Traverse City Area Public Schools & (Harvard) Project Zero: Artful Thinking

Alison Arnold , Grants and Communications Director
Traverse City Area Public Schools
412 Webster Street
Traverse City, MI 49686




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School district and higher education research collaboration.

Traverse City Area Public Schools
Project Zero- Harvard Graduate School of Education

Artful Thinking is a program for teaching thinking that uses art as a force for developing learners’ thinking dispositions. Artful Thinking is approach for making rich connections between works of art and curricular topics that help students develop deeper understanding of mathematics, social studies, language arts and science. Used mainly by classroom generalists, but also by art teachers, the program offers several techniques for helping learners think deeply about works of art and other subjects, inside and outside school.

Developed by Project Zero at Harvard University in collaboration with the Traverse City, Michigan Area Public Schools, Artful Thinking is part of the Visible Thinking initiative at Harvard Project Zero – a research-based approach to teaching thinking that links a growing international network of schools and other learning organizations. In Traverse City, the program has focused on grades K-9, though it will likely expand through grade 12. In other Project Zero settings, the program is also used in museums and pre-service teacher education.

Artful Thinking takes the image of an artist’s palette as its central metaphor. Typically, a palette is comprised of a small number of “thinking dispositions” as basic colors, which can be used and blended in a great variety of ways. The Artful Thinking palette is comprised of 6 “thinking dispositions” – 6 intellectual behaviors that contribute to powerful thinking and learning. They are:
  1. Questioning & Investigating
  2. Observing & Describing
  3. Reasoning
  4. Finding Complexity
  5. Exploring Viewpoints
  6. Comparing & Connecting
These dispositions are developed through the use of “thinking routines,” short, easy-to-learn mini-strategies that deepen learning. This approach is based on a long history of research at Project Zero on the mechanism of high-level cognitive behavior. Thinking routines can be used flexibly and repeatedly with diverse works of art and with a wide range of topics in the curriculum. They cultivate thinking dispositions by engaging learners in spirited conversations in which they use their own ideas as a starting point to explore, examine, explain, and inquire.

A key component of the Artful Thinking approach is “visible thinking.” The practice of visible thinking involves making thinking visible by documenting learners’ unfolding ideas as they think through issues, problems, or topics. Research suggests that visible thinking supports the development of thinking dispositions in several ways: It reveals the anatomy of thinking in action, it demonstrates the value of intellectual collaboration, and it helps create a shared and vibrant culture of thinking that genuinely reflects the ideas of all.

The key component of the Artful Thinking professional development structure is teacher study groups. These are cross-grade groups of 6-10 teachers who meet bi-monthly and follow a protocol that supports teachers as they look at documentation of student work and consider issues around the development of students’ thinking dispositions. In the first two years of the program, the professional development structure also included regular workshops with Harvard Project Zero staff. As planned, now that the program is fully developed and has a core of teachers who are well-trained in its practices, the professional development structure is shifting to a mentorship model, in which experienced teachers are conducting workshops and supporting newcomers to the program.

U.S. Department of Education - Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant

Findings :
Based on year two project outcome data collected from treatment schools and comparison schools, student populations taking part in the Artful Thinking program are out-performing comparison groups as measured by 2005 student achievement scores from on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests. Interim findings begin to reveal scoring differences, with the 2005-06 Artful Thinking school outscoring the control school in reading for grades 3, 5, and 6 (98% students scoring proficient compared to 89% proficient); in writing for grade 6 (85% versus 72% proficiency) and similar differences in mathematics. Sharif Shakrani of the Center for Educational Policy at Michigan State University is writing the final project report on student achievement outcomes, while Project Zero is analyzing and coding the “thinking probes” students completed in pre and post assessments each project year. These probes are not standardized tests, but were developed to measure students changing conceptions about their own thinking. A final evaluation report will be available in December 2006.

Lessons Learned:
Strong thinking dispositions do not correlate with strong laboratory performance-based skills, which are more frequently tested.

Tools and criteria developed in this partnership can inform the development of more explicit assessments of student learning. The program brings together important and significant expertise in the areas of cognition and learning, assessment, testing and measurement, to implement a program for student learning that incorporates intentional and credible approaches for connecting hypotheses about arts-integrated learning with student achievement. This arena of research is being called for among arts advocates, educational reformers and policymakers.

Useful Tools:
Artful Thinking Website
  • Study Group protocol
  • Thinking Continuum Rubric
  • Artful Thinking Routines, Curriculum Connections

Arnold, Alison ( "RE: COMPLETED Final Version Profile:
Traverse City Area Public Schools & Project Zero: Artful Thinking, Attached MEAP Proficient LL-GL All.Pdf." E-mail to Dawn M. Ellis ( 19 June 2006.

Artful Thinking. Traverse City Study Group Protocol. 2000. Web Page. URL: 16 November 2005.

Artful Thinking. Artful Thinking. 2005. Web Page. URL: 8 September 2005.

Artful Thinking. Making Thinking Visible. 2005. Web Page. URL: 16 November 2005.

Artful Thinking. Routines. 2005. Web Page. URL: 16 November 2005.

Perkins, Dave, Ron Ritchart, and Shari Tishman. "Intelligence in the Wild: A Dispositional View of Intellectual Traits." Educational Psychology Review 12.3 (2000): 269-93.

Perkins, David. Making Thinking Visible. Web Page. URL: 16 November 2005.

Perkins, David N. "Schools Need to Pay More Attention to "Intelligence in the Wild". Harvard Education Letter May/June.2000 (2000).

Tishman, Shari. "Why Teach Habits of Mind?", 2000. 41-52.

---. "Added Value: A Dispositional Perspective on Thinking." Developing Minds: A
Resource Book for Teaching Thinking. article. Shari Tishman. 2001. 71-75.

Tishman, Shari, and P. Palmer. "Visible Thinking." Leadership Compass 2.4 (2005): 1-3.

Target Population:
Arts Administrators

Arts Specialists

Classroom Teachers

Education Administrators

Other Educators

Other Population



Teaching Artists

Arts Discipline:


Interdisciplinary arts and other subjects




Entry Points:



Education Thread: