How to Teach the Arts

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Four Studio Structures for Learning

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A research team in Boston, led by Lois Hetland, conducted research in visual arts classrooms to study the habits of mind that students develop in these classrooms and the structures of the studio setting that nurtures the student's ability to think like an artist. 


From their data, researchers identified eight habits of mind that students develop in a studio art setting and four strategies, called the Four Studio Structures, that the art educators used to foster these habits of mind, including organizing their studio space, timing, and interactions in their classroom. 


Lois Hetland's formulation of the four studio structures grew from her experience and observational research in visual arts classrooms. But we believe that her four structures provide a holistic and powerful model of the way arts education could function across all art forms: dance, drama, media arts, and music, as well as the visual arts. Using the language of the sciences, Hetland's conceptions reveal the potential of an emergent paradigm for arts education in both arts-based curricula and cross-disciplinary integrative curricula. Hetland's structures and habits of mind advance a simple but elegant explanation for the how and why of arts in education.


The four structures are demonstration-lecturestudents-at-work, critique, and exhibition. We have adapted these titles to include reflection with critique, and performance with exhibition. These structures occur often in a sequence- from lecture/demonstration to students at work, etc- but not always. At times, classes could start with critique or students at work, but generally a learning session has an anticipatory set, delivered as lecture or demonstration, to prompt work and inquiry in the learning session.


Read more about Studio Habits of Mind and Studio Structures in the book Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education by Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberly Sheridan or visit the Studio Thinking 2 Resource Summary at the Harvard Project Zero Website.



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Demonstration-Lecture provides background knowledge and context for the project. The teacher delivers necessary information regarding the problem/project to be addressed; describes/defines the requisite skills, processes, and tools that students will use; and furnishes examples of work (either by professionals or by other students) that could inform the way students approach their work.


The Demonstration-Lecture function in the sequence may be filled by an equivalent item that is neither a demonstration nor a lecture. This might be a question or a series of questions, a brief experience or anecdote, or a reminder of prior learning experiences. It might occur at the beginning of a project or lesson or be threaded throughout the project as a series of small problems to be addressed. But it is crucial in propelling students into the next structure, namely, students at work.


Demonstration-Lecture, as a studio structure used to aid learning in the classroom and to propel students' own work, should not be confused with the term "Lecture-Demonstration," which is a type of presentation or performance meant to inform a formal audience.


In Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, 2nd Edition, the authors use the following bullet points to describe demonstration-lecture.

  • Teachers (and others) deliver information about processes and products and set assignments

  • Information is immediately useful to students for class work or homework

  • Information is conveyed quickly and efficiently to reserve time for work and reflection

  • Visual examples are frequent and sometimes extended

  • Interaction occurs to varying degrees




In dance, Demonstration-Lecture is often threaded throughout the session as the teacher provides content and information for movement problems to be explored when the students are at work. This is when background information is shared to help students build skill and refine their technique in the classroom activities that follow.
The "demonstration" portion of the Demonstration-Lecture includes modeling the desired movement or movement quality described by the verbal instruction. In dance instruction this strategy is referred to as "modeling". A teacher might perform the series of movements assigned for students to replicate or model the energy quality they would like to see in the student's performance. When a teacher dances for or alongside their students they can inspire further creative exploration and boost student's motivation to explore movement with more energy and originality.
Demonstration-Lecture in dance does not always propel students to work on choreography, improvisation, technique, or performance. Demonstration-lecture could probe learners to question dance works, analyze the role of dance throughout history, and appreciate the purpose for cultural and folk-dance forms. 

Examples of Demonstration-Lecture in dance

  • "This dance was created by Bill T. Jones, a modern dance choreographer in New York City. He loved to use patterns of simple gestures in his choreography. After watching the clip, when I snap my fingers, show me one of the gestures you remember from his dance."

  • "The difference between a swing and a sway is in their relationship with gravity. With swing you are allowing gravity to pull you towards the earth, with sway you are opposing gravity. A swing is often called an undercurve because it makes a "u" shape curve through the air, like the mouth in a smiley face. A sway is an overcurve where your movement follows the path of a frowny face. Imagine a crowd waving their arms above their heads to a slow ballad at a concert. This is what it looks like to sway with your arms."

  • "What do you think of when you hear the word chance? Chance refers to an unpredictable event or series of events. Choreographer Merce Cunningham is known for making dances by chance. He would role a dice to determine how many dancers went on stage or draw a title from a hat to determine the music that should accompany the dance. We are going to make our own chance dance by flipping a coin to determine the energy quality of each movement in our sequence. Heads we perform a sustained fall, tails we perform a vibratory fall."

  • "When I snap my fingers spread out into the space and make a round shape. When I play my drum move through the general space, the space we all share, you will travel like a cumulus cloud. Cumulus clouds have flat bottoms and round, fluffy tops. They are often described as puffy, cotton-like or fluffy. The word cumulus comes from the Latin word cumulo, which means heap or pile. How can you move like a heaping of fluffy, cotton-like clouds?"

Lec Dem 1


Dance Dem-Lec




In drama, Demonstration-Lecture often occurs after students have been given instructions to explore, play, and experience learning through process drama, but may precede the participatory experience. Demonstration-Lecture is the direct instruction that conveys the content or background information students need to better refine their knowledge and skills of drama concepts and techniques or to connect to the historical or cultural significance of the piece they are exploring.


Generally, the initial experiences in a drama lesson are meant to help students authentically explore and discover the lesson objectives for themselves as they are not often explicitly stated by the teacher. The instruction the teacher gives related to the objective of that experience, whether before or after the experience, is the Demonstration-Lecture that either solidifies the ideas students discovered in their experience or propels them to explore in their next drama experience where the described drama concepts and skills can be practiced while the students are working.


