Excerpt from Lois Hetland Presentation

In the mid-1990s there existed a mainstream perception that we should have arts in the school because they make you smarter at math or language arts. There were many claims about how the arts raised test scores. My colleague, Ellen Winner, and I had not seen studies that were convincing to us. We could not find the hard, scientific evidence on which these claims were based. We decided to do a project to see if we could actually find a scientific basis for making these claims. What we found was... not so much, and that did not make us terribly popular.

We thought it was important that people knew that just having more arts doesn't necessarily raise your test scores. And that doesn't surprise me as an arts advocate. Sometimes scores might go up when kids get more arts, and sometimes they might not. What's the difference? The difference could be that sometimes we hire quality teachers, or kids who are willing to work hard sign up for art courses, or kids with supportive parents sign up for arts courses. Or it could be how the arts are taught–whether the teachers help students mine the experiences, thinking about them and using them to build on. But how can we find out the real reason? It worried us that the arts advocacy community seemed to be staking their claim on saying, "No, no, keep the arts in the schools because it's going to make you smarter in these other things that are really important." Unintentionally, I think, they seemed to be saying that the arts weren't really important; they are just something that could make you smarter in something that really is important, like science or math. And we didn't like that so much. It made the arts look like they were a handmaiden to whatever "really mattered." We thought the arts really mattered! So we decided we'd better figure out a way to talk about what matters. Maybe people were turning to these other arguments because they didn't know how to talk about the arts for what they give. So that's why we did the studio thinking work.

In the end of the research, the Eight Studio Habits of Mind were developed to represent the kind of mind that serious arts instruction is trying to make. And then we gave the result back to teachers and said, "This is what we are thinking serious art teachers are trying to teach; What do you think?" The response has largely been that they look and sound good–in visual art and in other art forms, and some teachers have even started using them in non-arts subjects."

Making art is so much at the crux of what kids need in order to have a deep artistic experience. Looking at art is great, and talking about art is great, but we think making art is central to genuinely understanding art.

But teachers who support kids in making art, which is the surest way to build their artistic minds, need some help. They can get confused and begin to think that what the kids make is the product of their arts program. It's not. The kids are actually the product of our teaching. Our kids–the kinds of minds they have and use, the kinds of people they are–that's our product. It is not the work that the kids make that is the product of our teaching... that work is their product. That is the most important thing I can say to you. We get so confused about what the product of teaching is. We think it's the work that our kids make (or the test scores they get). But the work isn't the product–the work is a clue that tells us about the real product–and the real product is the kid's embodied mind. It's the kid who walks out the door. That's our product. The problem with that, you know, is, how do you assess that. Well, you have to get a lot cleverer than a multiple choice test. But more on that later.

The Studio Habits help us to see the kid and the kid's mind and understanding. One of the reasons we use kids' work as clues, as evidence, is because we can see the work. We could see it and judge it as good or bad, and too often that's all that happens with kids' work. I think that the point of work is to use it as evidence of what is going on in the kid's mind. And to do that, you can't just look at finished work, you have to look at everything that kids do. You have to look at the history of each kid's work, what they say, and do, and make. That's all the clues you have, what they say, do, and make. Everything they make isn't a finished piece. Most of what they make are drafts and revisions; they make pieces over time. So, collecting the evidence of the drafts, reflections, and revisions in a portfolio (a process-folio, really) is going to let you develop a richer portrait, a clearer idea of what's going on with a given student. A kid's behavior is structured by the choices and decisions made by the kid, but you can only see those externally. You are getting evidence of a kid's mind by looking at his behavior, by looking at his work over time, and by listening to what the kid says.