How do students develop in their understanding of the Studio Habits of Mind?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Studio Habits of Mind and how students’ understanding of these thinking dispositions might develop throughout their years in our primary school visual art classroom. I’ve been asking myself questions like, “What might envision look like in kindergarten? In grade three? In grade five?” How does a learner’s mindset grow through stretch and explore? For example, stretch and explore in kindergarten might sound like, “I can try different ways to make art.” By grade five, it might sound like, “I can start to make intentional choices about how I want to take my art making further.” 

In my curriculum planning, I’m mapping out how I imagine students might progress in their understanding of the Studio Habits from one year level to the next (see PDF below). To create the mapping, I’ve used my own observations of students and my specific curriculum. For example in grade two, I know that we are planning an integrated project with the homeroom teachers and this project will involve a lot of student collaboration. Therefore, I expect this project to support students in the “communities” domain of understand art worlds and how people connect through collaboration. I’ve mapped that into grade two. 

Students within the same grade level will have varying depths of (and constantly changing) understanding regarding these thinking dispositions. The purpose of the mapping is to be more intentional in my lesson planning, demonstrations and reflections, using specific language to name the learning and to have an idea of where we might be going next in our understanding. 

I thought I would share my thoughts so far in the process. Thank you for taking a look. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome and helpful! 

If you’re not very familiar with the Studio Habits of Mind, I highly recommend:

Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K.M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press

Hogan, J., Hetland, L., Jaquith, D.B., Winner, E., (2018). Studio Thinking from the Start: The K-8 Art Educator’s Handbook. New York: Teachers College Press

The Studio Thinking website:
The Studio Thinking Project:

Bringing the Studio Habits of Mind to Life

When the book Studio Thinking was published in 2007, it had a profound effect on art education. One of the many benefits of the research was the naming of the Studio Habits of Mind. Art teachers began to organize around a common language to describe the thinking dispositions that students develop in visual art. As Ron Ritchhart says in Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform our Schools, noticing and naming our students’ thinking encourages them to exhibit more of those behaviors. 

Studio Thinking from the Start: The K–8 Art Educator’s Handbook brought the Studio Habits of Mind to the elementary art classroom. My copy of that book is marked with so many notes from cover to cover. One of my favorite sections in the book is about the art teacher Demetrius Fuller and how he created HoMies (from Habits of Mind). The word “homies” is slang for “our people”. The book describes how he uses stories and songs about the HoMie characters to illustrate the Studio Habits of Mind for his elementary students. It made so much sense to me. Our people definitely think in those ways! 

After reading that book, I immediately went to work creating my own HoMie characters (borrowing heavily from Fuller’s characters) to help my students understand the different thinking dispositions in the Studio Habits of Mind. Since my school started online in August 2020, I decided to partner with the art assistant to create a video using the HoMies and explicitly teach the Studio Habits of Mind. 

I hope you enjoy the video.

Tech used in the videoApple Clips for my own Animoji head, Prisma to convert my colored pencil drawings of HoMies into paintings, Google Slides for text animation, Quicktime to screen record the Google Slides, iMovie for editing.


Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sharidan, K.M. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press 

Hogan, J., Hetland, L., Jaquith, D.J., Winner, E., (2018). Studio Thinking from the Start: The K–8 Art Educator’s Handbook. New York: Teachers College Press 

Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform our Schools. John Wiley & Sons


Reaching out in a time of distancing

I was in New Zealand near the end of January for the Lunar New Year break, when I got the news that my school in Hong Kong was moving to online learning immediately after the holiday, due to concerns about the rapidly spreading virus that we all now know too well. My first thought was, Yikes!

Having taught in India for three years, I had experience switching overnight to a virtual school environment, due to frequent regional strikes. But those situations usually required only a day or two of online work and then we were back in the classroom. This news from Hong Kong was more unsettling to my confidence as a teacher. How was I going to reproduce our normal learner-centered, TAB-based*, collaborative, playful, messy and delightful elementary art classes online for an indefinite period of time?   

The long flight back to Hong Kong gave me a chance to reflect more on the situation. I needed to summon a spirit of hopefulness.

I asked myself, what if I look for some opportunities? What were some of the aspects of visual art learning that lend themselves well to an online platform (maybe even better than a face-to-face class)? 

Reaching out through video – Differentiation

As the days turned into weeks, one of my first realizations was the opportunity of video editing. Embracing iMovie, I noticed that I could easily make concise mini-lesson videos complete with warm messages, focused demonstrations, modeling of thinking, titles/subtitles, and summary instructions in audio and text. Students could watch the videos as many times as needed for clarification. I was developing strategies for differentiation while bringing more aspects of a face-to-face lesson online. Each week the end goal for the grade-level videos was that they were cheerful to watch, developmentally appropriate, focused on specific types of learning and easy to understand. I wanted to invite students into their own creativity, nudge their thinking, and set them up as independent artists with open-ended opportunities they could playfully explore using whatever materials they had available. 

Curiously, I later discovered another benefit to videos. When we briefly returned to face-to-face learning in Hong Kong at the end of the Spring semester, I was a bit frustrated, but not surprised, to witness that class discussions were challenging for one particular group who had struggled with this in the past. My experiment: I tried using the concise, differentiated video strategy with this grade level. I was delighted to see that it immediately worked for them! Four months of online learning had apparently conditioned students to attentively watch short mini-lesson videos, even face-to-face.  

Reaching out through Seesaw and Google Classroom – Connection

Another benefit of online learning was the weekly interaction with students via Seesaw and Google Classroom. Let’s face it, it is challenging to connect with every single student every week in a face-to-face environment. The online learning platform created an environment where all students got equal time for feedback. I’ll admit, it was tough to keep up with viewing and responding to every Seesaw and Google Classroom post, but the personal connection was worth the time investment each week. 

Reaching out to others – Understanding Art Worlds

Another opportunity I noticed was the unique platform to bring the art world to the students’ devices. I began exploring more artists with them and in more depth. We used Google Forms for Visual Thinking Routines about the artists. I gave students options to follow paths that interested them the most, to learn about techniques and artists that resonated with their own interests, favorite materials and skills. We developed our own artist community through voluntarily sharing work on Padlet. Curiously, the students instinctively adopted a positive tone in their feedback with each other.   