Of course, students will need to receive directions from the teacher in order to participate in the initial drama experiences, but giving directions is different than the direct instruction or demonstration-lecture that follows these experiences. The Demonstration-Lecture clarifies and makes connections to the learning objectives that have been set for the lesson, not just setting parameters for the class activity or behavioral expectations. For example, giving instructions would include inviting students to find three gestures for their character, the Demonstration-Lecture that follows would include further explanation on the purpose of gesture and strategies for improving gestural choices. 


Examples of Demonstration-Lecture in Drama

  • Exercises/games the teacher plays with the students. These exercises show students full body/mind/voice commitment and range.  
  • Perhaps a teacher will tell a story, play a game, facilitate an improv, manipulate a puppet, in which the teacher can embody not only performing skills, but ensemble skills. The teacher nudges students to vision of theatrical expression. 
  • The teacher asks questions that students answer either through speech or through body/voice, space, or design choices.  
  • Questioning drives the learning forward and with a sort of give and take the teacher takes cues from the students as to their interest in the area of focus within the subject they are laying before the students to explore.  This procedure goes to the nature of drama/theatre in that it is highly collaborative with individuals supported by the ensemble.
  • Working from a playmaking perspective, Demonstration-Lectures could focus on how to integrate history, fantasy fiction, and current events into an original work. 
  • Demonstration-Lectures could focus on ways to transform text (e.g., picture books, chapter books, etc.) into a performance text. 
  • To use Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as an example, participants- acting as a collective Max- are asked to find where they stored their wolf suits, to put them on, make the three kinds of mischief that the book's Max engages in, followed by a choral "Wild thing!" and individual renditions of "I'll eat you up!" Then there is a shift to three participants, who assume the role of Max's mother and are questioned by the other participants (e.g., "Is Max always so temperamental?" "Is Max an only child?" "Where is Max's father?" "How does Max do in school?" etc.). Then there is another shift to the boat trip with participants evoking waves and Max traveling across space and time, taming the Wild Things, being crowned king, orchestrating the wild rumpus, falling asleep and, finally, returning home, where his supper is still warm. 
Where the Wild Things Are




As in dance, Demonstration-Lectures in film and media arts are often threaded throughout the process of creating a finished work. Thus, one discrete session could have several Demonstration-Lectures, or one Demonstration-Lectures could generate material for several sessions.


Examples of Demonstration-Lecture in Media Arts

  • Pre-production elements include illustrative "tasks" (Example: students are given a box and are charged with 'telling' the story of the box either individually or in small groups). This creates an arc which spans from brainstorming to the creation of some number of sentences, attached to the beginning, middle, or end).
  • The Demonstration-Lecture could explore types of shots (e.g., establishing, wide, medium, close-up), Foley elements (e.g., a door opening, footsteps, the hum of a refrigerator), voice overs, choice of setting, story boarding (i.e., how to use stick figures or more realized 3D drawings to define the shot, and describe all key elements).
  • Each piece of the above sequence could propel student work for a class session, or many sessions. The goal is ultimately to move beyond the heuristic "story of the box," to a story conceptualized from inciting incident, to rising action, through to climax and denouement: a story that is conceived, shot, edited, and produced by a team of students.
Media Arts




Demonstration-lecture in a music class often includes giving instructions for students-at-work activities that include singing, playing, listening, moving, creating/composing, reading, and writing music. Often the demonstration-lecture structure is interactive as students are encouraged to use active listening or participation as a teacher models, performs, or plays music. In music class demonstration-lecture and students-at work structures usually switch back and forth throughout the entire time.
During demonstration-lecture, the teacher is making concepts conscious, actively engaging students in developing their understanding of what is being shown and giving a framework for music-making activities. As soon as the students begin the process of making music it moves from the demonstration-lecture structure to the students-at-work structure.
Specific examples of demonstration-lecture found in music classrooms might include modeling singing versus speaking, naming specific musical elements found in the music being experienced, showing how to play a new singing game, giving initial experiences with part singing by singing something different from the students, modeling conducting techniques, and so on.  These demonstration-lectures offer just enough information to get students launched into making music themselves. 


Examples of Demonstration-Lecture in Music

  • [Teacher sings an example in head voice.] "Singing in your head voice sounds light, bright, and unstrained. It feels as if the sound is flying or spinning out of your mouth. When singing in your head voice you will feel vibrations in your head, cheeks, and mouth, not or chest.  Try these warmups to practice using your head voice."
  • "In duple meter, a quarter note is one sound in one beat and it looks like this.  A quarter rest is one beat of silence and it looks like this. On my cue, we will play and repeat this combination of quarter notes and quarter rests all together."
  • "A musical motif (or motive) is a short series of notes, a musical phrase, or a rhythm that a composer repeats throughout a piece of music.  In the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven used the rhythmic motive short-short-short-long. Look at the score as you listen to this recording. Circle the short-short-short-long motive on the score whenever it is played."
  • "This song is a happy celebration song. Put joy and excitement in your voice, face, and body as you sing it."
  • "Watch as I do the steps of the dance and sing the song. Listen for the word that I sing when I change directions."
  • "Listen as I sing and do body percussion to this folk song. Where do the claps occur?"
Music Dem-Lec 2




As noted above, Demonstration-Lectures as part of visual arts curricula seem pretty clear-cut: the requisite skills, processes, and tools relevant to the project/problem at hand are demonstrated; models of similar work are explored; and often, the teacher/mentor provides a brief overview of how/where/when similar works occur in the visual arts canon, and by whom.


