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Set the Stage in Your Classroom


  • At the very beginning of the term, designate your class as an art-based inquiry class in which students make art as part of their exploration of ideas and phenomena. Explain the approach to students to help them shift their perspective on art from object-making to inquiry.


  • Introduce, define and use vocabulary of art-based inquiry. 


  • ​Articulate expectations and criteria for success.​



  • ​Introduce the learning and documentation tools: Research workbook/journals and or learning walls.


Prime the Pump 

To start directed inquiry, present your lesson as an inquiry—asking questions and welcoming student ideas about the concept to be explored. Concept map together their ideas and associations. Prompt students to add more associations, even goofy ones. Write generative questions and guiding questions on the blackboard.


To build toward guided inquiry and independent inquiry: Do a short model of guided inquiry. This can be a two-or three- session exploration of a common object, a body part, an image, a piece of clothing—something concrete that has associations and meaning for students. This could be followed with another short, guided inquiry, this time into a concept (issue, idea or problem) important to students.


Independent Inquiry: Once students are in-tune with art-based inquiry, they can independently research something of interest to them. This interest can be as specific as skateboards or as broad as climate change. The topic should be “generative”—show promise for leading to interesting, important ideas and images. I recommend that students start small. It is overwhelming to tackle huge abstract ideas. Starting small and specific can and should lead to big ideas. Find a topic that fits “the sweet spot”—right at the confluence of “what is important to the world”; “what is important to me”; and “what is do-able”.


One helpful strategy for locating “sweet spot” topics is each student lists ten or more interests and peer groups review each-other’s lists, make recommendations and brainstorm ideas around the topics.  Once they have designated a topic, each student decides what he/she wants to know about their topic. This becomes the research question. From there, spur and support their research with structures, scaffolding, protocols, activities and tools.


As they look for answers to that question, encourage (or assign) them to ask more questions. These questions should lead them into exploring how their topic is represented in math, science, the humanities and language arts, and social/cultural studies.

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