Category Archives: Lesson 1. Artful thinking

Critical thinking: American Art and the American Dream. Lesson one: Introducing artful thinking.

Lesson one: Introducing artful thinking.

OK, welcome, let’s begin by introducing ourselves.

Now have a quick look at the course overall, what our aims our, how we’ll proceed during the semester, and what we’ll be doing together and individually.


Critical thinking is widely regarded as an essential academic, everyday and professional skill. As humanities/social science academics, critical thinking is essential to credible and engaging academic work, whether in the form of discussion, article, book or essay writing.

Course aims

This course aims to further our critical thinking skills through the use of critical thinking dispositions and routines. Students will learn and develop and demonstrate competency in six key thinking disposition skills.

  • Observing and describing
  • Reasoning
  • Questioning and Investigating.
  • Comparing and Connecting.
  • Exploring viewpoints.
  • Finding complexity.

Critical thinking. American Art and the American Dream.

We’re going to work on our critical thinking skills this semester. In the first half of the semester we will learn and practice some artful thinking dispositions and routines, using some notable American artworks (as well as some Chinese artworks for comparison).

In the second half of the semester we will further develop our critical thinking skills, by critically reflecting on the American Dream. 

Part One: Artful thinking routines and critical thinking dispositions

The first half of the semester will focus on art and you will be required to write a short essay at the end of this section.

Part Two: Critically reflecting on the American Dream.

The second half will focus on the myth of the American Dream and you will be required to write another short essay at the end of this section.







1 9.2-9.9.6 Critical and artful thinking.

Thinking dispositions: Observation, description.

2 9.9~9.13 Critically thinking about American art.

Thinking Goals: Understanding

3 9.16~9.20 Critically thinking about American art and the American Dream. Reasoning, Art, Myths pt1.

Thinking disposition: Reasoning

4 9.23-9.27 Critically thinking about American art and the American Dream. Reasoning, Art, Myths pt2

Thinking dispositions: Questioning and Investigating, Comparisons, connections, exploring viewpoints

5 10.1~10.6 Holiday
6 10.7~10.11 Critically thinking about art and myths

Thinking dispositions and standards overview; reasoning checklist

Practicing critical analysis: your artworks; Art and the mythology of Mao

7 10.14~10.18
American Dream mythology: the myth of individual opportunity

Inequality and the American Dream

Check-listing Putnam for logic.

Researching and selecting artworks for your critical essay

8 10.21~10.25 Multiple aspects of the mythology of the American Dream.

Critical reading and thinking approaches


9 10.28~11.1  Reading the American Dream: the myth of individual Opportunity 1
10 11.4~11.8 Reading the American Dream: the myth of individual Opportunity 2
11 11.11~11.15 Reading the American Dream: the myth of racial equality 1
12 11.16~11.22 Reading the American Dream: the myth of racial equality 2
13 11.25~11.29 Reading the American Dream: the myth of educational empowerment 1
14 12.2~12.6 Reading the American Dream: the myth of educational empowerment 2
15 12.9~12.13 Working week essay planning. Critically analyze one or more artworks in relation to the American Dream
16 12.16~12.20 Thinking Dispositions and Standards (review)
17 12.23~12.27 Essay due
18 12.30~1.4(1.1????)


Participation 10%

Essay (due at the end of the semester, 27/12):

Critical analysis of one or more artworks in terms of the American dream 90%

Today’s lesson

Let’s begin by thinking about what we mean by critical thinking.

Exercise 1. Brainstorming about thinking

What is thinking, what is strong thinking?

Take a minute to think and then come up with three words and put them on the board.

Have a look at this word cloud (in class) based on the views of more than 1000 students. Can you see any ideas that you hadn’t thought of? Does the cloud reflect your views? What does this word cloud tell us in general?

Academic understanding of critical thinking

When we (academic scholars) talk about “strong” or “critical” thinking, we’re talking about the ability to identify, analyze, interpret, understand, and communicate information effectively, logically, and with an open mind. If we can do all of these things, then we are thinking critically.

