Art & SculpturePersistence

The video below highlights a collaboration between third and fourth grade teacher Ellen Franz, and Teaching Artist Brooke Toczylowski. The sculpture lesson they created was designed to develop the habit of persistence — a concept that is at once abstract, but also essential for students’ success.

The art of teaching is about both giving students information (what to learn), and giving them skills to make use of that information (how to learn). Project Zero, an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, undertook a year-long study of arts education that examined the “how to learn” elements of arts instruction.

They identified eight “Studio Habits of Mind” that are embedded in arts teaching. These are cognitive dispositions that art-making cultivates – among them are the abilities to envision, to express, to observe, to reflect — and to engage and persist. This latter Habit of Mind is defined as the capacity to “develop focus and other mental states conducive to working and persevering.”

Ellen identified that this was a capacity her students crucially needed to develop, seeing a lack of resilience, and a difficultly in pushing through obstacles to complete a task. She knew she had to give them an answer to the question she posed in the intervie w— “What do you do when you are so angry you want to throw furniture?” If her students give in to frustration, and just give up, they won’t have the ability to excel in school.

“What matters most in a child’s development…is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.— Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Framing the skill of persistence through art makes the concept both visible and tactile. Developing the skill through writing exercises is more abstract, with the progression of multiple drafts existing on a more impalpable level: even when drafts have been radically reworked, one page of text looks very much like the next. By framing persistence through drawing and sculpture, its concept was articulated through several distinct stages of development, with enough novelty in each step to keep the project fresh and the students engaged. The stages were visually and physically distinct from one another, while maintaining the same basic structure and a clear end-point that the students were working towards. The end result was an idea made tangible, graspable and real through the hands of the students.

Are Marin County students being given more than just information — are they being given the habits of mind to make use of that information?

For more information, see: Harvard’s Project Zero, The studio thinking Project.