Examples of Demonstration-Lecture in Visual Arts

  • Demonstration-Lecture could involve presenting students with an 8" by 8" box and some found objects, such as old license plates, twigs, pieces of fabric, etc., and challenging them to design their own 3D work using these elements while also connecting their work with the work of at least one peer. 
  • Demonstration-Lecture could be used to teach a technique such as tempura batik (with shallow space and heavy black-out lines), giving the students a charge to change the world through their composition.
  • Demonstration-Lecture could inform students of the history and purpose behind a historical work of art before inviting students to work to create their own work of art to achieve a similar purpose. For example, students could be shown the World War II poster featuring "Rosie the Riveter", given a description of what propaganda is and then asked to create their own poster to persuade viewers to a certain action.
Dem-Lec Visual




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Structuring an environment for students to create their own work requires explicit planning. Although such a classroom often looks messy and unstructured, a carefully crafted invisible foundation is supporting the freedom students experience during this time. The structure involves a careful mix of rituals, rules, policies, procedures, and directions, with careful management of space, materials, tools, and time as well as sensitive attention to transitions within the session and at beginnings and endings of sessions. At its highest implementation levels, responsibilities for conception and execution of these elements are shared with students.


As Hetland was conducting observational research in 38 visual arts classrooms, she found time allocated to students at work in creating art averaged 70% of class time. Often when students are at work everyone receives a common project or problem, but they craft their art individually according to their diverse attributes and strengths. In addition to individual creation, some work is executed in small groups or in the class working as a whole. Consider how a mural, a symphony, or a play is a tapestry of individual contributions.


The teacher's role while students are at work is to spend time attending to the individual learning needs of students. Teachers can side coach with questions to inspire their students' creative choices rather than directing their work.


In Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, 2nd Edition, the authors use the following bullet points to describe students-at-work.

  • Students make artworks based on teachers' assignments

  • Assignments specify materials, tools, and/or challenges

  • Teachers observe and consult with individuals or small groups

  • Teachers sometimes talk briefly to the whole class



Students-at-work might take the form of teacher/mentor providing side-coached directions to students - working in a whole group as mini-problems - to explore (e.g., initiating shapes, followed by pathways, tempos, patterns (i.e., direct or indirect)) body centers (e.g., head, chest, arms and legs, etc.), relationships to other dancers, etc.


More experienced students - working in small groups - could be given a rubric to use in creating a dance (e.g., start in an initiating group shape; choose a movement tempo and pattern that incorporates a shape for each level [low, medium, and high]; determine how long your group will sustain work at each level; decide how patterns, tempos, and body centers will appear in various sections of the dance; use music or percussive sounds [recorded or live]; and end in a silent sculptural freeze, etc.). Group performances could be the culminating event of either a side-coached or original dance.



Students pursuing projects in film and media often work individually to refine skills, and subsequently, are assigned to small groups to "finish" sections of the film.  Ultimately, production elements become the focus of small groups that work in teams to shoot, edit, and master the rough cut. As in dance, rubrics as guideposts to help students shape their project are regular features of how problems are worked on and "solved" in film.   



Imagining and structuring small group and whole class projects adds a rich complement to the individual work often associated with visual arts (e.g., graphic novels, murals, large installations that feature compilations of individual student work, sculpture gardens, "docenting" a school gallery stroll, etc.). 




Students working in a playmaking context could rehearse a scene in small groups (paying close attention to character [i.e., voice, movement, dialog, intention, stage pictures that group actors into playing areas and use their positions to draw audience focus to the desired action, etc.], design aspects of the production [i.e., costumes, set pieces, props, lighting, sound, etc.], research different aspects of the play/playwright/period, genre, etc., or work with any of the production support elements [marketing and communications, performance space design, playwriting, directing, etc.].


Often, teachers working on playmaking structures, assume responsibility for key directorial decisions.  But, this doesn't have to be the case. Particularly when working on ensemble pieces, play development can be expedited by assigning students into small groups with the charge to create a discrete scene (e.g., the creation myth according to religions, science, cultural stories, etc.). 


In process drama work, the development tends to be guided by the teacher/mentor for the whole class.  Using the  "Where the Wild Things Are" example from Structure #1, all students work simultaneously to put on their wolf suits, make mischief, etc.  When characters need to be assigned (e.g., one Max, multiple mothers), this is done to facilitate the arc of the piece (i.e., a Max is chosen to journey across an ocean evoked by the rest of the class, tame the rest of the class who are in role as Wild Things, create the coronation tableau, etc.).



In music, students often work in whole class structures.  But exploring small group and individual problems and/or projects could provide a rich opportunity to vary the routine of whole class music sessions.  The problem could be creating a soundscape to complement a picture book, researching and mastering discrete folk songs in small groups, recording the songs, creating original songs, developing the libretto for an original opera, developing arias and chorus pieces for the opera, etc.



Side coaching is when you give simple prompts to students as they are working on their art. Side coaching can occur when students are working through a creative process, a rehearsal process, or other artistic process. The prompts should be simple suggestions that will improve, challenge, or clarify student's choices as they create and produce their own creative work.


Side coaching includes questions and statements that inspire student's creativity. Positive and specific feedback is always relevant and brings attention to what you would like to see or hear in student’s work, and open-ended questions inspire student's creative exploration.


Side coaching is different than directing and there are some comments that kill creativity. Click on the dig deeper icon for more information on directing and comments that kill creativity.


  • "Keep jumping, jump in zig-zag, or circular pathways."
  • "Remember, to sustain means to be constantly and smoothly moving."
  • "Is that the farthest that your feet can travel? Can you arm reach one more inch?"
  • "How many ways can you show me that action on a low level?"
  • "Can you add a twist: a high twist, or a low twist?"
  • "Face another direction."
  • "Is there a moment you really love that would be worth repeating?"
  • "What does that movement mean? How could the meaning be more clear?"


