There’s a myth that clouds my student’s minds. They think they need to be born an artist in order to be an artist, to think like an artist. And that’s simply not true. Artists cultivate habits over time to help guide and inform their choices. These practices help artists in becoming great problem-solvers. The researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero coined them the Studio Habits of Mind (SHOM).
Moreover, my students have assigned a label to describe these self-perceived successful artists. You know the word I’m talking about.
When the chips are down, when one of them is struggling, or when a classmate holds up their amazing drawing they worked so hard on for all to see, you’re bound to overhear the “t” word at some point.
It’s the bane of my existence as an art teacher.
They set themselves up for failure by saying things like, “I have no talent running in my family.” Or, “I can’t do that. I’m not that talented!”
(Maybe she’s born with it? Maybe it’s Maybelline? I’m saying it’s the Maybelline.)
They treat the acquisition of skills as if they have to be born with it. And they don’t think beyond skills to other aspects of what it means to be an artist.
And this is where the Studio Habits of Mind come into play.
- What Are the Studio Habits of Mind?
- Implementing the Studio Habits of Mind in the Art Room
- Studio Habits of Mind Posters
- Illustrate the Posters
- “I Can” Statements
- Bell Ringer Journals
- Reflection Journals
- Art Exit Tickets
- Gallery Walks
- Studio Habits of Mind Center Activities
- SLO (Student Learning Objectives) or SGO (Student Growth Objectives)
- PDP (Professional Development Plan)
- Wrapping Up the Studio Habits of Mind
What if children understood how artists think and how that translates into what they do every day? Would it help them grow? Be better problem-solvers? Generate new ideas? And in turn, feel more successful?
The researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero developed these 8 Studio Habits of Mind as a result of studying artists and art educators. They found that these habits help artists improve their craft, tackle hard problems, and give teachers concrete language to those internal processes that happen during art making. Those habits include:
- Develop Craft: Use and care for tools and materials as well as the practices of an art form.
- Engage and Persist: Embrace important artistic problems and develop focus within my work.
- Envision: Mentally picture the next possible steps in my work.
- Express: Create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or meaning.
- Observe: Look carefully to see things that might not otherwise be seen.
- Reflect: Talk about and access the process of artmaking for myself and others.
- Stretch and Explore: Reach beyond my abilities and embrace the chance to learn from my mistakes.
- Understand Art World: Learn about art history and ways to interact as an artist with other artists.
Often times, these habits overlap one another in the tasks that students perform. Therefore, they can be hard to separate out as being wholly in the “engage and persist” column or, say, the “stretch and explore” column.
I can say from experience that my students believe artists just wing it. They’re so hung up on the “product” that’s been created and not the thought process it took to create it.
Those of us who are trained artists and teachers know it’s not possible to always wing it. Yes, some artists are able to do that, just not continually all the time. As a result, it’s our job to bust these negative mindsets. And that involves deconstructing the work and thought process visual artists take to create.
However, none of this involves linear thinking; artists are always developing craft, envisioning their ideas, observing their subject, etc. in no particular order. To be clear, the studio habits of mind are not a checklist that one tics off like, “Oh hey, I’ve practiced painting (develop craft) and spent time engaging in my craft (engage and persist). So next up is envisioning the end result!” I hope you can see how it doesn’t work like that.
To that end, the beauty of using these studio habits in the art room is they need not be taught in any particular order. There are many ways to infuse them into your curriculum naturally. Here are some examples:
Studio Habits of Mind Posters
First, display instructional content such as classroom posters that support the studio habits framework. This will help kids become familiar with the framework’s concepts.
Plus, think of all the “Ah ha!” moments you had the first time in learning about these habits. Now imagine your students delight in knowing that they, too, engage in some of these habits. And, “Hey, maybe I’m more of an artist than I give myself credit for!”
Additionally, as their teacher, it will shed light on where you focus most of your curriculum on (likely developing craft and understanding art worlds). This will help you ponder how to illuminate the other studio habits you spend less time on. More on that in a moment.
Illustrate the Posters
If you really want students to understand the habits, they need to incorporate them into their daily life.
Consider having children act them out and take pictures to accompany your classroom posters. This will be the best visual reminder of what each habit embodies. It also makes for an awesome graphic design project!
“I Can” Statements
Align your “I Can” statements to all 8 artist habits of mind. I do this with my own art lessons. They’re designed to be printed, cut, laminated (if you wish), and displayed. They’re a great resource to tie the learning back into the habits you want kids to develop.
If it seems daunting to come up with that many SHOM-related “I Can” statements, I promise it’s not once you get going. How about an example?
Say you’re teaching an art lesson about Alexander Calder and your class is making wire sculptures. Here’s some “I Can” statements you might create for this lesson:
- Develop Craft: I can use pliers and wire to create a sculpture.
- Engage and Persist: I can continue creating my sculpture, even when I run into problems.
- Envision: I can sketch out my sculpture ideas prior to working with wire.
- Express: I can communicate a mood through the placement of facial features in my sculpture.
- Reflect: I can give thoughtful feedback to my peers about their Calder-inspired sculptures.
- Stretch and Explore: I can learn from my mistakes in order to develop new strategies in working with wire.
- Understand Art World: I can work with my peers to share ideas on how to sculpt with wire.
Focus on the definition of the studio habit. Then, make it specific to the task at hand. Simple, right?
Lastly, display the habits alongside projects on your bulletin board and even in your virtual art show. We all know colleagues, admins, and parents don’t understand the skills attained in art unless we educate them. Moreover, these skills are internalized (engage and persist, envision, stretch and explore) and less easily measured. Bringing them to light, not only for your students, but for all the adults will bring more value to your program.
Bell Ringer Journals
Bell ringer journals are great for transitioning kids into the art lesson quickly. They also make effective formative assessment pieces that you can log into your grading program daily should your school require it. The prompts for these should be short and to the point so they can answer quickly and then jump back into their project immediately.
Pick one studio habit and have kids reflect about where they are with that particular habit in their current project. Write a question on a small slip of paper they can glue inside their sketchbook. For example:
- How have your painting skills developed since we started studying David Hockney’s landscape paintings? [develop craft]
- What’s one question you want to ask your peers for help with your painting today? [reflection]
- Since our last class, what new ideas have come to mind about your project? [envision]
Kids respond to the prompt and glue it into their sketchbook.
Similar to a bell ringer journal, reflection journals have multiple prompts that take more time to respond to. You can assign one in the middle of a long project and then again at the end. It may be something you give as homework for older students.
But for younger ones, you may record them on an iPad responding to the prompt. Here, the focus wouldn’t be on writing mechanics but rather hearing their thoughts on the topic. Likewise, it’s a great way to work in those 21st century learning skills with digital media!
Do you have kids keep a sketchbook of their ideas? Having students include reflection pieces alongside their sketches will aide them in forming connections between what they’re working on and how they arrived at those choices.
So, if your 4th graders are in the middle of a fashion design project, have them respond to several questions that tap into some of the studio habits such as:
- Who are you designing this outfit for? [engage and persist]
- What considerations did you have to make when designing these clothes? [reflect]
- What difficulties have you had coming up with your ideas? [stretch and explore]
In addition, depending on the use case, putting the names of the habits you’re honing in on alongside the questions can be helpful for kids. Or, use icons that represent each to promote visual learning. I find that’s an effective way to make meaning of each studio habit.
Lastly, you can make your reflective journals digital so your older students can keep better track of their writing pieces. I’ve been using these art portfolio templates for years with my middle schoolers. They use these writing samples to apply for a placement in a specialized visual arts high school program.
Art Exit Tickets
I love exit tickets in the art room! Hand them out at the end of a lesson as a quick formative assessment piece. If you’re like me and have to record a grade in the grade book after each art lesson, exit tickets are helpful. And, you can tie your daily tickets into the studio habits of mind, too!
The questions you create for these should also be short, just like the bell ringers. The only difference might be that your aim here is to ask something that hones in on what they accomplished in class, learned about themselves or their art, their feelings about what they created, etc. For example:
What would you like help with next week? [engage and persist]
What title did you give your project and why? [express]
How did you overcome challenges in making your project? [stretch and explore]
What principles of design did you use in your art today? [observe]
What is one thing you can add that will be surprising? [envision]
The most important thing I learned today was… [reflect]
What advice would you give a friend trying this technique? [develop]
I think the artist is trying to say… [understand art world]
These can either be collected individually or glued into their sketchbook to keep track of.
Kids like to talk. A lot. And they like to be up and out of their seats. Here’s a great way to channel that energy into something constructive and educational: gallery walks!
I’ve been doing these informally for decades with my art classes. It’s a fun way to get kids talking about art and share the talk space with peers.
Likewise, it also promotes the idea of understanding art worlds, an important studio habit of mind.
You can set up a gallery walk in the middle of a project or at the end as a summative review. Either way, students can write a question based on one of the studio habits they want answered by their peers. Then, they receive feedback anonymously. In the past, I’ve had classmates write their response in the form of a tweet, or an Instagram or Facebook post.
Some questions they could write include:
- What can I do to improve my painting skills? [develop craft]
- Who do you think I made this artwork for and why? [reflect]
- What do you think I struggled with in making this artwork? [stretch and explore]
Questions like this are aimed at getting kids into the minds of other artists so they can understand and relate to other artists. Additionally, so they see themselves and their peers as artists, too!
