Curva, F., et al. (2005). Artful Citizenship Project three-year project report. Unpublished evaluation report, Tallahassee, FL.


This study evaluates the implementation and results of the Artful Citizenship program, an arts-integrated program developed by the Wolfsonian Museum and Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The pilot program, which took place over a three-year period in third through fifth grades, was part of the core language arts and social studies curricula for participating schools and used Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to increase visual literacy with the purpose of improving critical thinking abilities which, in turn, would yield improved academic and personal outcomes. Researchers used pre and posttest assessments to measure visual literacy skills, norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests to measure academic outcomes, and surveys to measure psychosocial development (the growth of personality and social understandings such as respect and cooperation). Researchers found that students participating in the Artful Citizenship program had higher growth rates in visual literacy than students in the comparison school and that there was a strong correlation between participants’ growth in visual literacy and growth in academic achievement in reading and mathematics. The researchers’ study of the program’s implementation found that it led to the development of students’ critical thinking skills and that, the tool designed to measure psychosocial outcomes proved to be unreliable.

Key Findings:

  • Students who received the Artful Citizenship program for three years had significantly higher growth rates in visual literacy than comparison students, as measured by pre and posttest assessments. Students who participated in the program gained nearly a full point on a ten-point scale over the three-year project, whereas the comparison group experienced virtually no growth in visual literacy.
  • Researchers found a strong relationship between growth in visual literacy and growth in student achievement in both reading and mathematics. In the treatment schools growth in visual literacy strongly correlated with three of the four measures of student academic achievement. Correlations between growth in visual literacy and achievement were between .35 and .40. Those relationships were not present in the control group.
  • The researchers’ observations of student participation in the Artful Citizenship program along with teacher testimony attested to the program’s impact on developing students’ critical thinking skills. Students demonstrated their ability to provide logical and factual support to their statements and to link and synthesize ideas.

Significance of the Findings:

This study supports the notion that participation in visual literacy-based arts integration programs can have positive impact on the development of transferable critical thinking skills. For educators, policymakers, and museum professionals, this study highlights the potential social and academic gains that can come from prolonged participation in visual literacy programs. The use of Visual Thinking Strategies as the primary pedagogical tool in this program builds on other research in the field about the importance of constructivist approaches to visual analysis. When we provide opportunities for learners to construct their own meanings of works of art, they develop important critical thinking and evidential reasoning skills.


The researchers used pretests and posttests to measure students’ visual literacy growth in four schools with high percentages of low-income and English Language learners. One school served as a comparison school and three schools received the Artful Citizenship program. The Artful Citizenship program had three components. The first was a six-week period where one visual literacy lesson was conducted once a week. The second three- to five-week component included visual literacy lessons combined with language arts and social studies activities and lessons to build students’ visual vocabulary of signs and symbols. The final component focused on hands-on art making with a visual art teacher in response to the classroom lessons and also included a visit to the Wolfsonian Museum. Researchers administered a pretest prior to the program and posttests at the end of every school year for the three-year duration of the study. The tests required student to respond in writing to questions concerning visual artworks and were scored by experienced consultants using a holistic performance-based rubric. Researchers measured student achievement growth using results from norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests such as Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test. Researchers measured psychosocial variables using a survey compiled of modified commercially available instruments. The program began with third grade in the first year, third and fourth grade in the second year, and third through fifth grades in the third and final year. Researchers documented evidence of student’s critical thinking through written notes during classroom observations as well as through more than a dozen formal interviews with teachers and school administrators and numerous informal interviews with teachers.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers state that the tool they used to measure the psychosocial variables of art self-concept, art enjoyment, academic self-concept, and school/social orientation was flawed. Because of this, they were not able to determine a positive or negative connection between participating in the visual literacy program and students’ psychosocial development. The implementation of the social studies component was uneven in participating schools since many teachers had difficulty finding enough time to administer the curriculum and fell behind schedule while others had difficulty spacing and sequencing the lessons. The studio component was not described in the study in any significant detail and, while the study included pictures of student artwork, no information was offered on specific objectives or processes behind the work or what impact, if any, it had on program outcomes.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • How does the way visual literacy is taught impact the development of critical thinking skills?
  • What classroom or curricular variables might impact the efficacy of a museum-school partnership program?
  • What assessment tools are most successful in analyzing psychosocial skills in relation to arts learning?
  • What impact can Visual Thinking Strategies have on science achievement?
  • What role did the studio component of the program play in the development of students’ critical thinking skills and their reading and mathematics achievement?