Magazine article Art Education

ART STUDIO as Thinking Lab: Fostering Metacognition in Art Classrooms

Magazine article Art Education

ART STUDIO as Thinking Lab: Fostering Metacognition in Art Classrooms

Article excerpt

WHAT CAN HIGH SCHOOL ART CLASSES OFFER TO BOTH ASPIRING ARTISTS AND STUDENTS WHO HAVE OTHER INTERESTS AND GOALS? Here's an answer: thinking skills. Thinking skills are essential for all learners, and both art creation and encountering art provide opportunities for complex thinking and, therefore, for honing conceptual skills (Eisner, 2002). Beyond that, art experiences can spur students to reflect on how they think and to expand and refine their thinking. That is to say, art classes can cultivate metacognition.

Art's capacity to foster metacognition puts art education in sync with general education where understanding and monitoring one's thinking are acknowledged to be essential to an individual's success in school and life (Kolencik & Hillwig, 2011; McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Silver, 2013). The mindfulness inherent in metacognition also connects it to efforts to make classroom environments more inclusive and collaborative.

This article pursues both trains of thought and describes how an art class can be an art thinking lab-a site for everyone to practice thinking and develop metacognition together in the context of creative work. It describes pedagogy and curriculum developed by Kimberley D'Adamo, an art teacher at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, with support from her students and the co-author of this article.


First narrowly defined by Flavell (1979) as thinking about one's thinking, metacognition is now understood as the ability to monitor one's thinking and learning (Kolencik & Hillwig, 2011; Silver, 2013). Silver (2013) explains metacognition as the act of stepping back from a task to name and frame what happens within it. This ability to step back is transferable to new situations and it benefits learning and thinking skill development in all disciplines. That is why the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards focus on the development of thinking skills and on metacognition.

Equally important, being metacognitive helps learners develop positive dispositions toward learning and gives them autonomy and agency, both of which generate motivation and engagement (Kolencik & Hillwig, 2011). Metacognition, therefore, is key to navigating challenges and problems, to fulfilling one's potential and thriving in life. No wonder the growing interest in metacognition.

Metacognition in the Art Class

Metacognition is particularly important for people involved in creative endeavors, including artists. It enables them to build on what works, learn from mistakes, and get better at what they do. Being metacognitive can also ease a novice artist's anxiety about being creative by de-mystifying creativity through exposing the basic mechanisms of it. In doing so, it gives apprehensive art students the wisdom to handle challenges and disappointments and the strategies they can use to move forward.

The art room is an ideal place to foster metacognition for six reasons. First, it is a site for thinking. As Eisner (2002) argued, making art takes a lot of thought. This includes thinking before, during, and after creating works of art. For that reason, art teachers often ask their students to reflect on their thinking when they critique their artworks. In a milieu such as this, going beyond simply recognizing thinking to focus more closely on how thinking works is the next logical step.

Second, art classrooms are studios. In a studio environment, learners "do" art as well as study art. This is not often the case in academic classes where students primarily study content. Doing art encourages reflection on process and thinking within the context of hands-on experience. Here we can see why an art class could surpass its academic counterparts in fostering metacognition.

Third, the art class is where thinking gives rise to images and objects that are tangible, concrete manifestations of the thought that went into them. Images, in this case artworks, can make thinking visible and, therefore, accessible (Ritchart, Church, & Morrison, 2011). …

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