By Sean Glazebrook
In 1967, the philosopher Nelson Goodman founded Project Zero, a research institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to study education in the arts. This name, Project Zero, was chosen because Goodman believed that “zero” research had been dedicated to the area of arts education. Fast forward nearly 50 years and Project Zero has built a substantial body of work.
One of the most powerful research projects to come out of Project Zero has been the “Studio Thinking Framework” and more specifically, the “Studio Habits of Mind”. The “Studio Thinking Framework” is a lesson and unit-planning framework that seeks to recreate the processes used by artists in the classroom to generate and perfect their work. The “Studio Habits of Mind” are the habits that are present in successful visual arts lessons. These habits can be consciously utilized in a non-arts classroom setting.
Research on the “Studio Habits of Mind” provides support for the concept of arts integration—that is, the side-by-side teaching of an art form and a non-arts subject aimed to deepen students’ understanding and retention of each. For example, a science teacher might teach a music-integrated lesson in which students learn the fundamentals of songwriting (pitch, rhythm, melody, verse structure) alongside the mechanics of the cell (nucleus, mitochondria, etc.). Students cement their understanding through a constructive process in which they use their knowledge of songwriting to write their own songs detailing the structure of a cell.
Arts Integration has proven to be a remarkably desirable pedagogical structure in New Orleans. As test preparation has become increasingly important in schools across the city and all subjects outside of English and Math have been increasingly excised from the school day, an integrated curriculum allows students to receive exposure to subjects they might otherwise miss (including Science and Social Studies). A school administrator, squeezed for time from all sides and needing to post continuous gains on state LEAP testing in order to remain in existence, may decide that arts-integrated classes are better than no arts instruction at all.
Arts integration has consistently received the enthusiastic endorsement of classroom teachers, who are the experts when it comes to what their students need for success. Because charter schools are free to set their own pedagogical methods, any strategy or framework that excites teachers can be well-positioned to thrive.
An increased acceptance of arts integration practices in New Orleans schools is a positive development beyond the profusion of arts exploration in the classroom.
The “Studio Habits of Mind” are sometimes referred to as hidden curriculum. When quality arts learning occurs, students are not simply demonstrating an increased interest or having more fun—they are quite literally learning a hidden series of habits that will serve them throughout their lives. For example, an artist must “Engage & Persist” (one of the Studio Habits) to create a quality work of art. When students engage in theater-science integrated learning, for example, they are engaging with the material and persisting in creating something meaningful with it (a play, a tableau). This challenges a more traditional approach where students may engage with the material and then are asked to persist so that they may ultimately pass a test that has no deeper, reoccurring meaning in their lives.
In many ways, it is hidden curriculum that makes me most excited about the presence of arts integration in New Orleans schools. Students who learn through the arts are not just having fun, they are building the skills and dispositions that artists have drawn on for thousands of years. The ability to “Envision,” to “Stretch & Explore,” to “Engage & Persist”—these dispositions will be powerful tools for students no matter where they go or what they do. The ability to access these skills will give students choice, power, and opportunity. And don’t the students of New Orleans, who have been underserved by corrupted curriculum for so long, deserve that access? That access is provided through the arts.
Sean Glazebrook is The NOLA Project’s Education Director. He has worked at KIDsmART in New Orleans. In August, he will be attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education program.
This article is a part of The NOLA Project blog’s Theater and Education in New Orleans series.