"I Am Playing Tennis With My Father"
|What do you know about the students
that will influence your planning?
Good art lessons need some difficulty to be challenging,
but need to be easy enough to avoid too much frustration. Art skills
are things like: observational drawing, ability
clay do what you want it to, ability to make tools and materials do
you want, and the ability to actively use the imagination. Will your
lesson be easy enough so they are not
Will the students be challenged enough to keep their interest? Skills
learned by practicing. The best lessons are those that include practice
training together with interest builders that motivate self initiated
2. Their art world awareness:
Good art lessons review previous art knowledge. What artist's work can you refer to and expect students to know what you are talking about? What historical examples are familiar? What examples from other cultures are familiar to your students?
What new art terms do your students know, need to review by regular usage, and need to learn by your introduction with this lesson? What design principles do they know or need to learn? How good are they at analyzing the way art effects viewers?
4. Attitude and motivation:
How much enthusiasm do students show for learning new skills, for routine skill practice, for new concepts, for learning the strategies that artists use? Most students want to do well. The chance to master something or at least see that they are improving, has a very positive effect on attitude and motivation. Some students have the mistaken idea that they cannot do well in art because they are not talented. Ability is mostly the result of effective practice. The art teachers job is to make the hard stuff easy enough to avoid too much frustration, and to make the easy stuff challenging enough not to be boring. It is our job to know how art skills can be practiced in ways that produce noticeable improvements in mastery. The recognition of improved mastery is one of the strongest motivations in art classes. This is a reason to have critiques and exhibitions of student work.
What do your students know about the purposes of art in the world and in their lives? When students feel that what they are doing has a purpose beyond themselves, they are much more apt to be inspired to work hard to do well. Some of the many purposes of art can be reviewed as they relate to each lesson.
Motivation is generally strongest when students feel ownership in their ideas. This means that have to have a say in some important choices made. When it is their choice, they are more apt to work hard because they are more apt to care about it. The most bored students I have seen are those that are working on an assignment that was clearly defined, but it had very little room for personal ideas, very little perceived reason for what they were doing, and no idea about what they were learning by doing the work. They were slowly working to try to get a passing mark.
Daniel Pink writes about motivation for workers in the business world. (Pink, 2009) The studio art class is a work culture of learning. Students learn by working on art projects. Pink says that intrinsic motivation for employees is based on worker autonomy, the chance for mastery, and having a purpose beyond the self. These are more important than the pay rate. In school these are more important than grades. Does each art lesson include autonomy, mastery, and purpose? More on Motivation (below)
5. Art developmental level:
Also see Teaching Creativity
The Conversation Game
1. ART SUPPLIES
Begin by having the class get settled with as many working materials at their places as possible. This is done first to avoid the need for interruptions, commotion, and moving about once they are concentrating on the tasks at hand.
Many art teachers develop an
orderly routine where students are expected to pick up what is needed
as they enter the room before they go to their seats. If they expect to see a list posted or a sheet of paper on their table, they can get things as they come into the room. Some teachers
assign tasks to certain students to bring supplies in order to limit
mob movements. Some teachers withhold a simple
item in order to prevent students from starting before they have
the motivation, focus, and instructions for the lesson. Other teachers
provide written instructions for the first learning activity so no
verbal instructions are needed while the teacher takes
2. OPENING WARM UP
At this point some teachers establish a beginning ritual or warm-up. It focuses attention and tunes in to art. A few minutes of quiet contour drawing could serve as a routine warm-up and provide a chance to practice an art skill. The teacher has a time to take attendance while students are on task. Some teachers have a box in the center of each work area with "Today's Objects" to practice drawing for the first few minutes as students settle down for class. Instructions are on the board or on the tables.
4. LESSON INTRODUCTION
Briefly introduce the goals and issues of this lesson. Focus their thinking so that ideas have a chance to emerge during their preparation time. Wait to give the detailed instructions until they are ready to work on the main lesson project.
There are good reasons to avoid showing examples of what the students are supposed to produce. For the reasons for this see the list of Nine Classroom Creativity Killers. Numbers 1, 5, 8, and 9 speak directly to the reasons examples are not shown at the beginning of an art lesson. Art History examples are shown near the end of the lesson.
This part of the lesson might have some time to "play around" with materials to see what emerges by accident. Limit the time for this. As soon as students cease to be involved in a search, move to a structured activity. I may be useful at this time to ask students to share their discoveries.
Example: The class is about to do a project where the medium will be transparent watercolors over a crayon composition. Give each child five small pieces of paper and a few minutes in which to test out this combination of materials allowing any sequence and any color combinations on several small pieces of paper.
Present some carefully planned step-by-step instructions on the process. This is generally not a teacher demonstration, but hands-on participatory learning. Every student follows along using art materials. This part of the lesson is not art, it is art skill or craft carefully presented by the teacher. The art immediately follows when the students are in charge of their own ideas and work while doing the main part of the assignment.
Example: The class is about to work with B6 drawing pencils. These have soft graphite which allows for very bold dark black. Before using these pencils for drawing, have them make the following lines about five inches long.
The teacher can ask, "Why do you think artists try to use some lines that are very dark, some very light, and some that are medium?" Unless students actively think about why they are doing things, they often forget to use what they are learning. When they start there artwork, they may still revert to pervious habits unless they are reminded with this "why" question again while they are working. When an art lesson begins to change habits of thinking, the students take away benefits that are good for their whole lives. Thinking about using a varied line character to achieve compositional dynamics may not sound like a big deal, but it is an example of how every habitual way of working needs to be opened to new alternatives.
Being open to new alternatives is also true of our teaching methods. I recall a student teacher who had carefully observed how an art teacher was making many suggestions whenever a student asked for advice. It might have been better to be using questions or coaching students to experiment and learn to find ideas for themselves. When I first observed her during student teaching, she too was making many suggestions. In our conference, I simply asked her if she remembered her observation the semester before. The next time I observed her, she remembered to use questions that encouraged her students to think more for themselves and become less dependent on her ideas.
If possible, do not do a demonstration for students to watch.
Its usually more effective to have them each actively do a small sample
of the process themselves. Teacher demonstrations might be used if it
would be too dangerous or too complex to explain in a step-by-step way
while they all do it. When a demonstration is the only way I know to
introduce a procedure, I try to follow it immediately with preliminary skill
practice before requiring any artwork to be produced with a new process.
5b. PREPARATION for topic and subject matter used
Nearly every art project includes subject matter. If the composition is to be nonobjective, you would skip to the next section, 5c. Preparation for compositional choices. Many teachers use topic motivation related to student interests, experiences, and concerns. Consider student development. Younger children are more egocentric and respond to "I" and "My" topics while older elementary children are quite interested in group identity topics and activities.
Sometimes teachers feel that it is more creative to allow students to have complete freedom to decide on any subject matter. This can present several problems. If the teachers says, "Do whatever you want for subject matter," most students simply do whatever was easy and successful in the past. This lassie faire approach also implies that content is immaterial and unimportant. I might say, do what interests you, but try something that you have not tried recently. Or, I might say, if you are repeating something, there has to be something changed so that after you finish, you can compare it and learn which works better.
Art lessons need to help students learn ways to come up with meaningful and important content for their work. How can we expect ownership and motivation if the content is trivialized?
All art content comes from three sources: Observation, Memory, and/or Imagination. Lessons in observation are important for the student's skill formation. See this link for a list of helpful ways to help children learn observation skills. This Beginning Rituals page describes careful observation practice. This link discusses the human need to give aesthetic order to our world. Top of Page
Memory is rich if it comes from rich experience. We remember what we notice. When a child is fascinated and absorbed in an experience, it will be a pleasure to remember and express it. Teachers and others can encourage curiosity and awareness. Teachers, parents, and others can make a point to ask many awareness building questions before, during, and after field trips and similar activities. "Why do you think the giraffe has such a long neck?" "What shape (color) are the spots?" "Are some a different shape?" Some on-site sketching can be done. In the class it can be developed into a larger drawing, painting, collage, diorama, and so on. Students should be told in advance of the field trip that it will be the basis for artwork. This heightens awareness, attentiveness, and observations while on the outing.
Imagination gives us amazing power. It is what allows us to speculate about the future. It even allows us to imagine what others think of us and how our actions might effect others. It allows us to think of alternative ways to act. Art, creative writing, story telling, pretend play, drama, songs, etc. allow us to practice and develop our powers of imagination.
We need to increase the number of ways we teach the development of new ideas for art work. Here are a few ways used by art teachers and artists to help decide on content for an art project. These can be used for observation, memory, and/or imagination. We can encourage our students to practice these methods.
