Students in Melissa Gilbertsen’s art classes at Chehalis Middle School (a.k.a. Studio Gee) learn a lot about art and even more about responsibility and critical thinking.
“I really want to teach them to think,” Gilbertsen says. “They’re going to be living independently before you know it and critical thinking skills are so important.” One of Gilbertson’s class mottos is “Ask three then me.” Which translates to asking their peers questions or using other tactics to try to solve a problem first before asking the teacher when they’re trying to work through a problem. This helps the students to apply a variety of problem solving tools which, in turn, will help them become independent learners. It also teaches students that they can help each other and work as a team.

As part of each assignment, Gilbertsen asks students to complete an “Artistic Thinking Planning Guide” which takes them through a creative planning process to consider media choices, learning goals, techniques, and “must haves” for each project. The worksheet helps them consider different strategies to brainstorm ideas and sketch out their thoughts and even go back to the drawing board, if necessary. It all teaches them how to brainstorm and follow an idea to determine if it’s feasible, and if not, what might work better. “My driving focus through our curriculum is developing flexible, creative thinkers who are comfortable solving problems that have many possible answers,” said Gilbertsen. “Oh, and we just happen to make some seriously cool art along the way!”

Students work independently or in groups, depending on the project, and learn how to take a concept from an idea, to a work of art and even prepare it for finished display.

“It’s about exploring their options and not being afraid to make a mistake and try again,” said Gilbertsen. “It goes back to gaining independence and thinking skills. If I can help them learn to think, work for themselves, and develop skills that will help them in the future, then that will only increase their chances of success as adults.”