Thinking Through Art

Partnering with Boston Public School Teachers

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum encourages deep experiences with art that spark lasting connections between our visitors and the Museum.

Our school programs build relationships with teachers and students through multiple visits, focusing on the process of learning to look and making meaning from works of art. Since 1992, the Gardner Museum has partnered with Boston Public Schools to make the experience of responding to works of art an essential part of school culture. Thinking Through Art, our multiple-interaction program for Boston Public Schools, empowers teachers and students to practice critical thinking and communication skills through discussions about visual art.

Thinking Through Art is a yearlong graduate-level course on teaching and learning through visual art for Boston Public School teachers. Participants learn an innovative, rigorous discussion method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to integrate group discussion and reflective practice in their classroom. By prioritizing students’ observations and prior knowledge, Thinking Through Art helps students explore works of art and make meaning on their own terms. As a result of regular group discussions about the works of art, students of all ages and abilities demonstrate measurable growth in their ability to reason with evidence, think flexibly, and communicate their ideas in conversation and in writing.

Due to public health concerns around COVID-19, the Gardner Museum is temporarily closed. Thinking Through Art will take place for the 2020-21 school year, with some components held online via Zoom. We will continue to share updates and look forward to welcoming you and your students to the Museum when we reopen.

    The Impact of Thinking Through Art

    The Gardner Museum has conducted many studies on the effect of multiple-visit, discussion-based programs in Boston. Our research with elementary, middle, and high school students shows that students who participate in regular Visual Thinking Strategies discussions with works of art double their critical thinking skills, including supported observations and flexible thinking, compared with peers who do not participate. These results persist over time, making one year of Thinking Through Art affect students’ college and career readiness.

    Learn more about the Gardner Museum’s educational research projects.

    Thinking Through Art Level 1

    Learn to facilitate open-ended discussions of works of art using Visual Thinking Strategies, a method proven to develop students’ critical thinking and communication skills. Learn how to choose artwork tailored to the needs of your students, and how to assess student learning in the context of group discussion. You and your students will experience the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as a place of learning, inspiration, and community.

    Components and Benefits

    Professional Development

    • Two graduate credits / 30 professional development points 
    • Summer Institute Options (online via Zoom):
      • August 10, 12, 13 & 14, 9 am–12 pm OR 2–5 pm, and Teaching Practice Session August 11, 1–2:30 pm, 2:30–4 pm, or 4–5:30 pm
      • August 24, 26, 27 & 28, 9 am–12 pm OR 2–5 pm, and Teaching Practice Session August 25, 1–2:30 pm, 2:30–4 pm, or 4–5:30 pm
    • Gallery Teaching Practice Session Options (in person at the Gardner Museum):
      • September 24, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • September 26, 9 am–12 pm
      • October 1, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • October 3, 9 am–12 pm
      • October 8, 4:30–7:30 pm
    • Fall Workshop Options (in person at the Gardner Museum):
      • November 5, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • November 7, 9 am–12 pm
      • November 21, 9 am–12 pm
    • Spring Workshop Options (in person at the Gardner Museum):
      • March 20, 9 am–12 pm
      • March 25, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • April 10, 9 am–12 pm
    • One-year Gardner Museum Friend-level membership for participating teachers

    Museum Visits

    • Two guided visits to the Museum for each class, led by skilled Museum Teachers
    • The Museum covers transportation costs
    • One-year Gardner Museum family passes for participating students

    Classroom Curriculum and Student Assessment Tools

    • Six digital lessons of developmentally appropriate of visual art, for monthly discussions led by classroom teachers
    • Writing and discussion-based tools to measure growth in critical thinking and communication skills

    Requirements 

    Teachers must be teaching in Boston Public Schools or at a Boston-area community college. We encourage participation by cohorts of teachers from the same school.

    Teachers and their principals must sign a memorandum of agreement acknowledging the following program requirements. They will: 

    • Attend all professional development workshops
    • Bring at least one class for two guided visits to the Museum. Teachers who have multiple classes may bring all classes/sections to the Museum
    • Complete all assignments:
      • Lead six classroom Thinking Through Art lessons during the school year, each including 2-3 works of art
      • Write a one-page reflection following each classroom lesson
      • Write a 5-7 page paper following final Museum visit

    Fee 

    $100 materials fee per teacher, plus $150 for teachers seeking to earn graduate credit. 

    Looking to Learn at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

    Thinking Through Art Level 2

    Through rigorous professional development and a supportive community of educators, deepen your facilitation skills, and become an advocate for student-centered teaching and arts integration within your school. Reflect on your own teaching and learning, while adopting tools to mentor your peers. Build on your expertise with Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) and use the Museum as a resource for designing lesson plans and student assessments that cultivate open-ended inquiry in your classroom. 