Consider special motivational
activities to enrich their frame of reference for creative media work
projects. These might be sensory exercises to make them more aware of
texture, tone, hue, size, depth, intensity or some other visual quality
Preliminary sketching and planning on separate paper are an excellent way for students to prepare for the main project. For many lessons it is appropriate to require some preliminary planning. It is also a chance to help them learn about quality by helping them learn ways to discern their best ideas and the best ways to arrange their compositions.
5c. PREPARATION for
Art lessons can help students learn ways to understand and develop style in their work. This may seem difficult to do without showing examples of artists' work. However, there are many examples of individual style in other areas of our students' lives that they already understand. They know about style in music, in clothing, in dining, in hair, in handwriting, in cars, and so on. All these areas have are large categories as well as individual variations. We do not develop a personal style though copy work or even by mimicking somebody else's style.
Most mature artists fall into one of four large categories, but also have a very individual recognizable style within the larger category. Most art styles fall under realism (naturalism), expressionism, formalism (including minimalism), or surrealism (fantastic).
Students often experiment with several styles. Ideally, we want students who can experimentally develop original styles rather than students that mimic or copy established styles. Since it may take years and many works before an artist can be expected to have a mature distinctive style, students are encouraged to experiment with style, looking for effective ways to achieve results. In the following experiments, every student is likely to see individual style emerge.
Preliminary experiments directed to style might include:
I do not draw any examples because I do not want children to observe my drawing when they need to learn to observe the subject. I do talk about drawing experiences. I know that children fail to learn because the are afraid to fail. Therefore, I talked about all the mistakes I make when I draw something. I said, "Usually, I draw a line, but after I draw it, I can notice that it should have been a little different shape or a little different size, but I don't erase right away. I just leave it and I try another line. When I am finished, I might go back and erase some mistakes. My mistakes are good because I learn to see better from them - they are my practice lines. Whenever we try a new thing we expect to make some mistakes, but with practice we get better at it."
She was noticeably pleased with her own achievement. In this one drawing of the teapot she moved from the "schematic" stage of geometric simplification to the "dawning realism" stage in her drawing. She now has a basic foundation for learning to observe. She can now draw anything she wants to (with similar observation and practice). With enough of this kind of instruction and practice in the first grade, she can be spared the crisis of confidence that many third grade children experience.
The problem with many drawing instruction books is that they prescribe shortcuts and formulas that give success without any actual observation. Without developing much ability, they replace the motivation to actually learn. Observation practice and many more links on teaching drawing can be found here. Teachers who teach drawing by drawing for the children are not directing their minds to right learning task. The task is not to replicate a drawing. If the learning task is to imagine and create a drawing by observing the real world, the child learns to draw anything - not only the specific thing being taught. Top of Page
Give or review the detailed explanation of the assignment. Be sure instructions are understood, and they feel comfortable about your expectations. Empower them to create. Define limits to encourage problem solving, but allow individual ownership of ideas and work. Explain the main points that you plan to evaluate. This link has a rubric for grading artwork. Some teachers make a poster with their assessment points. Some use a handout.
Be especially sensitive to
they first start to work. If there are more than one or two questions,
stop and clarify things for the whole class. If there are slow
make sure they understand, but allow time to think, to experiment, to
and time to look at more than one option.
A series of focused but open questions can bring the students back on task. Good open questions bring richness and content into their work. "Does the dog have a special smell? What is the part of the dog that is the darkest? ... the lightest? How much larger does the dog's body seem than the dog's head?" Questions help passive knowledge becomes active knowledge and gets it included in the artwork. Open questions (those with many possible answers) stimulate the imagination.
If they are working directly from observation of the subject (the dog is in the room), they will be encouraged to make better observations if the teacher goes over to the dog and asks about specific aspects of the subject. Ask, "How does height and length compare?" while placing hands near the subject to show height and width. Focused but open questions generally result in much richer student work. They surprise themselves with how well they can do if they have actually made careful observations. This works with an individual or with the whole group. If several students are floundering at once, it may be more efficient to call the whole class to attention and take time to refocus.
What questions might have been asked related to the tennis picture shown at the top of this page? Top of Page
Some students are impulsive and rush to finish without giving enough attention to important aspects of the work. You should encourage them to develop more complex products. "This part looks really interesting. I wonder what you could do to make this other part as interesting." "I see some nice depth effects here by the way the colors work. Here's some empty space. What could happen in this area that adds interest?" A teacher can help these students become more thoughtful and deliberate by raising issues to think about in their work. Eventually, the student's habits will improve if the teacher is insistent and consistent. Stay positive, but keep asking questions. I notice that many students begin to imitate this and they begin to ask themselves similar questions as they work. They learn how to learn.
