Thesis Update: Examining the use of Visual Inquiry in Art Classes

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My son and I gathering materials for a new project

Hello. My name is Chris Parkman, and I am an art education graduate student at City College. This is my final semester at CCNY, and I am beginning work on my thesis research. I currently work as an educator at NYHS Museum and a teaching artist at DreamYard. Last year, I was a teaching artist apprentice for Urban Arts Partnership and spent a semester doing student teaching at PS89 middle school in the Bronx.

After working for several years as a graphic designer in publishing and fashion, I decided to make a career change. I enjoyed the collaboration and problem solving in my previous work, but I was eager to reconnect with my roots as an artist and as an educator working with young people. Before moving to NYC from Austin, Texas, I worked as an apprentice master printer at Coronado Studio with Sam Coronado and Pepe Coronado (no relation). This experience made a lasting impression on me. As a teacher, cultural leader and artist, Sam had created a serigraph studio in Austin committed to supporting young and established artists—especially Chicano and Latino artists—with residencies and ongoing exhibits. Sam taught me many things about the power and possibilities of using art to strengthen community and bring about social change. (Coincidentally, Pepe also moved to NYC and has since opened a printmaking studio and exhibition space in East Harlem, called Coronado Print Studio.)

My own schooling and work experiences have led me to wonder about how art education can provide opportunities and create meaningful learning experiences for young people who are not active participants in classrooms, are not considered “good students” or do not always thrive in traditional academic classrooms. While there are many ways to look at how teachers can provide inclusive learning environments for a variety of learners, a recent experience I had while student teaching motivated me to focus on one in particular—visual inquiry. (Here’s a brief video about visual thinking routines from Harvard’s Project Zero and a demonstration of the strategy in practice from the Teaching Channel.)

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Student teaching at PS89 Middle School in the Bronx

Over the summer I had to review video recordings of myself teaching as part of my edTPA teaching certification exam, and once I got over awkwardness of seeing myself teach for the first time, I came across a section of a video in which I facilitated a class discussion of a work of art by Max Allbee. I was immediately struck by the students’ enthusiasm, curiosity and keen observations during the class discussion. This usually shy class of 7th graders came to life as we discussed visual details and started to unlock some of the artwork’s meanings. There were audible expressions of “Ohhh” and “Yeah” when a students made comments that others agreed with. One of my takeaways from this was that not only can an activity like this help students develop and practice inquiry skills—observing, questioning, describing, interpreting, etc.—but they could also create the conditions for greater participation, involvement, interest, and personal investment in classroom work among a variety of different learners.

Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to exploring—through interviews, classroom observation and examination of different teaching materials—the ways in which teachers use visual inquiry in art classrooms to engage students in strategies that help them connect what they see, what they already know and what they’re interested in learning about through art and art making.


A student in City Art Lab working on an independent project




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