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Therapeutic Art Practices and the Impact on the Middle School Visual Arts Classroom Open Access

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This study takes place in a Mid-Atlantic public charter school over the course of a semester with eight seventh- and eighth-grade students in a visual art painting class. The author aimed to discover whether the integration of art therapy techniques within her curriculum might increase the self-efficacy students felt towards art-making. The study employed the ethnographic method of action research to allow the researcher to implement the study within regular classroom instruction and routine. This method also allowed more in-depth and cross-sectional analysis by the researcher due to regular exposure and established relationships with the subjects. Four exercises, modeled after commonly-used art therapy exercises, were inserted into the beginning of classroom instruction along with immediate individual reflection. Along with the student artwork, four other bodies of data were analyzed including: field observations, one-on-one interviews, written responses and an initial benchmark survey. Thematic analysis allowed the researcher to identify themes that would gauge levels of student engagement, compare content of the work and recognize student affect. Results from analysis confirmed the hypothesis as evidence revealed an increase in self-efficacious behaviors and attitudes towards art-making for students. This study confirmed adolescent artistic developmental stages as well as developmental tendencies towards gaining and displaying control. These findings correspond to the need for differentiated teaching to adolescent students and the importance of educator awareness and consideration of developmental needs. This study also highlights the possibility of enhancing the student experience when the practice of art education and techniques of art therapy are carefully and intentionally combined. It provides a model of an empathetic approach to curriculum for the purpose of providing a holistic art education.

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