by Jihane Mossalim
The way we learn things, how we learn things, what works and what doesn’t has never been quite straight forward; everyone is different and everyone learns differently. For many years education experts have experimented with different ways of teaching, trying to find the best method to educate students. With classes more and more diverse, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the perfect formula. Perhaps, it doesn’t exist. But what if we tried to work with what we already know, what we already have access to? What if all along, Art was the answer? As an art educator, I’m definitely biased towards the benefits of educating through art and with art. But I can’t hide my excitement when I see that more and more schools are using art as an everyday tool to teach a multitude of subjects. Things are looking up for art and it might be in the most unexpected ways.
A group of elementary school children are sitting on the ground, looking at a wall projection of The Morning Wash by Théodule Ribot. They each have a paper copy of the same artwork in their hands. They are asked 3 subsequent questions: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? The teacher takes the time to really stop at each question and let the students answer them one by one. For ‘What do you see’, the students quickly take turns to describe different areas of the painting. They talk about the colors, the characters, what they are doing, etc. For the second question ‘What do you think’, the children are encouraged to analyse the painting and think of what is actually
happening; why are the characters doing The Morning Wash,
what they do, what could be the story Théodore Ribot, France 1823
behind it, what historical era do they
think it is taking place in, why etc. This second question requires quite a bit more thinking and usually, students take a lot more time answering it. And that’s a good sign; they are thinking and analyzing the image. For the last question ‘What do you wonder?’ students voice their own questions in regards to the artwork presented. According to Ritchhart et al. (2011) “[…] looking carefully to notice and fully describe what one sees can be an extremely complex and engaging task. Such close observation is at the heart of both science and art. Analysis and speculation depend on careful noticing” (p.6).
This ‘See/Think/Wonder’ or ‘artful’ thinking routine is meant to be practice on a regular basis and can be used at the beginning of any topics, in any subjects areas. For example, Théodore Ribot’s The Morning Wash could be presented at the beginning of a history or sociology lesson where the theme of “family” is explored as this painting portrays a scene from an orphanage in the early 1800’s. Jan Brueghel the Elder’s painting
“A Paradise Landscape with Animals and Birds in a Wooden Glade by a Pond” could introduce an ecology lesson where the teacher would use this painting as a catalyst for the students to think about and visualize the role of every species in the food chain. There is so much art out there that a teacher can readily find an art piece and make it work with any lessons they wish to teach. The possibilities are endless and imagination really is, the only limit. The National Gallery of Art U.S.A. and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts are two great online resources to find artworks (and even lessons) to bring into the classrooms. The education section on
the National Gallery of Art website,
A Paradise Landscape with Animals and provides an excellent selection of
Birds in a Wooden Glade by a Pond, artwork, which can be downloaded
Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1617 as high resolution images, lessons and
activities. The EducArt program from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is an amazing online navigation platform where one can explore artworks through different themes such as memory, family, light, etc. It also provides lessons and activity ideas for educators.
Using art to introduce critical thinking is becoming increasingly present in the classrooms and its benefits on students are becoming more and more visible. Shari Tishman, Principal Researcher of Artful Thinking and Senior Research Associate for Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero believes that:
The reason we teach thinking is because we want to prepare young people to think about issues and topics, and experiences in the real world. And the world is a really complex place but it’s also a very vivid place and, in a sense, works of art have those qualities. They’re really complex. They reveal a lot as you look closely at them. They’re multilayered and they have many dimensions. Like the real world, they are open to multiple interpretations, multiple viewpoints and bringing different viewpoints and perspectives to bear on a work of art often makes it richer just as, I think that’s the case in what we call real life as well.
Artful Thinking allows art to become the mind trigger of critical thinking. Critical thinking is used all the time in the scientific world; observing, questioning, making hypothesis, making predictions and testing the predictions are often the norm of a scientific approach to a problem. That very approach to problem solving has now leaped into a multitude of fields as educators are highly encouraged to implement critical thinking into their classrooms. As Murawski (2014) states: “Typically, students who implement critical thinking skills approach the courseware in a more thoughtful and effective manner, ask more challenging questions and participate in the learning process more intensely. This critical thinking process endures beyond the classroom and into the workplace’’ (p.27). It is my belief that critical thinking through Artful Thinking is the first step to opening the door to a multitude of subjects and possibilities. It paves the way to the naturally inquisitive mind and allows it to wonder through the paths of knowledge.
Murawski, L.M. (2014) Critical Thinking in the Classroom…and Beyond. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 10 (1), p27.
Ritchhart et al. (2011) Unpacking Thinking. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence.
Tishman, S. (2020) Why use art to develop thinking? Teaching Critical Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art EdX class.