  • "I love the music you selected for this scene. Why did you select it?"
  • "Here are some sites for copyright free digital images that might help you tell your story"
  • "Before you move into production walk me through your storyboards so I get a feel for where you are going with this."
  • "Check out these other couple short films similar in topic to yours; they might inspire your method."
  • "Remember that this process takes practice and you are doing a great job persevering through the tough parts. Remember to give yourself a break."
  • "It looks like a short tutorial on green screen effects in iMovie might be helpful to you - here is a link to one of my favorites."
  • "Can I share an idea about how to...?"


  • "Listen carefully. Does your voice match what you are hearing?"
  • "Can you follow exactly what my voice is doing?"
  • "If that was easy for you, try adding something else in addition (layer beat and rhythm at the same time, conduct, use handsigns, show on the finger staff, add dynamics, etc.)"
  • "How can you vary the sound? Could you try it faster (slower, higher, lower, louder, softer, etc.)?
  • "What words would you use to describe what you are hearing? How could we represent what we hear with pictures or symbols?"
  • "If we were to change the order of the sections, what would you do?"
  • "This is what I saw/heard. Does that convey what you are trying to express?"
  • "If you were going to conduct this part of the music, what would you do?"
  • "What do we need to accomplish to be ready for the performance? Which part needs more practice? What needs to happen to master this piece?"
  • "Show the feeling of the piece on your face and in your body as you perform it."
  • "Listen for ... (form, timbre, rhythm, words, patterns, melody, expressive qualities, etc.) What will our audience hear and see?"


For performers:

  • "How can you express this differently with your voice/body? And another way? And another? Which do you like best? Why?"
  • "How can you use the space to show what you mean? Can you make all your meaning show in a single gesture?"
  • "What is the focus of the scene? What does the character want? Need? Can you show that with words? Without words?" 
  • "Who is the focus of the story? How can you support that? Take the focus.  Now throw focus to someone else; make the scene about them."
  • "Rely only on sounds you make to show the relationships. Now only your body. Make it real.  Be precise. Show us, don't tell us."

For designers:  

  • "How does this work support the meaning? Is there something else you can add/or take away? You goal is to be understood. How is your work communicative?."

For writers:  

  • "Can you make this shorter? Longer? Easier on the actors? Are your words colorful? Are you writing what you mean to say?"
  • "What can the actors/designers do better than your words? Can our crew do what you are asking for? Is there another way?

See more on side coaching in drama here.



  • "What do you plan to do next?"
  • "How do you plan to address that empty area?"  
  • "Let's print some pictures you selected to help you design your art."
  •  "I love the color/shape/texture you choose, tell me about it."
  • "Here are some artists who created something similar to what you're working on."
  •  "I see you are frustrated. How can I help?"  
  • "How do you envision the final piece looking?"  
  • "Let's take a look at your work from far away. What do you notice? How is it different from when you see it up close?" 
  • "What do you want the viewer to see first?"


  • "While you are brainstorming words for your haiku, visualize the scene you are trying to create in your mind for inspiration."
  • "Can you find two new transitional phrases to use in your sentences while writing your story?"


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In Studio Thinking 2 (2013), Hetland referred to critique as the third studio structure; in her subsequent book for elementary arts education, she specified this structure as "talking about art." Critique essentially refers to the questions that lead to purposeful exploration of the meaning generated by an artifact. Learning to recognize the most effective questions, interrogating with clarity, and eliciting responses through neutral questioning will assure that critique reaches appropriate depth and specificity and can guide students to self-critique as they reflect on their own work.


Asking questions about art works can be a powerful catalyst to learning. But haphazard, thoughtless questions can shut down creativity and diminish student engagement. Determining target outcomes and tracking how students (and the teacher) navigate toward those outcomes is pivotal in forging a supportive classroom culture.


In Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, 2nd Edition, the authors use the following bullet points to describe critique.

  • Central structure for discussion and reflection

  • A pause to focus on observation, conversation, and reflection

  • Focus on student work

  • Works are completed or in progress

  • Display is temporary and informal





Step 1. Determine the purpose. 

"What do I as the teacher want to accomplish through this artistic conversation? What are my goals for discrete sessions? Are my goals different for different sessions? What will I measure to determine the success of the session?" 


The questions created for critique and reflection direct student thinking. It's important to have a clear purpose about which of these outcomes you desire:

  • Develop artistry
  • Critique works of art
  • Support students' metacognition
  • Explore visual art core standards
  • Explore core standards from other curricular subjects
  • Work on 21st century skills
  • Build relationship with students
  • Build classroom community

Once teachers prioritize their desired learning outcomes, the value of the conversation can be targeted strategically and questions can be thoughtfully prepared.


Step 2. Determine the format.

What will be the most effective way to engage students in artistic conversations about their work, the work of others, or the social, historical, or cultural context of the work? How will I assess the success of the session?


Several frameworks provide options for teachers to support their selected purpose and desired student learning outcomes. The purpose and format may be more entwined than sequential: selecting a purpose may lead quickly to selecting a format and vice versa. But keeping these two concepts somewhat separate may yield useful pedagogical insights.


For example, if the purpose of a critique session is to develop language for helping students improve their own work, oral or written sharing of their perceptions of works of art strengthens their fluency with the vocabulary of the art form. The students become more aware of their own thoughts and emotional responses to the work as well as discovering more descriptive and evocative ways they can communicate these effects.


The specific arts-based questioning formats (Visible Thinking Strategies, Perceive and Reflect, etc.) are described in more detail in the "Questions for Creators" and "Questions for Consumers" pages in this section of the binder.


Critique and reflection can be conducted as verbal discussion in pairs, small groups, or full class; or it can be recorded in written/visual reflections as a journal entry, letter to an artist, or mind map. These processes can significantly strengthen one's own work (self-assessment), contribute to the work of peers, or develop understanding of canonical works.


