Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Individual & Interdisciplinary Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Caroline Heller

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan Rauchwerk

Third Advisor

Mr. Gerald Bergstein


This study explores the types of social and academic learning typically overlooked in public school education. Art-based approaches to academic learning have been labeled as“fluff.” Education policymakers hold a biased view of the arts. When asked to consider art as a viable epistemology, cognition theorists have dismissed art as irrational. These biased views have contributed to the marginalization of the field of art education. The purpose of this study was to question this bias through an art-based studio approach to research. The goal was to explore how middle school students understand the role of visual arts in their own academic and social learning in this context. This qualitative study took place in a middle school in Northeast Massachusetts. Modifications of the research methods of Studio Thinking II (Hetland, Winner, Veneema, & Sheridan, 2013) and additional methods were used in the study. The student participants experienced “Eight Studio Habits of Mind” throughout eight sessions. These included: “Understanding Art worlds; Stretch and Explore; Reflect; Observe; Express; Envision; Engage and Persist, Develop Craft” (p.6). Throughout eight weeks seven classroom observations and two student interviews were conducted. During the eight sessions, students created art individually and in groups. To collect data, the researcher used the methods of pre-drawings and post-drawings (Chang, 2012, Einasdottir, Dockett, & Perry 2008), pre-questionnaires and post-questionnaires, (Song & Creegan- Quinquis, 2017), interviews, (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), art-making (Hetland, Veneema, Winner & Sheridan, 2013) and classroom observations (Behar,1996). To evaluate the data the researcher used grounded theory methods (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), which included the open and axial coding of interviews, drawings, and written responses. There were several findings. Findings showed significant changes in participants’ perceptions of themselves as artists. Findings included evidence of the negative effects of an outdated curriculum on students’ perceptions of the value of visual art in their lives. In addition, questionnaire and interview findings showed negative student perceptions regarding the ability of their existing curriculum to prepare them for a successful life after middle school. Student individual and collaborative drawings showed changes in artistic thinking and social engagement with their peers, art content, and larger societal issues.

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