Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy and Leadership

First Advisor

Lowe, Robert

Second Advisor

Schweizer, Heidi

Third Advisor

Pink, William


This educational criticism of a senior high school art portfolio class asks: In what ways does the community of practice developed within a successful studio art program at a high school contribute to an understanding of its success?

Interviews, documents, photographs, and classroom observations gathered over one year inform this qualitative study. Participants include three Portfolio co-teachers, twenty Portfolio students, and two younger art students. Analysis focuses on the interplay of structure and participation that shapes learning among the participants, both as a group and individually. Five themes emerge as valuable ways of understanding the community of practice: team teaching, students working in the hallways, the class as a community or family, students serving as teachers and mentors for each other, and the relative freedom of choice students have to work in ways that resonate with who they are, who they are becoming, and what engages their attention.

Findings suggest: mutual engagement in the joint enterprise of creating and evaluating the bodies of artwork produced within a capstone portfolio class sustains and renews a vibrant community of practice; newcomers and old timers have dissertation and easy access to each other; quasi-studio spaces along the hallways contribute to the ease with which students serve as teachers and mentors for each other; discussion, deliberation, and consensus building contribute to a cognitive culture that provides models of what adult artists do; teachers serve as art experts, counselors, and brokers between the portfolio class's community of practice and other communities of practice to which they and their students belong or hope to belong; and teachers develop simultaneously caring and demanding relationships with students.

A high school studio art program grounded in expressionism and focused on voice need not have to choose between self-expression and demanding aesthetic standards, or among practices proposed within the constraints of any of the models of art education to have surfaced over the last several decades. Instead, elements of multiple vantage points emerge through the interplay of structure and participation to sustain a community of practice that supports students as they try to give visual form to their particular voices.