Specific applications follow:

  1. Students can engage in self-assessment conversation by writing their perceptions, thoughts, questions, and value statements in a journal; recording their insights onto a digital device; sketching a series of images, etc.
  2. Students can present their works in progress to peers in pairs or small groups, sharing their thinking and emotional connections to their work and describing what they intend to do next. They receive no feedback from peers or teacher; success is measured by students' fluency in capturing what they have accomplished and how they intend to improve or complete their work.
  3. Students can discuss a peer work or a canonical work in small groups capturing responses in writing, in sketches, or in an audio recording. The response record becomes the measure of success and the material for analysis.
  4. Another powerful variant of peer assessment is to have the student/creators ask questions of their peers in pairs or small groups.
  5. Mentor assessment can model highly attentive description, analysis, interpretation, judgement, and theorizing. But doing this requires extremely careful set up and closure. The most powerful application of mentor assessment is one on one in teacher/ student conferences, driven by neutral questions not evaluative statements from the teacher/mentor. The success of mentor assessment is evidence in the student's response to the mentoring session.


Step 3. Allocate time. 

When should these kind of conversations take place? How much time do you need to have a thorough conversation?


The time allocated to talking about art will vary according to its purpose(s). It could be 10 minutes or less. It could occupy different periods of time during the learning session (i.e., early in the session, in the middle, at the end). It could extend over a much longer period of time. The key is that it is crucial to include artistic conversations-purposefully and routinely- in order to realize and benefit from-the four studio structures. 


A caveat: Be wary of approaching these artistic conversations through a would-be egalitarianism. It isn’t necessary to have every student present work or even respond to work during a critique session. This tendency can slow down the pace of critique and weaken its efficacy.



Step 4. Archive and evaluate artistic conversations.

What do I do with material from "saved" artistic conversations? What sorts of analyses could generate cascading insights-by me as teacher/mentor, by students, and by parents and community members?


Students' comments and/or sketches bring significant insight. Thus it is important to record students' responses (i.e., who responds, and what they have to say). This could be done via audio recording, peer note-taking, self-reflective journaling, etc.


The data (sketches, recordings, etc.) provided by artistic conversation sessions could be used on posters, memos, letters/emails/texts sent home or to professional artists/companies/organizations. Students' comments could be used as sidebars in programs, as commentary in hallway galleries, on school websites, etc.


A portfolio is a useful way for students to archive their own work. Sections of the portfolio might include artistic conversations, works in progress, finished works, ideas for exploration, and drafts of artists' statements that evoke their creative arcs, etc. The portfolios could be featured-as videos or on desktops-at back-to-school nights, with the students serving as docents of their portfolios. You could affix comments/sketches/photos etc. to one of the walls in your room-a sort of graffiti wall that features the artistic conversations alongside student work.



Questions are also important for consumers (e.g., those attending a performance, visiting a gallery, etc.). Below are questioning strategies consumers might ask themselves, the creators (if possible), or their mentors before, during, or after experiencing art.


Before Experiencing a Work of Art

A potential audience member can deepen their observational experience by asking questions in preparation for attending a performance/exhibition.

  • Where did this work originate?
  • What are the unique features of this work? Of the creators(s)?
  • Is there anything I might explore regarding the intent of the creators(s) that would add to my understanding?
  • How does this iteration compare to other instances where this work has been performed?

While Experiencing or After Experiencing a Work of Art

Informed consumers ask themselves a variety of questions while experiencing art and after the art experience. Meaningful consumption involves focused observation, attentive consideration, and awareness of nuances in the work. After consuming an art experience the key is to create meaning from the work and identify the emotional and intellectual impact the work has had on you. Listed below are a few descriptions and references recommended to guide focused thinking and observation during an arts experience and for creating meaning afterwards.




Questioning might be the most important part of the creative process for the creator (i.e., the maker-the pre-K-12 student, college arts major, arts entrepreneur, professional artist, etc.). Below are a few questioning strategies creators might ask themselves (and their mentors) before, during, and after participating in the creative process.


Before the Creative Process

Some questions naturally emerge for the creator during the idea phase, leading to creative action. Examples may include:

  • What medium/form/scale do I intend to work within?
  • Are there touchstones or antecedents I want to mine as I create my work? What materials, research, or principles should I consider before I work? How transparent should I make these?
  • How long do I anticipate this work twill take? How will I know when I am finished?
  • What emotional impact do I want my work to have? How will I know if I have achieved it?
  • How will I share my work to best advantage? (e.g., real time/real space, digitally, etc.)

During the Creative Process

During the creative process the creator may ask questions grounded in the elements of the chosen art form. Below are some questions adaptable to all art forms, along with a few questions specific to particular art forms. Integrating art form elements into questions may promote greater clarity and specificity.

  • Are my choices fitting my intent?   In creating my dance, are my choices of body usage, energy, space, time, and motion fitting my intent?
  • Are my choices consistent, or is inconsistency apparent?   Are my drama characters consistent? If not, is the inconsistency justified?
  • Are there ways I can make my work clearer, more powerful, more communicative?   How could I  improve pitch, duration, timbre, form, and/or expressive qualities to make my work clearer, more powerful, or more communicative?
  • Am I conveying an accessible emotional tone that consumers can understand?   Am I applying techniques of line, shape, color, value, texture, space, and form that effectively communicate the desired emotional impact?
  • Is my work Interesting?
  • Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end?   Does my dramatic piece have a clear beginning, middle, end? Are exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement easy  to identify and interpret? Does conflict occur at the appropriate point in the story?

Note: Each of these elements could be exploded and discrete details explored through smaller and smaller pieces.