Over the summer it became apparent that we’d likely start the new school year online. An idea I had grew into two projects that I’d like to share, to illustrate how we can use this online situation to help students in their growing understanding of art worlds (one of the eight Studio Habits of Mind). 

It occurred to me that I am in contact with quite a lot of creative types – from traditional artists to architects and chefs. Why not reach out to a variety of these people and record some three-minute Zoom interviews? Would they be willing? It turns out that they were not only willing, but they expressed delight in being asked! Thus was born our artist interview series – Global Expressions! Each week I travel virtually with the students to a different part of the globe to meet an artist, talk with them briefly about their work and get some advice. So far, I’ve interviewed creative types in India, Hungary, China, Thailand, Canada, USA, Bhutan, Sudan, Uganda, Cambodia, Malaysia and the list continues to grow. You can check out a sample video below where I’m talking with my pastry chef and chocolatier friend, Sergio, about his mind-blowing edible chocolate sculptures. 

The second idea that grew out of my reflections over the summer was the idea of having some sort of an artist-in-residence. What if we could take a peek each week into the studio of an artist and follow, over time, what they are up to? Gratefully, I didn’t have to go any further than the art assistant at my school. She was thrilled that I asked her if she could film herself in the process of making some projects – any projects – each week. I take that raw video footage and edit/speed it up to create a unique glimpse into the life of an artist. The videos are simple with minimal explanation. They are meant to invite curiosity and inspiration. Additionally, since she works at the school, it brings another person from our school community to the forefront of our online learning.  You can check out a sample video below of Ms. Ayumi’s Atelier.  

I hope that the reflections I’ve shared might offer encouragement to find some of the positive things that can come from our circumstances. As one of my favorite educators, Rita Pierson, once said, “…and we teach anyway.” Art teachers, especially, are uniquely suited for problem solving. I look forward to the day when we are all back in class, sharing materials with dirty fingers and talking noisily about our discoveries. When that happens, I hope that I’ll remember some of the lessons I’ve learned from this time. Wishing all of you health and the joy of visual art learning. -Ron

I anticipate that some readers might be interested in having access to the video series Global Expressions or Ms. Ayumi’s Atelier, to share with their students. As part of my invitation, I only asked permission to show the videos for my own classes and here on my blog. My goal was an intimate series where artists felt comfortable and where they didn’t expect me to share with the whole world. I imagine you understand that approach. I’m posting the video samples here in the spirit of exchanging ideas and I encourage anyone who likes the idea to reach out to your own creative circle. A series on local artists would be as powerful as a global series and your students seeing you modeling how to talk with artists about their work would be influential and delightful.

*Teaching for Artistic Behavior

Online Learning for Art – Getting Started

I am a visual art teacher in the Primary Years Programme at an IB international school in Hong Kong. We are currently in week number six of online learning due to campus closure resulting from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) precautions. Since many other schools around the world are considering or already moving into online learning, I thought I would share some notes for getting started and a few takeaways from my own online experience so far, as an art teacher.

Getting Started

At my school, we are using our school blog sites to post lessons for all specialist teachers for grades pre-k through grade three. Students access our blog posts through their homeroom teacher’s site. We use Weebly to host our specialist blogs and homeroom sites. For grades four and five, we are using Google classroom. We use Vimeo for hosting original videos and use sites such as safeyoutube for sharing Youtube video links. 


My approach for online art lessons focuses on trying to best serve the student and family needs. 

Parents are suddenly in the role of teacher as they guide their primary-age children through all the details of their online learning lessons for every subject area, establishing routines, dealing with different ways of learning mathematics and other subjects, learning tech skills like posting to Seesaw, while many of them are also working full-time and supporting more than one child. Some of our families have been on the road since we started. Since we are an international school, we have families in a variety of time zones at the moment. Some students have only limited access to art making materials. It’s not an easy role for the parents or the students, so…

keep things simple

As often as I can, I make connections with what students are doing in the homeroom lessons.  

Assignments are open-ended and possible with a variety of materials. “The child is the artist.” For example in grade four: “While watching the video about the life and artwork of Alma Woodsey Thomas, notice how she used rhythm and color patterns in her paintings. For your assignment, create some artwork (2D or 3D) using any materials available and consider how you could use these concepts of rhythm or color pattern in your own piece.

Our specialist teachers post lessons once per week and recently started a “specialist day” on Tuesdays when primary students focus only on work from their specialist teachers. Homeroom teachers appreciate this because they use that day for planning and students love it because it’s “sickkkkk” as one grade five student responded. 

Our specialist team just moved into using a simple common structure. Each lesson has three very short parts:

WATCH (a video)

DO (an assignment)

POST (to Seesaw, Padlet, Google Classroom, etc.) 

That similar structure keeps things from being too wordy and allows parents to quickly scan an assignment for critical information. 

Stay Connected

I try to keep the videos short, friendly and sometimes humorous. 

I respond to every student’s art Seesaw or Google classroom assignment turned in with a specific comment about their work. 

I set up a pop-up art gallery through Padlet for each grade level to share artwork with their peers.

Padlet and Google Forms are great ways to get comments and insights from students. You can ask them thought-provoking questions and do visual thinking routines like see-think-wonder.

I add a storybook read-aloud video to my lessons each week (usually art related). I use the same read-aloud video with all grade levels for that week (stories like Ish or Art Dog).  

Our school uses Google Meet. Specialist teachers manage those meets every Tuesday (“specialist day”). It’s great to have a chance to chat with the students who are able to log in. Each grade level has their own separate meet and time schedule. The meet time is for checking in for understanding about assignments or for students who want to share things they have been working on. Two teachers are in every meet. Additionally, we record those sessions with a screen recording for child protection (Chrome extension Screencastify). 

We use parent surveys to ask about things such as the workload, organization, etc. 