MOTIVATION - verbal - I resist making suggestions - I use open questions to raise issues for them to consider in their work. Their greatest need is thinking practice. I do not want to take this away from them by providing answers. I try to use focused questions. Eventually they learn to anticipate the type of questions needed to produce better art, and they will need less hand holding. Good teaching empowers them by helping them learn the kind of questions artists use to improve their own work. When I am asked for a suggestion, I first ask what the student has been thinking about. Often the student already has an idea or two, but was not confident to try it.
MOTIVATION - multi sensory - There are many kinds of motivation. I have used unseen (hidden) sound making devices as motivation for texture. When when working from food, flowers, plants, smell and sometimes taste is incorporated into the preliminary experience. Studies show that students who examine something by touch create richer artwork than those who only work from visual observation.
MOTIVATION - animals - Live animals elicit instinctive attention. Every child pays attention to an animal moving around. Field trips to farms, zoos, etc. are great venues for drawing and/or for asking lots of observation questions.
I avoid showing examples as motivation because imitation is too easy. It shortcuts original thinking. to: Top of Page
7b. DELIBERATE AND SELF-DOUBTING
Other students are handicapped by being very slow and deliberate. They may be perfectionists because they are afraid to make a mistake. Reassure them. They need confidence to experiment with expressive approaches. They need to appreciate the learning that comes from mistakes and to see how "happy accidents" happen. Sour lemons make great lemonade with the right additions. Empower them by building their confidence. Don't encourage these students to start over unless they have a better idea they are anxious to try.
Do not be tempted to tell them that quality doesn't matter and don't say, "I'm not an artist either." Say, "I often make mistakes when I am learning a new thing, but I like my mistakes because they help me learn by pointing out what I need to practice more. Often I don't erase my mistakes until I finish so that I can learn from them. When I finish, I even leave some mistakes because they add motion or extra excitement and magic to the work. Sometimes my mistakes are the best part. Sometimes they give me an idea for something better to try." Encourage them by pointing out that some things are only learned by practice and the more we practice the better it will get.
Find the best part of what they have done and tell them why you think so. Don't use praise that is empty or general, but praise together with specific information so they can learn from it. Top of PageA serious mishap can justify a start over. Deliberate and self-doubting perfectionists may particularly benefit from assignments that begin with "intentional accidents" that are changed into artwork by the individual's creative efforts.
8. PRECAUTIONS and HOW TO HELP WHEN
IT IS TOO HARD
Never do any of the work for the students. Do not draw on their papers. There are other ways to help without taking away ownership and empowerment. Good teaching is making the hard stuff easier and making the easy stuff harder, but a good teacher never does the work and never solves the problem for the student. If you must draw to illustrate a point, do it on your own paper - never on theirs.
If they are having trouble drawing or modeling from observation, go over to the thing being observed and ask in detail what they see. If more is needed, explain in detail what you see. If they are working from imagination or memory, use detailed questions to help them remember and value their own past experiences. Encourage the word challenging instead of too hard. Top of PageAvoid assignments for which they have no reasonable frame of reference. Amish children should not have to make art about TV characters. As you listen to student conversations, learn their real interests. Base topics on their interests, experiences, and what can be observed in or near the classroom. Click here to review list making and other ways to generate ideas.
When a student is afraid to try something, give them extra paper on which to make several experiments or to practice on. Artists frequently do experiments, practice, and research before they feel ready to try it in their actual work. Of course artists work according to many different styles and strategies and some of them want all the expressiveness of mistakes and false starts to remain as evidence of the creative process. For an abstract expressionist (action painter) much of the meaning and feeling of the work would be lost if they pre planned or practiced it, but for most art styles it is common to practice or make sketches ahead of the actual work. Top of Page
9. MEANINGFUL ENDINGS
- making criticism pleasant
Discus the finished work as a way to affirm student efforts and review the concepts learned. Be fair and inclusive. Critiques that are affirmative and discovery based help produce a great studio art learning culture. Everybody can answer the question, "What do you notice first?", but not everybody can explain the reasons they notice something it first in a composition. Have them practice the analysis and interpretation of work. Require comments that speculate about why we notice something first. Help them learn to analyze the effects of color, size, brightness, uniqueness, subject matter, and so on.