After the Creative Process

The questions associated with this phase are personal: Some are introspective, some intended to be shared.

  • What moment, section, piece, measure, etc. do I consider my best work? Why?
  • If I had more time, what would warrant additional attention?
  • Who could I seek out as a mentor to help me realize my vision?
  • Where would I like to go next with my work?





Click on each strategy below to link to more information.

Performance & Exhibition

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In the second edition, Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, 2nd Edition, the authors added exhibition as a fourth structure to the earlier conception. The first three structures are focused on the process of art making. The fourth structure extends the students' experience to include exhibitions to show their work as professional artists do, e.g. gallery openings, gallery representation, site-specific public art installations, etc. To include the performance arts, this structure is renamed Performance and Exhibitions. This structure is the summative assessment for the arts experience. Assessment indicators from the art form can be applied.


Exhibition and performance includes selecting, organizing, and publicly displaying works and/or images and related text. It can involve any or all of the other three studio structures. It takes many forms, either physical or virtual, installed or performed, ephemeral or permanent, sanctioned or guerrilla, informal or formal, or curated gallery style. It often occurs outside of class space and time, including in virtual spaces and develops in phases: planning, installation, exhibition, and aftermath.


Performance and exhibition skills begin in the classroom as students practice performing and presenting for each other as they are developing skills; thus, performances or exhibitions may be produced on a large or small scale.


Exhibitions and performances contribute in varied ways:

  • Provide a forum for student work that bears a family resemblance to how professionals' share their products

  • Provide students opportunities to present their work for feedback

  • Raise awareness of social or community issues

  • Create unity within the community

  • Provide contexts to redefine excellence

  • Motivate student artists to continue to create

  • Recognize student growth and assess student skills in the arts


Additionally, the aesthetic experience for audiences is a powerful complement to the work itself. Our experience has shown that regular high-quality exhibitions and performances transform a school culture in ways that impact learning across grade levels and disciplines.




Some schools have developed calendars for arts nights, arts galas, arts festivals, etc., enlisting the support of parent and community groups, PTAs, arts advisory boards to help stage and manage large scale events. Others have relied on smaller exhibitions throughout the year. 



Performances could be designed for and presented in hallways, kivas, large multi-use spaces, etc., but they could also incorporate site-specific choices that use the school grounds as venue (e.g., climbing areas, sports courts, walkways, etc.).


Film & Media Arts

Exhibitions of films and digital projects (e.g., animation, Claymation, motion-graphics, etc.) could be small scale (i.e., shown on classroom TVs), or large scale (i.e., projected onto large screens in multi-use spaces for large audiences).  If a local arts organization supports a film series, school projects could be shown as part of the programming (e.g., before screening the main film of the evening).



Performances of theatre work could be designed for production in a classroom emptied of chairs and desks for small audiences, in site specific settings (e.g., a performance that used a second floor window for the wizard's castle, a lower level loading dock for the home of dwarves and trolls, jungle gyms for urban dwellings, hallways, etc. - a moveable performance where the audience travels to experience certain scenes), as well as in multi-use spaces (i.e., a cafetorium, gym, kiva).  It might also be possible to partner with an area theatre to perform work on their stage, thus making use of stage curtains, legs, lighting, and sound equipment.  



Performances could be small (e.g., a touring group of soloists or a small ensemble traveling to various classrooms, or classrooms traveling one by one to a host classroom for the performance), or larger scale (e.g., performed in a multi-use space, gym, or theatre).  A caveat - the larger the space, the larger the audience, the more demanding the requirements for sound enhancement. Performances could also be showcases of recorded musical works shot with two or more cameras and subsequently edited into a short film that is shown large or small.


Visual Arts

Exhibitions of 2D art (e.g., paintings, drawings, collage, digital compositions, graphic novels, etc.) could take place in the classroom, in hallways or commons areas, media rooms, etc.  The mentor/teacher could serve as the curator, or, students could be assigned curatorial tasks (e.g., matting and/or framing art work; planning the scope and scale of the exhibition to maximize aesthetic efficacy; soliciting, editing, and integrating artist statements as part of the exhibition; designing simple but effective lighting for the exhibition; announcing the "opening" through school websites, post cards, flyers, etc.).


Exhibitions of 3D art could take the shape of a sculpture gallery leading into the school, exhibited along well-traveled walkways, on playgrounds, at strategic places inside the school that don't bend requirements of fire codes, etc. Both 2D and 3D art could be digitally photographed and sequenced into a media project (with voice overs and music) that could be shown in the school's multi-use space for large audiences.  Or, a gallery stroll could be designed to host one class at a time with students serving as docents of their work.


Producing Performances


Staging the Performance

Identify the purpose of the event.

  • Is it intended for peers to exchange feedback and build skills?
  • Is it intended to demonstrate excellent execution of an assignment or standard?
  • Is it intended to build a sense of community with families and/or other participants?

Consider the ability of the performers

  • How many people would the students be comfortable performing for?
  • Who would most appreciate or learn from the students' performance?

Select the Appropriate Venue

Where is the best place for the performance?

 Classroom           Kiva
 Library                 Gymnasium
 Auditorium           Hallway
 Playground          Outdoor Field


When selecting a performance space, consider: 

  • the purpose of the performance
  • the content of the performance
  • the technical needs 
  • the weather
  • the comfort, size, and age of the audience.

Would a theatre piece about elements in nature be enhanced in an outdoor setting? Would a dance exploring shape be served by the school playground as a backdrop?




Invite the appropriate audience.

Consider the content of the performance.

  • Who is studying related content?
  • How can the content of the
  • performance build connections
  • with curriculum?
  • How can the performance connect
  • with the community?

