koshi Dhingra has dedicated her career to STEM education and is passionate about having every child live up to their potential. Seeing a lack of girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM programs, she founded talkSTEM in 2015 to address the imbalance. She has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, has years of experience teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs, and has held leadership roles in universities. She advises and collaborates with a broad range of educational institutions globally. Dr. Dhingra began her career teaching science in middle and high school in New York. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs.


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