Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

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

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

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

Article excerpt

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?

4. In what ways did the teachers assess their students' learning?


Each researcher studied one middle school art teacher's classroom, within our respective states (Arizona, Indiana, New York), over two semesters. Our participant observation research unfolded in three stages: data collection, content analysis, and comparative analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). We used classroom observations, taped and informal interviews with students and teachers, examination of unit and lesson plans, observer journals, notes, audiotapes of class sessions, and slides of classroom activities and student work. Content analysis of notes, tapes, interviews, and slides generated conceptual themes, clustering data to form relationships, and condensing information to the most significant meanings (Huberman & Miles, 1994). …

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