Types of Critical Thinking

Researchers studied signs of strong, high-quality thinking in the arts and in other disciplines. They found the following six types of thinking that happen naturally when people engage with art:

  • Observing and describing
  • Reasoning
  • Questioning and Investigating.
  • Comparing and Connecting.
  • Exploring viewpoints.
  • Finding complexity.

In the first part of this course, we will focus on these types of thinking, and thinking about the specific intellectual behaviors of each type of thinking.

You will be given readings to help your reflections on the theory and methods informing critical and artful thinking, including the chapter extracts by Ron Ritchhart and Shari Tishman (this week’s homework).

This is not a course based on rote learning of texts however, but one based on learning by applying the thinking dispositions and concepts.

We’re going to learn by doing and begin by using art works as our texts to think with, because art works are generally complex and culturally rich texts that provide a great opportunity for critical reflection.

Practicing Critical Thinking: using artful thinking routines.

Artful Thinking researchers have found that specific ways of thinking can be practiced, cultivated, and strengthened in students through the use of “thinking routines.”

Artful Thinking Routines are:

  • Short, easy-to-learn strategies.
  • Sets of a few open-ended questions.
  • Meant to be used flexibly and frequently to create habits of thinking.
  • Designed to deepen thinking about works of art, other objects and curricular topics.
  • Designed to give learners agency and voice over their learning process.

Throughout the first part of this course I’ll introduce you to a few Artful Thinking routines, and we’ll apply them to works of art together.

Routine 1. See, think, wonder.

Seeing, thinking, and wondering are things we already know how to do.

They’re important, not just for looking at art, but for developing understanding in any discipline.

In the See/Think/Wonder routine

  • the first step “See” gives us the time and space to observe and notice.
  • The second step “Think” gives us the opportunity to build on the observations that were made and asks us to reason and find meaning in the work of art.
  • The third step “Wonder” asks to engage in a process of ongoing learning and investigation through inquiry. It does not take us to an endpoint, but rather sketches a path forward for further inquiry.

Let’s start!


  • Have a long look at the following painting.


  • Give five words each to describe what you see
  • Let’s make a word cloud using your words.
  • Now look again and tell us what you see by providing five nouns, adjectives, and verbs for this painting.
  • Let’s put them up and see what we have.


Now that you’ve looked carefully and taken time to describe the painting, what concept, feeling, or idea does this painting make you think of?

Talk in your small groups first and then we’ll discuss altogether.

Let’s put some of your ideas up on the board.

 Wonder Discussion

What does the painting make you wonder? What questions does it raise in your mind?

Reflecting on artful thinking methods from this routine: Slowing Down, Being a learning community, multiple forms of thinking

  • In our fast-paced world, thinking routines provide opportunities for students to slow down, to take a moment to focus on one thing–in this case, the work of art.
  • Then, by taking time to discuss with each other you get to exchange points of view, testing your own and learning from others. That reflective discussion is also a form of thoughtful slowing down (thinking-speaking still focused on the one artwork).
  • As your teacher, this routine allows me to slow down and focus on your thinking. We used the board to capture our observations, interpretations, and questions. Together, we could see the thinking that is happening around this work of art, form connections, pose contrasting ideas, and work through misconceptions. We did all of this together, as kind of learning community.

Specific thinking routines are designed to support specific thinking dispositions.

While some thinking routines target one disposition, others support more than one. See/Think/Wonder supported several types of thinking dispositions: Which ones?




The ‘What’s Routine’

Let’s try another routine called the What’s routine.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the artist and his work. The painting we just discussed was made by George Bellows, and is title New York 1911.

Now, have another look at the painting.

George Bellow, New York, 1911.

Take a few minutes to look and think about the following three-part question.

What’s going on (in this painting)? (What’s it about?)

Then I’ll ask you the second part of the question,

What makes you say that?

Let’s record our ideas on the board.

Now, the third part of the question. What types of thinking did we use to answer the questions?


  •  Please do the following readings.

Ritchart, Ron, et al., Making Thinking Visible, How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, Wiley, Chp. 1., 3-22.

Tishman, Shari, Added Value, 72-75

Tishman, Shari, Slow Looking, Chp.1., 4-7.

  • Please also find 5 American artworks that you think are interesting to think with.