Parents and students can email specialist teachers directly about their assignments, if they have any questions.   


If you are moving into school campus closure due to the coronavirus, there are a number of things that might affect your emotions, stress and energy levels. Read reputable websites that have information about the disease, instead of only relying on sensationalized news reports and Facebook posts. Some teachers mentioned to me that they feel a type of mourning over the loss of being able to teach their students in person. I’m a glass-half-full person and I’m looking for ways to make this a meaningful experience for students. It has definitely been a learning curve for me! 

After the first three weeks of online learning, I felt like my body was suffering from sitting all day instead of standing, missing the gym and other activities. I bought a yoga mat for home and now I’m more conscious of taking the stairs, hiking in nature, rowing and finding other ways to exercise. I’m limiting sweets, drinking mostly water and herbal tea, and eating healthy foods. It’s boring sometimes, but we need to keep our immune systems healthy. I’m reading things for enjoyment and staying connected to friends and family daily via social media.

Let’s Support Each Other

If you are just starting to use online learning with your art students, I wish you the very best. Let’s all keep sharing ideas and support each other through our professional learning networks in social media! 

Assessment-Capable Learners – Making Report Writing Easier and More Exciting

Recently one of my colleagues saw me sitting at a table writing end-of-the-semester assessment reports for the elementary Visual Arts students. “Listen to this,” I said, and proceeded to read to him a couple of the reports for the students.

“I think you’re the only teacher I know who enjoys writing assessment reports,” he commented with a laugh. “How do you collect this information?”

Like most teachers, I used to dread writing assessment reports. I used to ask myself how I could write so many reports and make them all sound different. And like some teachers, I sometimes copied and pasted a report from one student to another, rearranging a couple of sentences and being careful to change the name. Honestly, it wasn’t always easy to distinguish one student from another. 

Now I enjoy writing reports. Oh, it still takes a lot of time and patience to produce so many reports. That part continues to be a challenge. But the writing part – trying to compose something different for each student – is easier. The secret, I discovered, is to focus on developing assessment-capable learners in the classroom.

I know that I still have a long way to go to better support my students to be assessment capable learners, but, by targeting two key things, I’ve made report writing easier and, well, more exciting!


In order for students to be capable of assessing their own learning, it’s important for them to have regular times to reflect on their learning. They need time to talk about their learning with peers, to reflect on their process, and to explain their thinking for their projects. In our Visual Arts class, that is usually a brief partner share time to discuss the projects at the end of class. Since these students are often designing their own projects (alone or working collaboratively), they naturally discuss them with each other during the class, as well. Additionally, while they are working, I am circulating through the room and talking with them to ask about where they got their ideas, how they figured out how to do something, etc.   


Each semester, I take time to have a brief one-on-one interview with each student. While it’s challenging to work this out during class time, the benefits are invaluable. (In our school we’re fortunate to have homeroom teaching assistants who accompany the students to specialist classes.) I ask the students how the class is going for them. I ask them to tell me about their favorite project. I ask them about what they are getting better at. I ask them what they notice that shows them they are getting better. I ask them about what’s challenging. I ask them about how they deal with those challenges. And I ask them what’s next. While they talk, I take dictation. I probe their answers and get them to go deeper with their thinking by asking follow-up questions. 

Their answers from those interviews are a treasure of information about how the learners perceive their progress in the class, how they feel about things, what they enjoy the most and what they’d like to do next. Their answers are humbling and inspiring.


I’ll give a few examples from some of these elementary students this semester so that you can see what I mean:

“It’s a place where I can be myself,” one student recently mentioned about the Visual Art class. “I can create stories about my feelings and show them to others. I can talk with them about their ideas and feelings, too. I like all the things I make. They show me being me. When I am happy I make things that look happy. This semester, I learned that artwork can show how you feel.” – Grade 4 Student

“We make things we have never seen before by thinking how we make it. I imagine how to make different things. When it is done, we can see it and we will know something new in our brain.” – Kindergarten Student

“I like designing my own projects. I can create new things that can turn into something big. If I make something today with cardboard, then one day I can make things with other materials like wood and metal. No one is telling me what idea I’m supposed to do. Something will come up in my own mind, maybe something I’ve never done before.” – Grade 2 Student

“When I have an idea, I am excited about it. There are a lot of materials to make my own things. If I do my own thinking it helps me, not only in Art, but in other subjects. I know how to focus on what I have to do. In art, if I make a mistake I can always find a solution. In Physical Education we had to design a game and it was easy to focus and design it because I do that in art!” – Grade 5 Student

When I make a mistake, maybe I learn something…I got the idea to solve a problem. My creative thinking got better because I made my own project.” – Grade 1 Student

“I feel like I am in the kitchen mixing different things together to make brand new things. I am using my creativity. I am using my imagination. When you are creative, it helps you discover new ideas. I have been trying to express myself more because I think it brings more joy to the picture instead of copying something.” – Grade 3 Student

“I feel very free to do anything I want. I can decide what to do. I feel more confident. I like to go back and look at the things I made before and that gives me ideas.” – Grade 2 Student

“I like the freedom. We think harder. Sometimes we do not even know what we will make when we start. I want to be an explorer. I planned an explorer’s suit. I don’t give up easily.” – Grade 4 Student

“[Designing my own projects] helps me because I am able to think back and talk about how I made something. I am working harder and making stuff with better thinking and faster imagination.” – Grade 2 Student

“Art helps me figure things out. I can draw it and then I get it.” – Grade 3 Student

“I like making artwork about things I like and sharing it with my friends. That way we learn more about each other. Now I am working better with friends.” – Grade 5 Student

“I like that we can use our own creativity. We can make things that are important to us. I am building skills so that I can design things like houses in the future. I’m using a lot of imagination. I imagine something, design it, and then make it.” – Grade 3 Student

“I like that I can [design my own projects]. I can do things on my own. I feel more confident. When I first came here I was shy. Now my confidence is growing and I can express a lot of ideas,” – Grade 5 Student


Another benefit I have noticed with these one-on-one interviews is the confidence with which some of the quieter students approach me afterwards to talk about their work more often. I want each of the learners in my class to know that I am interested in their ideas and in their development as creative thinkers. But most importantly, I want to empower them to take ownership in their learning. Reflection and one-on-one interviews are two steps that we are taking to become more assessment-capable learners. I encourage all educators to involve learners more in the whole assessment process.

