WVU professor set for art therapy study

MORGANTOWN — Kids on summer break make sandcastles at the beach with the expectation that the ocean will whisk away their work with the tides, but once they return to the classroom, students expect their work will be more permanent.

A WVU professor will use art therapy activities to determine how middle school students react to destroying their own art projects and to study how using art in the classroom can bolster students’ belief in themselves.

Terese Giobbia, coordinator and assistant professor of art education in the College of Creative Arts School of Art and Design, will use specific art therapy activities, which are more methodical and structured than traditional art projects. Her research is funded by the prestigious Mary McMullan Grant from the National Art Education Foundation.

“Middle school students deal with many social stressors on a daily basis,” Giobbia said. “We know from past research that art promotes self-efficacy, but we don’t really know which types of artistic approaches have the ability to foster greater self-efficacy among middle school students.”

Students will create ceramic totem poles, already being used in some classrooms to help students talk through trauma, and sand mandalas, intricately designed pieces of art that are destroyed after they are made to symbolize that nothing is permanent, a practice used by Tibetan and Buddhist Monks.

“The real test comes when students have to destroy their work,” Giobbia said. “Observing their reactions to an art activity that’s supposed to be calming may help teachers to understand how useful this approach is in getting students to open up about what they are experiencing in their daily lives.”

Students participating in Giobbia’s research will also keep journals which will be collected and studied as part of the activity to gauge their feelings and their beliefs in their own self-efficacy. Giobbia believes journals can provide teachers with access to students’ personal feelings, which may lead to new insights and more positive outcomes in students’ lives.

“I’ll look at where they started and where they ended in terms of self-efficacy,” she said.

Giobbia will assess the students from less of a pass or fail perspective, and instead use evaluations intended to provide qualitative data to give a more comprehensive understanding of each student.

The highly competitive NAEF grant is available for research projects that promote art education as an integral part of curriculum and improve the instruction of art in public and private schools. As part of the award, Giobbia will present her findings at the National Art Education Association’s Conference in 2019.

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