For example, a fourth-grade class could benefit from watching another fourth-grade class perform a dance they created to reflect the westward expansion of the United State by connecting the artistic choices with their social studies content.


Preparing the Performance

Preparing the Performance Space

  • Is the space large enough? 
  • Can the performers be seen and heard? 
  • Is the audience seated comfortably for the length of the performance?
  • Did you test that the microphone, sound system, lighting system or other technical elements are working properly?

Preparing the Performers

  • Teach student performers how to enter and exit the performing space, including how to greet, or not greet, the audience.
  • Prepare the performers with strategies to deal with mistakes that may occur during the performance.
  • Prepare the performers to manage costumes, props, or other equipment. Explicitly teach and practice where to find them, where to return them, and how to interact with them offstage.
  • Rehearse bowing and accepting applause.
  • Plan a strategy to introduce the piece and to say "Thank you for coming."
  • Rehearse in the performance space prior to the performance time. Allow students enough time to practice so they feel confident at performance time.

Preparing the Audience

Provide background knowledge by introducing the performance and discussing the answers to the following questions:

  • Who is the creator and what is their perspective?
  • What is the creator's purpose?
  • What is the medium selected? Who is the target audience?
  • What topics, ideas and values are addressed?

Instruct the audience to watch the performers for cues and clues as to when laughter and verbal responses are appropriate. Teach or remind the audience about concert etiquette both verbally and by publishing reminders in the performance program.


When to cheer and applaud?

  • In music concerts, wait for the conductor to turn around before you applaud.
  • Watch the performers to signal when there has been an appropriate length of pause before applauding.
  • Clapping over the top of fading music may not be appropriate.
  • Appropriate laughter and authentic emotional responses are encouraged.
  • In dance concerts, the etiquette can change from piece to piece; you could cheer and applaud during the hip-hop piece, but would hold your applause until the end of the contemporary piece.

Concert Etiquette

  • At the completion of each piece, after the appropriate pause, applaud to show your appreciation. Calling out names and whistling distracts the performers' concentration and negatively impacts other audience members' experience.
  • Keep program notes or informational materials quiet during the performance.
  • If you must leave during a performance, leave between songs, dances, scenes, or intermission.
  • Do not play with cell phones, toys, or noise makers during a performance.
  • Do not use flash photography or video unless given permission.
  • When given permission to document the work, be thoughtful, do not block the view of audience members behind you.

After the Performance

Allow performers and audience members an opportunity to reflect on their experience.

  • Invite audience members to participate in a question & comment session with the performers.
  • Provide for teacher/student led classroom discussions about the performance.
  • Have students write or draw reflections after they return to their classroom. Invite them to mention specific details of the performance that caused them to have a particular response.
  • Write thank you notes for the performers.
  • Coach students on principles of constructive feedback, which includes building others up and providing specific ways the performance has impacted them.

Producing Exhibitions

Celebrating Student Learning in Visual Arts

Teachers as Curators

Students'  work, achievements, and learning in visual arts deserve celebration. Attending to the details of an exhibition can significantly impact the experience, whether the showing is intended for peers, the entire school, the community, or students' families. The person arranging the details of an exhibition or art display is referred to as a curator.


Curators use their expertise to select and organize the artifacts to be presented at an event or exhibition. Teachers in the curator role can trust their experience as educators to carry out these responsibilities:

  • Choose a venue or method of display that will best enhance the students' work.
  • Implement a plan to share with patrons/viewers what they need or want to know about
  • the students' backgrounds, the creative processes, or the context of the project(s)
  • displayed.
  • Publicize the exhibition and invite an audience to attend and enjoy it.



A curating teacher elevates the quality of the students' exhibition by considering some of the following questions, while anticipating the needs of the participating students, as well as the parents, other students, and community members as consumers of art.

  • Is the work best highlighted by being mounted or framed?
  • At what level(s) will children be able to see the art to appreciate it?
  • At what location will an appropriate-size audience be able to see the work?
  • What will the viewers need to know about the context of the work to understand and
  • appreciate it?
  • How can I show evidence of student learning?
  • Who will be positively impacted by viewing my students' work?


To make the prospect of exhibiting student work seem more feasible for emerging teacher curators, we asked two seasoned visual arts specialists, Cindy Clark and Vicki Gehring, to share their expertise concerning student exhibitions. These specialists address both broad and specific issues involved with the logistics and preparation of an effective exhibition. We hope that their advice inspires you to step into the role of curator and that you find joy and satisfaction in highlighting your students' learning achievements in visual arts.

Considerations for a School Art Show

School art shows are wonderful. A lot of work, but so worth it! A few ideas for school art show displays...



Display art in the classroom.

At the end of an assignment, tape all art up around the room and allow all students a turn to tell about what they were trying to express, what part they are most proud of, and what, if anything, they would change. They could plan in advance what to say by answering a few questions. At the end of each presentation, the class could clap.


Display art in hallways and libraries.

Halls and libraries are attractive public places to display art. But be sure to inform parents, principal, and other teachers what the students are learning by posting a "blurb" that is short and easy to read.


Promote art projects and displays.

Use the school's website, bulletin, or newsletter. I had a link for my art class on our school website to show current projects, but I always explained the concepts expressed or reflected in the students' work. Often I included artist statements - with the artists' permission, of course.


Provide a display in the halls during parent-teacher conferences.

Take photos of student art and movies of students working on art, then create a simple PowerPoint or movie that can play on a loop for all parents to see.

Artist Child thinking

Keep an art portfolio for all students.

At end of term, have them choose one or two works they like best. Ask them to share with others in the class, explaining what they learned and describing, using art terminology, why they are proud of their chosen work.

Basic Principles of Exhibiting Student Work


Whether students' art is two dimensional or three dimensional, it should be displayed in a professional way that validates its importance. The art pieces should be arranged and displayed to enhance their appearance. Students' art should be displayed at the students' eye level unless the pieces are part of a display or space is severely limited.