You’ll be thankful when it’s time to write your reports, too.

Thoughtfully Approaching Children’s Artwork

Recently a woman I know posted a photo of her child’s artwork on Facebook. The photo depicted a small box neatly painted green with various designs and embellishments on it. The caption said, “My son brought this home from school today. I asked him what it was. When he said he didn’t know I told him to throw it in the trash.”

We might ask ourselves, how could the parent in this story be so critical of her child’s artwork. It might surprise you to know that she has a PhD in Education. We’ve all thrown away children’s artwork when the time seemed appropriate, as it would be next to impossible to save everything. Likewise, we’ve all witnessed examples of what we might consider not being the child’s best work. But it was the manner in which the parent was so immediately dismissive of the piece which I would like for us to consider.

Aside from likely hurting the feelings of her son, the parent missed a golden opportunity to better understand the thinking dispositions behind the artwork. You might be saying to yourself that you didn’t know there were such things as thinking dispositions in art. You are not alone and that’s why people sometimes don’t know how to respond to original, age-appropriate children’s artwork.

What are thinking dispositions in the visual arts and why are they important?

In the book Studio Thinking 2 – The real benefits of visual arts education (Hetland 2013), the authors, along with researchers from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero and others, present eight Studio Habits of Mind. These habits of mind are thinking dispositions that are nurtured in the visual arts.

Studio Habits of Mind (Hetland 2013)

Observe – Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary looking requires

Envision – Learning to picture visually and imagine next steps

Express – Learning to create works that convey an idea, feeling or personal meaning

Develop Craft – Learning to use tools and take care of the art studio

Engage and Persist – Learning to embrace problems, develop focus and persevere

Stretch and Explore – Reaching beyond capabilities, playfully exploring without a plan, embracing the opportunity to learn from mistakes

Reflect – Learning to think and talk with others about artwork, making judgements

Understand Art Worlds – Learning art history and current practice, learning to interact with other artists

“Explore” pieces and “care” pieces are both important to develop Studio Habits of Mind

In our visual arts class, we give equal importance to artwork that results from exploring with materials and artwork that is carefully crafted as a special take-home or show piece. Studio Habits of Mind develop through both types of art making. As members of the school community, I encourage everyone to thoughtfully and joyfully approach the children’s artwork, asking questions such as: “What’s your favorite part of the work and why?” “What was most challenging?” “Tell me how you did this.” Not everything about art can be easily expressed in words, but these questions will help the students to learn to talk about some aspects of their work and reflect on the process.

Ironically, soon after the woman I know posted and ridiculed the photo of her son’s green box on Facebook, I came across a remarkably similar green box by Jean Pougny in the Pompidou Centre in Paris. I imagine it’s worth a small fortune. Like many modern art pieces, the significance of the piece is in the original thinking behind it, rather than any special technical skill of the artist. By seeking to understand the process and thinking behind it, we learn to recognize it’s value.


Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K.M. (2013). Studio thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press

The Science of the Individual and the Case for Agency

“If a teacher tells me what to do, I’m not really thinking” – Third Grade Student

Lately, many educators have been discussing the importance of learner agency and, as many people know, the new enhancements to the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme (PYP) will be introduced in 2018. The enhancements will offer a deeper focus on agency. I’ve read a lot of exciting blog posts and tweets regarding the upcoming changes. Many educators are naturally asking themselves WHAT these enhancements will mean for their schools and HOW they will implement them. As an educator who runs a choice-based Visual Arts programme in an IB World School, I’m keenly interested in agency. Over the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on and researching the WHY in my classroom and it has transformed my practice. As I anticipate the enhancements to the PYP, I have been curious to go deeper with the WHY for agency and I encourage other educators to reflect on and research the WHY for agency in their own practice.

New PYP Model

(IB, 2017)

What is agency? According to the International Baccalaureate,

Agency is the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership for everyone in the learning community.

Agency is present when students partner with teachers and members of the learning community to take charge of what, where, why, with whom and when they learn. This provides opportunities to demonstrate and reflect on knowledge, approaches to learning and attributes of the learner profile (IB, 2017).

Why should we focus on Agency?

For an answer to that question, a good place to start is The End of Average – How to Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Todd Rose (2016).

The Science of the Individual

Rose (2016), in his fascinating book, describes himself as a high school dropout with a D-minus average. By the time he was 21, he was married with children and trying to support his family with a stream of low-wage jobs. One might have thought that he was on a road to a life filled with poverty and struggle. If we fast forward to today, Todd Rose is the director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. What he has learned about the Science of the Individual and himself along the way is the secret to his remarkable transformation and the subject of his book.

Designing for No One

In his book, Rose tells how, in 1952, the US Air Force was trying to figure out why they were having so many problems with their fighter jets. At first they blamed the pilots. Then they blamed the technology. Next they blamed the flight instructors. But it turns out that the problem was the cockpit. The cockpit had been designed to fit the average pilot’s body. Lieutenant Gilbert S. Daniels was asked to conduct a new study of the dimensions of the pilots, since the last time the Air Force had conducted such a study was almost three decades prior. Daniels measured over 4,000 pilots on ten physical dimensions. Air Force researchers thought that most of the pilots would fall within the average range on all dimensions. But what Daniels found was that no pilots were within the average range on all dimensions. Not a single pilot. By designing a cockpit for the average pilot, the Air Force had “designed a cockpit for no one”. The Air Force took these findings seriously and made a bold move. They demanded that the cockpits be “designed to the edges” of the dimensions of their pilots. The final results were things like adjustable seats (we use these daily now!) and adjustable instruments (Rose, 4).

