A Cross-Site Analysis of Strategies Used by Three Middle School Art Teachers to Foster Student Learning1

Article excerpt

This cross-site, collaborative study focused on the instructional practices of three middle school art teachers from Arizona, Indiana, and New York. The researchers found similarities as well as differences among the teachers' strategies. At all three sites, emphasis was on curriculum related to their students' lives, developing technical skills, visual perception, aesthetic judgment, and personal expression, and on evolving understandings about art heritages, self-identity, diversity, and multicultural concerns, but curricular forms differed. All three teachers used state standards in curricular planning and conducted in-process and final group assessments. Findings support the idea that social class context may have a greater influence than geographical location on the type and magnitude of art curricula developed in middle schools.

Reforms and initiatives abound at the middle school level, but "the basic questions of what we teach and how we teach remain, for the most part, unanswered and little challenged" (Swaim, 1993, p. xii). For some art educators, middle school curricula are considered "the basics," or a formal, technical, and conceptual groundwork for what gets taught at the high school level. For others, middle school art classes offer students a chance to focus their learning by selecting from a menu of thematic or media-based courses that may interest them. In still other contexts, middle school art is seen as a time for students to explore who they are as individuals in the world through engagement in art experiences that focus on identity and social issues.

Only a few case studies about middle school art teaching have been reported in the art education literature. These studies have: compared particular instructional approaches (Johnson, 1985; Stokrocki, 1988, 1990) with specific populations, such as gifted students (Wolfe, 1997; Zimmerman 1992); described teachers' evaluation strategies (Hafeli, 2000); and portrayed particular curricular content such as visual culture literacy (Albers & Murphy, 2000). Still, little is known about the general, ongoing classroom practices of middle school art teachers. For example, what philosophies about aft and learning guide teachers' development of curricula? What types of content and instructional strategies do teachers feel are important to include at the middle school level?

Case study research is characteristically based on an examination of "particulars," and the case studies about middle school art thus far have provided glimpses into only specific aspects of middle school art instruction in isolated contexts. As qualitative researchers, we were interested in how constructing a collective case study in which a systematic look at more general issues (teaching philosophy, curriculum and assessment, instructional strategies) in three geographically different middle school art classes could yield parallel information for comparison purposes. We wondered whether the multiple functions of middle school art classes (described here) and the geographical variance of the three sites would have any bearing on different orientations and emphases that might be found across the three cases. Further, in some states such as New York, current academic reforms have targeted middle school art as a subject to eliminate in the school day, in order to make time for increased "academic" learning. We hoped that, for those concerned about these issues, a systematic, qualitative study of teaching and learning at multiple sites would provide valuable descriptions of the kinds of concepts, skills, and ways of thinking that are taught and encouraged at the middle school level.

The study addressed the following questions:

1. What were similarities and differences among the teachers' philosophies at the three sites?

2. What art curriculum content and instructional strategies did the teachers use?

3. What instructional resources and new technologies were used to enhance the learning environment? …