Museums and schools have a long history of working together to facilitate students' learning in and through the arts. While art museums have traditionally served school audiences through arange of single-visit tours, increasingly they offer more extensive school programs in an effort toprovide students with in-depth, comprehensive learning experiences. Studies suggest that a smany as half of American museums offer some form of a multiple-visit school program in which students might visit the museum from two to ten times a year. Museums also offer extended experiences such as pre- and post-visit activities in the classroom
Recent research suggests that many multiple-visit programs focus on creative and critical thinking skills, skills that are considered increasingly important in the general education of young people. Yet, until now, the museum education field has neither articulated exactly what is meant by critical thinking skills, nor how the museum provides a unique environment for learning such skills.
In 2003, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM), in partnership with the Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI), received a 3-year grant from the Department of Education to research students' learning in and from an art museum multiple-visit program. The ISGM's School Partnership Program (SPP) provided the context for this study and focused on three overarching goals described in the report in more detail. Launched in 1996, the SPP is a multiple-visit program serving K-8 students from neighboring inner-city public schools. Over the three years of the study, the pedagogy for the SPP shifted from a Socratic-method to more open-ended questions, using the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) questioning model which focuses on learning to look at and make meaning from works of art, as well as gaining familiarity with the museum environment in order to feel comfortable using the Gardner as a community resource.