Studio Habits of Mind Center Activities
If you want students to embody the 8 studio habits of mind, plan engaging center activities:
- Develop Craft: Gather materials for a printmaking center with small styrofoam squares and markers. Have kids draw something easy onto the styrofoam. Then, color it with marker and print it on paper. Alternatively, you can put out a random assortment of materials for making artist trading cards.
- Engage and Persist: Kids work in singles or pairs to figure out the tangram puzzle. They should continue even if they can’t solve it right away.
- Envision: Create a drawing station with simple prompts such as “draw a hat” or “draw a house.” Students divide their paper into 3 small boxes and draw that object 3 different ways. This requires them to envision a different solution to the same problem.
- Express: Using play dough, students would choose a card with an expressive word on it like “sassy,” “strong,” and “nervous.” Then, they create a small sculpture that conveys that word. Alternatively, put out examples of famous artworks and have kids write or record themselves explaining its expressive qualities.
- Observe: Put out a box of small, but interesting objects that students draw.
- Reflect: Make a station of lesser known works of art. Have students write or record themselves giving feedback about the artwork.
- Stretch and Explore: Create a drawing station where kids wear blindfolds and listen to an audio track such as the sound of the ocean or a crackling fire. Then, they draw a picture based on what they hear. Alternatively, they could draw upside down or even with their feet!
- Understand Art World: Create a collaborative poster by taping a large sheet or roll paper to a wall. Draw some large, basic shapes to start. Kids can use digital spinner wheels to select patterns to fill it in.
SLO (Student Learning Objectives) or SGO (Student Growth Objectives)
Did I just hear you groan? I know. I KNOW. But for many of us, we’re required to write an SLO or SGO. So, why not work the studio habits of mind into this assessment piece since you’re working on them anyways? For example:
- Develop: For younger students, cutting skills are important. Create a 4-point rubric that assesses handling scissors while cutting, quality of the cutting, focus while using scissors, and their general safety in the art room.
- Observe: For upper elementary students, their observation skills begin to sharpen. Have kids complete a 5 minute bell ringer activity to draw a simple object. It can be the same object 4 weeks in a row. Assess them for at least 2 marking periods to measure their growth. Look to see if they pick up on new details not seen in their first sketches. Or, if they change the composition and size of their drawing. Plan on including self-reflection pieces and rubrics to alter the way you gather your data.
- Stretch and explore: Kids learn by playing with materials and making mistakes. It can be hard to get them to see the value in these exercises. Plan a series of experiences throughout the school year including creative drawing exercises, painting and printmaking activities using non-traditional tools, etc. Then, assign exit tickets for these activities to tap into their ability to try new things and think on the spot.
The key here is to document all the ways in which you ask students to engage in that one habit and assess over a period of time.
PDP (Professional Development Plan)
I just heard you groan…AGAIN. The busywork never seems to end.
Most teachers are expected to write 1 or 2 professional goals for each school year. While you’re planning your SGO or SLO for SHOM, might as well work it into your PD plans, too, right?
First, think back to your SLO or SGO you chose for this coming school year. Chances are you have new lesson materials and assessment pieces you need to create to meet those goals. Then, make your PDP goals all about developing those instructional materials!
Using the SLO/SGO examples above, you PDP goal might sound like this:
- Develop: I will design new formative and summative assessment rubrics and projects aligned to the Studio Habits of Mind (“develop craft”) to better assess students ability in developing their fine motor skills.
- Observe: I will research, plan, and execute a new drawing curriculum for 4th and 5th grade aligned to the Studio Habits of Mind (“observe”) so students acquire a solid foundation in the mechanics of drawing.
- Stretch & explore: I will create a series of short, self-guided videos aligned to the Studio Habits of Mind (“stretch and explore”) to demonstrate how “mistakes” and exploration leads to divergent thinking and develops problem-solving skills.
From here, you’d break down this one goal into 3 – 4 objectives that will help you attain that goal. Likewise, you’d break the objectives into a list of activities that you need to do to meet that objective.
Wrapping Up the Studio Habits of Mind
To sum up, the studio thinking framework is a powerful tool to use in your art curriculum to get students thinking about what it means to be an artist. Developing habits of mind at an early age will help kids understand and relate to the ways in which artists think and solve problems. Therefore, it’s important for art teachers to shed light on the thought process behind “thinking like an artist.”
If you haven’t checked out “Studio Thinking from the Start: The K-8 Educators Handbook” by Jillian Hogan, Lois Hetland, Diane B. Jaquith, and Ellen Winner, I highly recommend it. Above all, I appreciate how the authors tapped into the original habits, but made them more elementary friendly and accessible.
As I mentioned earlier, the first step to taking your journey into the habits is to familiarize yourself and your classes with them. If you’re looking for some eye-catching graphics, I have 3 versions of this poster set (depending on the age range your teach).
Drop a comment below. I’d love to know if you’re using the Studio Habits of Mind in your lessons in ways I’ve not yet mentioned.