The Average Man and the Averagarian Approach

Rose is a researcher and a specialist in the Science of the Individual. He details the fascinating timelines, historically significant events, scientists, and research findings which led to the first practices of collecting large amounts of data from many individuals and averaging them to look for ways to make sense of society, education, medicine, and industry.

Adolphe Quetelet was one of those early scientists. Born in 1796 in Belgium, Quetelet borrowed the method of averages from astronomy to form his social science and was responsible for promoting the concept of the average man, according to Rose (26-31).

The Impact of the Averagarian Approach on Industry and Education

Rose writes that Frederick Winslow Taylor was responsible for the standardization of the work environment. In the 1890s, Taylor was working at a steelworks company when he began to look for ways to improve the speed of various tasks, standardize them to the “one best way”, and time them for efficiency. Even today, anyone who has worked in a factory or production environment has probably worked within the approaches for standardization that were first introduced by Taylor (Rose, 40-45).

By the early twentieth century, this “Taylorist” approach of standardization within the industrial world had a profound influence on education in the United States. “The educational Taylorists declared that the new mission of education should be to prepare mass numbers of students to work in the newly Taylorized economy.” (Rose, 50) By 1920, students were provided with one standardized education.

Edward Thornkike advocated for sorting students according to their ability. The fast learners (believed to be the talented students) were identified and had a clear path to college. The average learners were expected to take up jobs within the Taylorized economy. The slow learners were given little support (Rose, 52-56).

These influences on industry and education are still present in society today in the form of employee rankings, standardized tasks, efficiency ratings, standardized tests in schools, grading systems, standardized text books, bells to signal the end of each class, IQ ratings, personality tests, etc.

The Research and the Three Principles of Individuality

What does the research tell us about things like averages, IQ tests, grades, etc. in relation to the individual? Like the story of the Air Force fighter pilots, over and over again, Rose details how averages can range from uninformative to terribly misleading when it comes to describing or trying to understand any one individual.

If the research is telling us that averages are not adequate in trying to understand the individual, what other approach might work? Rose outlines three principles of individuality: the jaggedness principle, the context principle, and the pathways principle.


The Jaggedness Principle

Rose (81) explains that we often simplify things in our mind to just one dimension. For example, if we think about size, we might think about a person being large, medium or small. However, the reality is that people come in all shapes and sizes, so that their dimensions create a jagged profile. See example below.


(Rose, 2016)

A one-dimensional approach of large, medium or small fails to capture the true nature of human size (Rose, 82). Additionally, looking at the average fails to capture the true nature of size.

The same is true for talent and intelligence, according to Rose. Yet, businesses and schools continue to look at one-dimensional factors mentioned above such as employee ratings, standardized test scores, grades, IQ scores, grade-level textbooks, etc. 

The Jaggedness Principle in the Visual Arts Class

When students partner with members of the community and take charge of “what, where, why, with whom, and when they are learning” (IBO, 2017), they are developing across multiple dimensions. The jaggedness principle tells us that each individual is unique across these multiple dimensions. When students approach learning from their own particular dimensions, perspectives and interests, they will grow and develop at the pace that is best for them and in a way that sparks genuine curiosity, as they follow their passions.

For the past 100 years, Visual Arts classes around the world have not changed much (Hathaway, 2013). The practice of introducing adult art to children and having them copy either the paintings or the style has become something that we expect from art programmes (Hathaway, 2013). The results of such lessons are often quite pleasing to the adult eye and we deceive ourselves into thinking that the students have been creative and interested in the learning. I used to approach my classes in the same way. After some honest reflection, I realized that cookie-cutter lessons are neither creative nor interesting for the students. Like the findings from Rose in his book, students come to the Visual Arts class with a variety of interests, passions, knowledge, skills and developmental levels. Their profiles are jagged. Giving the students agency (giving them a choice, voice and ownership of their learning) makes sense because one size does not fit all.


The Context Principle

“…(T)he context principle…asserts that individual behavior cannot be explained or predicted apart from a particular situation, and the influence of a situation cannot be specified without reference to the individual experiencing it.” (Rose, 106). What this means is that personality traits we often use to describe someone are not consistent in all contexts. Rose gives the example of “Jack”.

IF Jack is in the office, THEN he is very extroverted.

If Jack is in a large group of strangers, THEN he is mildly extroverted.

IF Jack is stressed, THEN he is very introverted. (106)

Yet we tend to think of people as either extroverted or introverted; honest or dishonest; aggressive or non-aggressive; or creative or not creative. The context principle illustrates that our traits are influenced by the context in which we find ourselves. Additionally, not all people respond to specific situations in the same way.

The Context Principle in the Visual Arts Class

Through the context principle, we learn that each student reacts to various situations differently. Therefore, as teachers and members of the community are partnering with students, we must understand that part of our responsibility is to create a range of opportunities so that each student will be successful. That means offering students agency to choose options that provide the best context in which the students will thrive.

In my Visual Arts class, I used to decide on the lesson idea, choose the materials and try to scaffold everything in such as way so that there would be little or no failure within the class. However, no matter how much I tried to infuse my own excitement into the class and scaffold the lesson, there were inevitably cries of “I can’t do it!” “Do we have to do this?” “Is this good enough?” Now my approach is radically different. I now use an approach that is similar to the Reading and Writing Workshop Model for children’s literacy (Children’s Literacy Initiative). The concept is simple: IF Jack is reading something that he loves THEN he is likely to read longer and think more deeply about his reading. This will have an obvious effect on his literacy development. Similarly for Art, the approach I use is called Teaching for Artistic Behavior which regards students as artists, supports different needs and interests of students, and creates choices for multiple learning opportunities. (TAB)

Now, my classroom is designed with context in mind. Students are presented with a classroom full of interesting materials to explore (cardboard, sticks, a variety of paints, coloured papers, clay, fabric, wool yarn, glue, scissors, etc.) The art room is a safe space where students are invited to explore materials and express their ideas. Mini lessons offer artists and concepts to think about, skills and tools to practice or reflection time. The rest of the time is spent supporting students to discover contexts in which they thrive. IF Jack is exploring his own passions and curiosity THEN he is likely to be more engaged and take more ownership of his learning. 

