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Professor awarded grant to research the impact of art therapy on middle schoolers

Terri Giobbia

One West Virginia University professor will research whether the inclusion of known visual arts therapy approaches in the art curriculum can help foster higher self-efficacy among middle school students.

Terese Giobbia, Ph.D., coordinator and assistant professor of Art Education in WVU’s School of Art and Design, has been awarded the Mary McMullan Grant from the National Art Education Foundation for the 2018-2019 calendar year. The highly competitive 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.

“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.” 

Giobbia’s study will look at how specific art therapy activities, which are more methodical and structured than traditional art projects, can be used to help to promote a student’s belief in themselves to succeed. According to Giobbia, the study is important as it may help teachers understand “how we can improve teaching and build self-efficacy among these children through non-traditional art therapy approaches.”

Students will create sand mandalas and ceramic totem poles as a part of Giobbia’s research. A practice known to be used by Tibetan and Buddhist Monks, sand mandalas are intricately designed pieces of art that are destroyed after they are made to symbolize that nothing is permanent. 

“Middle schoolers should have the skill and patience it takes to create the sand mandalas,” Giobbia said. “The real test comes when students have to destroy their work. Observing their reactions to an art activity that’s supposed to be calming—do they get angry, and is that anger a normal response—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. We already use the ceramic totem poles in inclusive classrooms to help students talk through trauma they may be experiencing in their lives.”

Students participating in Giobbia’s research will journal their artistic process. The journals they write and sketch in will be collected and studied as part of the activity to gauge their feelings and their beliefs in their own self-efficacy.

“So many schools encourage journaling, but often times we find no one is reading those journals to see what’s really going on with these children,” Giobbia said. “These journals can provide teachers with access to personal feelings, which may lead to new insight about the student and different and more positive outcomes in a student’s life.” 

Giobbia will use contemporary art therapy assessments to evaluate students instead of the traditional rubric or evaluation used in general art education settings. In looking at the students from less of a pass or fail perspective, the evaluations are intended to provide qualitative data to give a more comprehensive understanding of the student.

“This will hopefully give us more detailed insight into a student’s thoughts and feelings and take into account factors in their lives that may contribute to those feelings,” Giobbia said. “I’ll look at where they started and where they ended in terms of self-efficacy,” Giobbia said.

As part of the award, Giobbia will present her findings at the National Art Education Association’s Conference in 2019.