    Components and Benefits

    Professional Development

    • One Graduate Credit / 20 Professional Development Points 
    • Summer Institute Options (online via Zoom):
      • August 11, 9 am–12 pm
      • August 19, 2– 5 pm 
    • Fall Workshop Options (in person at the Gardner Museum):
      • October 22, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • October 24, 9 am–12 pm
    • Fall Workshop Coaching Session Options (in person at the Gardner Museum):
      • November 5, 4:30–8:30 pm
      • November 7, 9 am–1 pm
      • November 21, 9 am–1 pm
    • Spring Workshop Options (in person at the Gardner Museum:
      • March 11, 4:30–7:30 pm
      • March 13, 9 am–12 pm
    • One-year Gardner Museum Friend-level memberships for participating teachers

    Museum Visits

    • Two guided visits to the Museum for each class, led by skilled Museum Teachers before Museum open hours
    • The Museum covers transportation costs
    • One-year Gardner Museum family passes for participating students

    Classroom curriculum and student assessment tools

    • Four digital lessons of developmentally appropriate visual art, for monthly discussions led by classroom teachers 
    • Writing and discussion-based tools to measure growth in critical thinking and communication skills
    • Support and structure for designing your own lesson plans and assessment methods

    Requirements

    Teachers must have completed Thinking Through Art Level 1 or have participated in the Gardner Museum’s School Partnership Program for at least one year. Teachers and their principals must sign a memorandum of agreement acknowledging the following program requirements. They will: 

    • Attend all professional development workshops
    • Bring at least one class for two guided visits to the Gardner Museum. Teachers who have multiple classes have the option of bringing all classes/sections
    • Complete all assignments:
      • Lead four classroom Thinking Through Art lessons during the school year, each including 2-3 images
      • One-page reflection following each classroom lesson 
      • Design and implement a Thinking Through Art Extension Project
      • Write a 5-7 page paper about the Extension Project

    Fee

    $100 materials fee per teacher, plus $75 for teachers seeking graduate credit. 

    Thinking Through Art at the Gardner Museum

    Teacher Testimonials

    Seeing the transfer of skills from the classroom into the authentic setting of the Gardner Museum is a great experience. Most importantly, it allows the students who might otherwise not speak up, or who may not have a moment to shine, to put themselves out there, and to say something really insightful. I see that happen over and over and over again.

    — Michael Baulier, Principal, The Mozart Elementary School

    Kara Nemeth, teacher at the Condon School in South Boston, shares how Thinking Through Art has impacted her and her students

    Thinking Through Art participant and Boston Public Schools teacher Julie Wright explains how her 11th and 12th grade English classes gained valuable experiences through group discussions that are part of the program

    Schools that have Participated in Thinking Through Art

    Boston Community Leadership Academy
    Boston International Newcomers Academy
    Boston Latin Academy
    Boston Latin School 
    Boston Teachers Union K-8 Pilot School
    Bradley Elementary School
    Bunker Hill Community College
    Charles Sumner Elementary School
    Charlestown High School
    Chittik Elementary School
    Condon K-8 School
    Curley K-8 School
    Dever Elementary School
    Donald McKay K-8 School
    East Boston High School
    Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers
    Gardner Pilot Academy
    Greater Egleston High School
    Guild Elementary School
    Harvard-Kent Elementary School
    Hennigan K-8 School
    Higginson-Lewis K-8 School
    Holmes Elementary School
    Jackson-Mann K-8 School
    James Otis Elementary School
    James W. Hennigan K-8 School
    John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science
    John W. McCormack Middle School

    Joyce Kilmer Upper School
    King K-8 School
    Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School 
    Lyndon K-8 School
    Madison Park Technical Vocational High School
    Mario Umana Academy
    Mary K. Lyon High School
    Mass Bay Community College
    Maurice J Tobin K-8 School
    McKinley South End Academy / McKinley Elementary School
    Mildred Avenue K-8 School
    Mission Hill K-8 School
    Mother Caroline Academy
    Mozart Elementary School
    O’Donnell Elementary School
    Orchard Gardens Pilot School
    Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School
    Pauline A. Shaw Elementary School
    Perry K-8 School
    Roger Clap Elementary School
    Roosevelt K-8 School
    Russell Elementary School
    Snowden International School at Copley
    TechBoston Academy
    Timilty Middle School
    Trotter K-8 School
    Urban Science Academy
    Young Achievers Math and Science Pilot School

    The lead sponsor of the Thinking Through Art program is the Vertex Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by Rowland Foundation, the Yawkey Foundation, the Beker Foundation, and Liberty Mutual Foundation. The Museum also receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.