What I’ve discovered is that curiosity usually leads to something more challenging. For example, many elementary students love to make paper airplanes. One first grader recently commented to me that learning how to make a paper airplane was one of the highlights of her year. Given the freedom of choice and materials to explore making paper airplanes students might make planes until they are tired of folding papers. What happens next is important. Once they see all of the paper airplanes on the table, someone might have the brilliant idea that they should build an airport. Now a group of students is exploring architectural modeling, all the while developing spatial reasoning and collaboration skills. One second grader recently commented about an airport he built with his classmates, “I didn’t think I could build something that big. It helped my confidence grow.”

Later the same students might decide to build a model of a city or paint a map and develop a story that goes along with it. Yong Zhao said, “When a child has a reason to learn, the basics will be sought after, rather than imposed.” (Zhao, 2012) The context principle explains why the proper context helps students develop their own reasons to learn. This leads us to the next principle: the pathways principle.


The Pathways Principle

Edward Thorndike introduced the idea that “faster equals smarter” into the educational system (Rose, 130). But, are speed and learning ability really related? In the 1980s, Benjamin Bloom conducted a research study in which two groups of students were taught a subject that they did not already know. The first group (“fixed-pace group’) was taught during fixed periods of instruction that were standard at the time. The second group (‘self-paced group’) was taught the same material over the same total amount of time, but they had a tutor who permitted each individual to go at their own pace (sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly). In the first group, 20 percent of the students achieved “mastery of the material” (a score of 85 percent or higher). In the second group, 90 percent of the students achieved a mastery score. With flexibility in the self-paced group, most of the students performed very well (Rose, 132). 

If not all students learn at the same pace, what about sequence? Do all students learn in the same sequence? Kurt Fischer is a scientist in the field of the science of the individual. According to Rose, Fischer has studied a wide range of developmental issues, such as how young children learn to read (137). For example, Fischer discovered that there are three distinct sequences in which a child might progress to learn to read single words. Fischer recognized that two of the sequences have similar results, however, the third sequence results in reading difficulties. As a result, now children who follow the third sequence can be identified and receive the proper support.

From his research, Fischer suggests that we use the metaphor of a “web” to describe the process in which each step we take in our development opens up a range of possibilities (Rose 138).

The Pathways Principle in the Visual Arts Class

The pathways principle teaches us that each student’s learning journey will be a unique path in which the next steps are revealed as the student makes progress in their learning. Giving students opportunities for agency will give them the power to make meaningful and intentional action as a result of their learning and such action will illuminate the path to next steps in the student’s journey as they reflect on their knowledge and approaches to learning.

In the Visual Arts class this year, there is a grade four student who started the year without much confidence in his own art-making skills. After some exploration and discussion, he started making geometric designs with a ruler on paper and then carefully colored them. Next he started a collage project cutting out geometric shapes. He immediately asked permission to abandon the collage project because he had something bigger in mind. Now he’s working on a large poster-size painting of a cityscape (using the skills he learned with the geometric designs). He asked me if I could display his painting in the room and ask students from other classes to offer him some feedback. Recently, he saw me working on two large canvases 2.5 meters tall with the grade five class. He asked if his next project could be on such a large canvas. I suspect that we have an installation artist in the making, as his projects grow larger and more complex with each step.

A third grade student has taken a very different path this year. She started the year making large expressive abstract paintings with bold, bright colors. Lately she has been exploring model making as she collaborates with a classmate to build miniature furniture models. Last week they designed and built a model car together. Two other students in the same third grade class have spent most of the year on a series of elaborately detailed drawings for shoe designs, taking breaks in between designs to do small 3-D modeling projects. “If a teacher tells me what to do, I’m not really thinking,” commented one of the shoe designers. 

All of these students can describe their learning journey in the Visual Arts class this year. Because they were given opportunities to express their agency, they each thrived as they explored different pathways.

It’s Time for Agency

The jaggedness principle, the context principle and the pathways principle provide us with answers to WHY agency is important. Like the one-size-does-not-fit-all lesson the US Air Force learned in 1952, it’s time for educators to respect student agency and partner with the learning community to fit each student’s educational experience to their own individual, multidimensional traits and characteristics. It’s time for educators to present students with opportunities to choose contexts in which they learn best. It’s time for students to be given permission to follow pathways that make sense for each individual. Knowing what we know now, it’s time for a greater focus on agency. As a Visual Arts educator, I want to be committed to helping students, as individuals, develop their learner agency, make choices that are relevant to them, express their own voice, and take ownership of their interests and learning.


Children’s Literacy Initiative. Reading and Writing Workshop.

Hathaway, Nan E. (2013). Smoke and Mirrors: Art Teacher as Magician. Art Education.

IBO (International Baccalaureate). November 2017. The Learner in the Enhanced PYP. Accessed 26 May 2018.

Rose, Todd (2016). The End of Average – How to Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, Allen Lane, USA/UK.

TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior).

Zhao, Yong (2012) “World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.” Corwin.

Cultivating Innovation and Creativity in the Classroom

As a Visual Arts teacher, I see myself as a champion for creative thinking in our school. For the past two years, I’ve read and thought a lot about creativity and asked myself as an educator how much creative thinking was happening in my classroom. This process of learning and questioning has led me to make profound changes in the teaching and learning in my classroom.

We are often told that it’s important for the learners in our classroom to develop their creativity, however most of us have never been trained how to cultivate that kind of creative thinking or have never been given any specific strategies. In this post, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve found in my readings and in workshops that I’ve attended on this subject.

What is creativity and innovation?

Most educators are familiar with Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks about creativity. In this short video, he defines creativity:

What is Creativity? -Sir Ken Robinson

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.” – Ken Robinson (KQED, 2015)

We could consider innovation to be the application of creative ideas in effective ways. When we think of innovation, we often think of improving something, making it more efficient, faster, etc.

Why is it important to have strategies to support creative thinking in the classroom?