Mounting and Matting Two-Dimensional Art

Mounting: Placing the artwork on top of the mat. When mounting artwork for display, the mounter must be aware of the adhesive. Some glues will bleed through some paper (especially copy paper). Some glues will cause the paper to wrinkle or be lumpy.

Matting: Placing the artwork behind the mat. This is accomplished by cutting an opening in the mat about 1/2 inch smaller than the size of the artwork paper.


mounting and matting


  • The rule of thumb is that the mat should either have the same measurement on all four sides or have a slightly larger bottom.
  • Mounting can be done with construction paper or mat board that is at least one inch larger than the paper of the artwork. The larger the artwork paper, the larger the mounting paper should be. For example, artwork on 9 x 12 paper can be mounted on paper one inch larger; however, artwork on 12 x 18-inch paper looks better if the mounting paper is at least two inches larger.
  • If the artwork doesn't have a lot of color or is predominantly light in color, the mat can be smaller. Artwork that is bold or colorful usually looks better with a larger mat.
  • The color of the mounting paper should complement the artwork. For a display, place the art on different colors of matting paper. The right color will make each picture "sing" (enhance the colors and "bring it to life"). Black has become standard for matting, but it doesn't always enhance the look of student work.


Framing Two-Dimensional Art

Since the two most common sizes of drawing paper in schools are 9 x 12 and 12 x 18, two standard size picture frames will accommodate most student work: 11 x 14 and 16 x 20. Mats can be cut to fit these paper sizes and the frames used over and over.


Arranging a Two-Dimensional Display

  • Mount the individual works of art as a group on a large piece of butcher paper.
  • Create a background that compliments the theme of the art. For example, if the theme of the art is butterflies or birds, display them on a large piece of blue butcher paper with clouds.
  • Arrange the individual works of art to complement the subject matter. For example, mountain landscapes could be displayed in the shape of mountains.
Arranging a Two-Dimensional Display



Displaying Three-Dimensional Art

The same principle applies to both three-dimensional and two-dimensional art: Present these pieces in a way that validates and enhances their appearance. Preparing the space and creating an environment to address the theme or complement the work can significantly impact the quality of the exhibition. Here are some things to consider when displaying three-dimensional art:

  • If the art pieces are to be displayed on a table or desks, cover the surface with cloth or butcher paper, like using a table cloth for a nice dinner. Use a color that complements the art, as you would choose a mat for two-dimensional work. For example, sculptures that are multi-colored (made of cereal boxes and/or cans) are set off well by a black background. If the artwork has a predominant color theme, cover the table with a complementary color.
  • If the art is representational, such as popsicle stick cabins or clay animals, enhance the quality of the display by creating a setting that can unify the individual pieces. In a display case consider dressing the back wall with a complementary image: for example, a complementary color or landscape background. When displaying work on a table, add rocks and trees, etc. or create a landscape scene to display on the wall behind the table.

Teaching Strategies for Quality Creative Arts Education Experiences

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The following sections provide general teaching tips and classroom management strategies for arts education and creative learning, which stem from best practices for teaching in the fields of education and studio arts instruction.


  • Teaching from clear curriculum objectives
  • State and reinforcing clear behavior expectations
  • Build an environment of trust and motivation through mutual respect
  • Start and stopping action with clear signals
  • Say "when" before "what"
  • Instruct with an evocative and accurate art form language
  • Deliver "just enough" side-coaching
  • Give appropriate, descriptive feedback about student work
  • Give appropriate positive reminders about behavior


  • Engage students with significant challenges
  • Facilitate aesthetic experiences
  • Make efficient transitions
  • Use an inquiry-based learning approach with personally meaningful problems to solve and well-worded questions
  • Children are the creators, decision-makers, and problem solvers; encourage student decision-making and responsibility
  • Guide student reflection about personal learning
  • Interconnect, integrate, contextualize and synthesize with art form history, principles and processes as well as cultural understanding, and other subjects


Classroom Management for Creative Learning

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Take an inventory of students needs and resources

  • Student's Needs: Identify areas where students are having problems, find ways to authentically integrate the arts to reinforce learning.

  • Classroom Resources: What supplies, access to water, access to space, drying space or storage space is available.


Positive phrases: state the desired behavior in positive terms. Give a suggestion.

  • "Will you please sit down right here and watch until you understand what I expect you to be doing?"
  • "Please show me how it would look to walk through the space without touching anyone."
  • "I like how quietly Susie is sitting."
  • "I like how Group Three started working right away."


Select your "tight" and "loose" issues

  • "tight" issues - less negotiable issues - i.e. policies and procedures
  • "loose" issues - more negotiable issues - i.e. opportunities for student choice


Key classroom management strategies

Establish and rehearse your procedures

  • Start class with an activity they know how to do when they enter
  • "I'll know you are ready when you are still." (say it with a smile!!)
  • Include personal space rules
  • Include signals for getting attention: drum, bell, clap a rhythm, call and response.

Say when before what. For example: "When I say, "go" I want you to pick up your props and go to your starting place."

Have at your disposal several games, songs or activities that the students know, which can be used for a warm-up or break

Clarify consequences



Integrating Established Pedagogical Practices and Theories

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Arts education pedagogy shares theoretical values with the well-established teaching practices in the field of education including hands-on and project based learning with a focus on student inquiry, engagement, authentic assessment, and the nurturing of transferrable 21st century skills. The following pedagogical theories and strategies are referenced and utilized in BYU ARTS Partnership professional development programs along with the Four Studio Structures for Learning, and support and complement the pedagogies described in this Advancing Arts Leadership Curriculum.