Students Drive the Curriculum

In two essential ways, the curriculum revolves around student voice and agency:

  1.  Students choose what topics they will research, and the materials they will use to research.

  2.  Students are routinely invited to edit and critique the curriculum in collaboration with the teacher,            leading to the development of student-tested processes for learning how to do arts-based research.  


Foundational Befiefs

Essentially, there are 5 foundational beliefs that allow teachers to teach art in this new way:

  1. The art studio is a place where thinking processes are taught a, practiced and internalized.

  2. Art making is inherently interdisciplinary, should be driven by student interests, and is a disciplined process that goes deeper that  emotional expression.

  3. There is a process to creative arts-based research and project development.

  4. All teachers and students are co-researchers; the teacher is a "master researcher" whose job it is to model how to research, ask questions and facilitate another's learning.

  5. For deep learning to occur, students must become a "learning team", which requires the careful and deliberate building of trust through team building activities.​


The Process

  • With teacher guidance at each step, students first learn about how learning works by studying constructivism and discussing the roles of the teacher, peers and themselves in the learning process. 

  • To build this learning team, we do trust building activities to create a sense of emotional safety needed in the studio to facilitate critique and peer learning.

  • Students explore what they are curious about, to find the topic or question they will investigate for the first research cycle.

  • Students learn a process for creative research, using their own question or topic as the focus for each stage. This process (see chart below) is called Stages of Research-based Artmaking" and has distinct stages, and each stage is documented in the students research art book. The names of these stages form a common vocabulary so students can understand each other's work and give feedback at each stage. (Note: Students may personalize their creative process only once they have learned all the stages.)

  • Students develope skills to document each page—decide what types of information needs to be included at each stage, how to organize that on a page, and how to represent it all in their Research Artbook.

  • Students are introduced to the idea of critique as a gift we give to other artists, explore critique styles by watching videos of artists & teachers critiquing and learn the term "Warm Demander" to understand their role in helping peers improve.

  • Students create artwork, focusing on frequent critique, revision and resolution of a few related artworks, rather than quick production of a breadth of unrelated works.


Stages of Research-Based Artmaking

These are the stages we developed to help students learn the process of Arts-Based Research.  Each stage is documented on a page (or more) in the student's Research Workbook.  At first, I teach the stages in the order listed below, but as students become more adept they can skip around, or repeat stages as needed- as the grow more nimble they use whatever stage they find most useful as they develop a project.  As the teacher, when a student gets stuck in their process, I first ask questions to determine why they are stuck, figure out which stage they skipped or might find useful to repeat and deepen, and then direct them to repeat that stage.
* I find that these stages work for about 85% of my students-usually those new to art making.  Those students who already have a developed voice and way of working, or who are interested in more emotion-based ways of working and reject arts0based research, often find these stages limiting.  They generally need more flexibility to skip certain stages, or to not use these stages at all, and to simply use tier own way of working.   I find there is a marked difference in the finished artworks, and the learning, of those students who do not use the stages from those students who do utilize these stages.  
This research cycle is intended as a model for teachers-it is not likely to work for all classes/age groups/demographics.  However, it may help you in developing a research cycle that works for you and your students.  IF FACT, SEVERAL TEACHERS OF NON-ART SUBJECTS HAVE DEVELOPED THEIR OWN RESEARCH CYCLES TO USE WITH THEIR STUDENTS, BASED ON OURS!) What is most helpful is the notion of a research cycle, with graphic organizers for each stage, and sentence frames to help students become independent researchers and makers.  This is an iterative process, so they use the cycle for each project they make, growing more confident and independent as they internalize a process for arts-based research. What is most exciting to me is that the stages of research are transdisciplinary-they can be modified and used in non-art classes because the essential skills support all kinds of learning across the curriculum!

Classroom Management

  • The classroom is set up differently:  All materials are accessible to all students, at all times.

  • Team Building is a cornerstone of the classroom, allowing for trust and vulnerability which facilitate learning and peer critique. Team Building is ongoing and a foundation for everything else.

  • The teacher needs to flexibly move between teacher, facilitator, and learner roles, and model these roles to the students.

  • Student artist/researchers use their research workbooks to explore, experiment, and play with ideas; look for themes that connect these ideas; and record and examine historical/cultural influences that inform their artwork.