According to Cathy Davidson, in her book Now You See It (2012), sixty-five percent of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t been invented yet.

If our job as educators is to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, it is reasonable to conclude that creative thinking will be an important skill in the future. In fact, creativity has been identified as one of the most important skills of the 21st century (Soffel, 2016).

What factors influence creative thinking?

Educators already know a lot about creative thinking. When I ask teachers to brainstorm factors that influence creative thinking, I get a long list of things such as:

  • Safe learning environment
  • Playfulness
  • Open-mindedness
  • Time to explore ideas
  • Challenges
  • Growth mindset
  • Freedom

Tina Seelig, in her book inGenius – A Crash Course on Creativity (2012), introduces a model for creativity and innovative thinking. She calls this model the Innovation Engine (Figure 1). Her model, based on her work at Stanford University, introduces six components that influence innovation. There are three external factors: Culture, Resources and Habitat. There are three internal factors: Attitude, Knowledge and Imagination. What I like about Seelig’s model is that it is the most inclusive model I’ve found. I’ve yet to think of any factor that influences creativity and innovation that I cannot place somewhere within the model. I’ve asked other educators to do the same and they always see the connection between the factors they identify and Seelig’s model. 

Innovation Engine Seelig 2012

Mitchel Resnick also writes about factors that influence creative thinking. In his book Lifelong Kindergarten (2017), he identifies Projects, Passion, Peers and Play as four factors that work together to provide an environment that supports creative thinking. Resnick is one of the founders of the Scratch programming language and online community for students. He runs a course at MIT called Lifelong Kindergarten where he provides opportunities for learners to work in an environment that is inspired by the type of projects, passion, peers and play one would see in kindergarten.

D.M. Harrington (1990) describes what he calls the Ecology of Human Creativity. Here are some of the factors he identifies that influence creative thinking:

  • Opportunity for play and experimentation/exploration
  • A non-threatening atmosphere in which children are secure enough to take risks and make mistakes
  • Activities presented in exciting or unusual contexts
  • Opportunity for generative thought, where ideas are greeted openly
  • Opportunity for critical reflection in a supportive environment
  • Children given a sense of engagement and ownership of ideas and tasks
  • Respect for difference and the creativity of others
  • Choices given to children in terms of resources and methods


What types of strategies can we use to cultivate creative thinking in our classrooms?

If this is a new area for you as a teacher, I encourage you to take a model, like Seelig’s Innovation Engine, and identify which components you have some control over as an educator. In my opinion, teachers have the most control over attitude, knowledge, imagination, and habitat. Start with one step at a time. Focus on one of the components of the Innovation Engine for a unit or semester. Research and think about ways that students could develop through that component. For example, in what ways could you encourage attitudes that lead to creative thinking? (Open-mindedness, risk-taking, growth mindset, confidence, etc.) How could you celebrate those attitudes in the learners in your classroom? In what ways could you make them part of the daily dialogue in your classroom? What types of games, classroom activities, etc. would reinforce those attitudes? Once you’ve established that component in your teaching and learning environment, you can add another.

If you are more experienced with creative thinking in your classroom, you could check for components in Seelig’s model that need more focus in your classroom. Perhaps some components receive more attention in your classroom than others. Any component that needs more attention could become a focus in your next unit or semester. Additionally, you could challenge yourself and your students to go deeper in some of the components that are already strong. One question I like to ask myself is, “How could I make this unit as creative as possible?”

It’s important to distinguish between adding on a few creative thinking activities and having a clear strategy that cultivates creative thinking in your classroom. In order to have an impact on creative thinking, our attempt should not be an add-on activity, rather it should be a whole approach. Using a research-based model, such a Seelig’s Innovation Engine, is a logical and beneficial place to start in developing a strategy that works for the learners in your environment. Considering the challenges they face in the future, we owe it to the learners in our classroom to nurture their creative thinking.


Davidson, C. (2012). Now You See It. New York: Viking

Harrington, D. M. (1990). The ecology of human creativity: A psychological perspective. In M. A. Runco & R. S. Albert (Eds.), Sage focus editions, Vol. 115. Theories of creativity (pp. 143-169). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Seelig, T. L. (2012). InGenius: A crash course on creativity. New York: HarperOne.

Soffel, Jenny (2016 March 10). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Retrieved from

Planning for student choice in the Visual Arts Classroom – Is it possible to integrate TAB and PYP?

In a previous post, I explained how I made the decision to move to a choice-based approach to learning in my Visual Arts classroom, using the three-sentence curriculum of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB). (Douglas & Jaquith, 2018):

  1. What do artists do?
  2. The child is the artist.
  3. The art room is the child’s studio.

After reading Choice without Chaos (Bedrick, 2012) and Engaging Learners Through Artmaking – Choice-based Art Education in the Classroom (Douglas & Jaquith, 2009), I attended the TAB Summer Institute in Boston in July 2017 at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I met dozens of Visual Arts educators who were interested in using a choice-based approach to teaching and learning.

Teaching for Artistic Behavior emphasizes the importance of students having studio time to do what artists do (to explore their ideas and use different media). A typical 60 minute TAB session might be structured like this:

Mini Lesson / Mini Museum / Skill Building Activity

5 mins

Studio Time

45 mins

Clean up / Reflection

10 mins

Mini lessons, mini museums and skill builders are planned to satisfy the needs of the students, spark interests, develop craft, deepen artistic knowledge and discuss expectations.

Studio time is student driven with children exploring a range of ideas and materials as the teacher checks in with them individually to discuss their work. Students can work individually or collaboratively. Some students choose to follow up on something from the mini lesson, mini museum or skill builder, but it’s not required. Students have access to a range of materials and are capable of getting their own supplies, setting up their workspace and cleaning up. Even kindergarteners can pour their own paint! (For Pre-K students I set up different centers on the tables.)

Reflections have a very important role in the classroom, as students have a chance to discuss their work, artistic intentions and next steps. Reflections can be done as a group activity, with partners, by writing artist statements, gallery walk or by posting to Seesaw.

