By Gwen Shaw
There are many ways of knowing and learning. In his 1983 book, Frames of Mind, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner identifies nine types of intelligence , while research on different learning styles has led to the acronym VARK (Verbal, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic). For instructors, acknowledging such cognitive diversity means expanding our pedagogy into the multi-sensory world around us, and creating a range of ways to engage students with content, problems, and assignments. But how can we evaluate different aptitudes? And, more importantly, how can we show students that we value multiple types of intelligence and modes of learning, not just the ones that are reflected well on tests and essays?
I have been thinking about this question for a long time, especially as an art historian whose primary objects of analysis are visual rather than textual. When I initially applied to be part of Visible Pedagogy, I was particularly interested in showcasing an assignment I developed specifically to highlight students’ different ways of learning. I call it a triple-entry journal, and it is like a more visually-oriented and reflexive version of Cornell notes. I conceived of this assignment after using journals to encourage students to think about art’s relation to the world around them, as part of a more interdisciplinary Arts in New York City course. The initial assignment went well, but I subsequently revised it in order to encourage further engagement with a work’s formal and material dimensions.
It goes like this: Each entry consists of three parts: 1) a sketch of all or a part of a work of art, 2) information about the work of art (I prefer this to be formal analysis, but in other contexts have opted for contextual analysis or students’ insights), and 3) a meta-cognitive reflection about the kinds of information that steps 1 and 2 provided . Students don’t have to reproduce a work of art in its entirety for the sketch—they could focus on a single detail that grabbed their attention—but the goal of the sketch is twofold: to encourage them to look closely at an object of their choosing in a sustained way, and to demonstrate that haptic, visual, and spatial learning, for example, are modes of knowledge acquisition and production that I value. The second, analytical section encourages them to think critically and draw conclusions about a work of art based on visual evidence, one of the key skills of art history. The final reflective task asks them to be critical of their own learning process, and to consider the ways different methods can help us to understand a particular object or visual element. By thinking reflexively about how drawing and writing contributed to their understanding of a particular work, they may gain insight into the ways they learn best.
This assignment could work for almost any class or discipline, with the sketch replaced by a storyboard, a chart or graph, or a selection from a literary text. Students engagement with a visual or textual element is deepened through analysis and the final meta-cognitive reflection. Thinking of trying it out? Here are some sample assignment descriptions (also pasted below), along with photos of a former student’s project. I’d love to hear how it goes!
Triple-Entry Journal (8 Entries—due on the last day of class)
Each journal entry should have 3 components:
- Sketch the work of art (overall, or choose a particular part that you think is interesting).
- Provide some formal analysis of the work of art. How does the physical form of the work of art inform our experience of it? What choices did the artist make, and how do those choices impact the meaning of the work?
- Meta-cognitive reflection: Describe what sorts of insight doing parts 1 and 2 gave you about the particular work of art.
Weekly Journal (11 entries total—30% of your grade)
Choose a work of art that you came across in the week’s reading. What is it (both as an object and as part of its larger culture) and how do we know that? What is it trying to communicate? How does the work communicate—what does the artist use to convey meaning? Why?
Successful journal entries will describe the form of the work of art, and how form impacts the meaning(s) of the work in question. Also be sure to include important information about the culture and context of the work of art.
Gwen Shaw is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, and a contributing writer for Visible Pedagogy.