One of the most striking benefits of using a choice-based approach to art is that the students are passionate about their work and eager to share it with their peers. Many students request that there will be time for sharing at the end!

Integrating TAB into the PYP Visual Arts Classroom

After doing my research and attending the TAB Summer Institute in Boston, I developed a plan to integrate the approach into my PYP Visual Arts classroom. This year, with the help of our Curriculum Coordinator, I planned four stand-alone units. The units emphasize key elements of both TAB and the PYP Scope and Sequence. These are my four stand-alone units:

Transdisciplinary Theme:

How we organize ourselves

Central Idea:

To enhance creativity and innovative thinking, artists organize in a variety of ways.

Lines of Inquiry:

A common vocabulary for the Elements of Art

How the environment supports creativity

Creativity and innovative thinking

Transdisciplinary Theme:

Where we are in place and time

Central Idea:

Artists develop ideas in many ways, including building on ideas from the past.

Lines of Inquiry:

How artists get ideas

Art changes over time

Artists approach their work from different perspectives

Transdisciplinary Theme:

Who we are

Central Idea:

To express identity and culture, artists tell stories through the Visual Arts.

Lines of Inquiry:

Personal storytelling through Visual Art

What identity is

Culture and the Arts

Transdisciplinary Theme:

How we express ourselves

Central Idea:

To reach artistic goals, artists combine ideas and skills.

Lines of Inquiry:

Ways to generate ideas

Thinking skills and artistic skills

Artistic goals

Like any PYP stand-alone unit, I have key concepts, related concepts, learner profiles, attitudes, skills and teacher questions. To keep things as simple as possible, I use the same stand-alone units with all grade levels, differentiating by development, skills, etc.

At our school, the specialist teachers collaborate with homeroom teachers on one Unit of Inquiry per school year. This year, during those collaborative units, we temporarily stopped/changed our stand-alone units and worked on collaborative pieces or pieces that related to the homeroom UOI summative assessments.

Overall, I believe that our choice-based approach to the Visual Arts this year has been a huge success. Most students come to class with a project or idea already in mind and they are eager to explore it. Mistakes or challenges are usually seen as something to figure out. Collaboration and peer teaching occurs naturally. Most importantly, students are experiencing the entire creative thinking cycle and are able to articulate the benefits. As one second grade student put it, “Mr. Ron, now that we design our own projects, we make more mistakes and that’s good!”


Bedrick, Anne (2012). Choice Without Chaos. (n.p.): Author.

Douglas, K. M. & Jaquith, D. B. (2018). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom.Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Douglas, K.M. & Jaquith, D.B. (2009). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art Education in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.








Supporting creative thinking – A move toward a choice-based approach to the Visual Arts

Creativity has been identified as one of the most important skills for the 21st century (Soffel, 2016).

As a Visual Arts teacher, I’ve always been interested in creativity. A couple of years ago, I decided to dig deeper into my own understanding of the creative thinking cycle so that I could apply that understanding to the teaching and learning in my classroom. Among the first things that struck me were the similarities between the creative thinking cycle, the inquiry cycle and the design thinking cycle. (See figure 1)

At the time I started digging deeper into the creative thinking cycle, my Visual Arts classroom operated in ways that were very similar to traditional Visual Arts classrooms around the world. I researched and came up with a project that focused on some important learning outcomes and that fit within a unit that I was teaching. I presented a lesson or series of lessons with the goal of having the students produce some artwork that was similar in style or theme to what we were discussing in the lesson. Often, I wanted to make some display out of the artwork.

The more I researched about creative thinking, the more I began to question how my own students were experiencing the creative thinking cycle in my classroom. If I was the person coming up with the idea for the projects, choosing the materials, scaffolding the steps to create something, helping them sort out mistakes and challenges so that we would end up with a collection of work that was worthy of a nice display in the hallway, then how much creative thinking were my students experiencing?

Just as I was having these questions and realizations, I found out about an approach to the Visual Arts that focuses on students taking responsibility for their own thinking and learning (agency), students expressing their own ideas (voice), and students making their own choices about what to make and how to make it (choice). This approach is called Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB).

TAB was first developed through the groundbreaking work of Katherine Douglas and other Visual Arts teachers in Massachusetts classrooms starting in the early 1970s. It’s an understatement to say that these teachers were ahead of their time in relation to their approaches that centered on student choice in the classroom.

Teaching for Artistic Behavior has a three-sentence curriculum (Douglas & Jaquith, 2018):

  1. What do artists do?
  2. The child is the artist.
  3. The art room is the child’s studio.

The curriculum might sound simplistic, but the ramifications in the application of it are profound. Here are just a few thoughts about how this three-sentence curriculum impacts student thinking, learning and behavior. 

What do artists do?


  • Make observations about the world around them
  • Synthesize those observations and make connections to other things they know
  • Envision how they could express their observations and connections
  • Experiment and choose materials to realize their vision
  • Create works that have personal meaning
  • Make mistakes and persist to find solutions to problems
  • Reflect on their progress by talking about it and making judgements about their own work
  • Share their work with others
  • Connect with other artists and people in the art world

The child is the artist.

The child…

  • Makes their own decisions about the work they want to make, using available materials.
  • Decides which materials to use.
  • Drives their own project (deciding when to start and when to stop).

The art room is the child’s studio.

The art room…

  • Is a shared creative space.
  • Is set up in such a way that the child can manage their own supplies, tools, workspace and cleanup.

The more I read about TAB, the more convinced I was that this approach would provide my students with the opportunities that they needed in order to fully experience the creative thinking cycle. In a future post, I’ll outline how I implemented TAB into our PYP Visual Arts classroom.

In the meantime, if you are interested to know more about Teaching for Artistic Behavior, I encourage you to take a look at the following resources:

Douglas, K. M. & Jaquith, D. B. (2018). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom.Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.


Douglas, K. M. & Jaquith, D. B. (2018). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom.Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Soffel, Jenny (2016 March 10). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Retrieved from

The curriculum might sound simplistic, but the ramifications in the application of it are profound.

Creative Thinking Cycle
figure 1

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