Interpretation refers the the meanings and feelings seen. We can ask for ideas for titles. We can discuss the visual reasons for meanings and feelings observed. The one who created the work may want to verbalize about this, but I try to delay this until others have a chance to respond. We need to learn about the richness of meanings and feelings that are possible in a group setting.
Never allow judgmental comments like, "I don't see why anybody would use that color for . . . " When commenting on a perceived weakness allow only neutral questions so the student artist may be asked to explain rather than defend a choice. "Can we talk a bit about the effects that this color is producing? Who can give us an idea?" Frame the questions in non-judgmental terms. Use questions to raise awareness, not to declare mistakes. Art is a search. Critique makes discoveries.
Allow time to include each work or adapt a fair system that includes everybody within a series of lessons. Emphasize the positive and use questions to get discussion going. Take advantage of learning opportunities. Some situations may work better if this is done in smaller groups. This might begin when the first four to six students complete a project. Each time another four to six students finish, another discussion group is formed. Written forms can also be used at times. Top of PageHelp students learn how to question, how to describe, how to analyze, and encourage them to speculate about possible meanings (interpretations) and feelings in each other's work. We have to help them learn to be careful viewers and critics that empathize with each other and their work, ideas and feelings. One of the main purposes of the critique is to find, recognize, and exploit discoveries in the work. The secondary purpose is to cultivate a positive culture and better relationship skills. Studio artwork is a search for art. If we skip the critique, we may be missing half the learning.
Relating this project to their world and the art world.
Your lesson planning strategy often starts by thinking about the closing portion of the lesson. What creative activities will best build a frame of reference for this experience? What do you want students to take with them from the experience? Just as a beginning ritual can help focus and center the class's attention, an ending ritual gives meaning and relevance which is so vital to learning. This link is a beginning ritual that includes an ending connection from art history.
This is also a good time to ask questions about ways they will now notice things differently as they leave the art room because of the lesson they have worked on today. Will it change the way they see colors? What will be the new things they notice in their everyday experiences?
Helps in finding artists on the web and using their images
How to spell and pronounce artists names To get back here, use your Back button (top left on your browser). This is an offsite link to ArtLex, Copyright © 1996-2002 Michael Delahunt. Once we have the right spelling of an artist's name, we can find examples by using a search engine like google.com.
Using copyrighted artwork images - when you get to this link, scroll down in the left frame and click on copyright. To get back here, use your Back button (top left on your browser). This site gives explanation of what is legally permitted in the classroom. This is an offsite link to ArtLex, Copyright © 1996-2002 Michael Delahunt. Top of Page
11. DISMISSAL WITH PURPOSE
We have a chance to improve student minds and thinking habits by doing at least one of these things at dismissal time.
Artists never get away from the homework of the eye and the mind. We dream art both at night and in our daydreams. We sketch and journal these rich ideas so that when we finally get to enter the studio, the ideas force themselves onto the canvas or into the clay. Art teachers understand this and find ways to inculcate their students with artistic ways of seeing and thinking about all of life.
You may be thinking, "This is too much to do in one art lesson." An Example Lesson with all the parts is at this link.
When students are meaningfully engaged in learning, to continue projects from week to week or from session to session is not a waste of time. The brain that can think of ideas if we foreshadow the questions before the lesson, can also imagine new ideas and better alternatives to try. The time between work sessions allows the hippocampus (the subconscious mind) to think of new ideas. Artists often continue their work from session to session. When students are doing things about themselves, when children find purpose, see mastery, and experience autonomy in artwork, they often have a much longer attention span for artwork than for other studies. Studies show that we can use artwork as a way to lengthen attention span (Posner, 2010). Too often art has been a waste of time because it was only taught as an "activity for the hands" resulting in products for decoration at best, but without learning about art as a discipline and without ownership of the ideas by those who made it. Some children enjoy this, but others find it boring busy work.
If possible, make time to teach the whole lesson by continuing one lesson over several sessions. Think of it as a unit if that helps. This is a much better option than leaving out the meaningful parts. You might repeat the opening rituals to start each session, and include a short review before each session. Top of PageIf overall time is a real problem, consider scheduling fewer lessons rather than skipping meaningful learning opportunities. The length of time we spend on each subject doesn't always make sense. It may simply be a result of tradition rather than meaningful research.
The best way to build confidence is to do the activities and projects yourself before teaching the lesson. It is easy to find out what materials are needed when you do it yourself. I have often made important discoveries while doing this. Make a list of the materials as you use them.
While working, make notes about essential questions to ask to get students thinking and keep them focused while they are working. Doing it is a great way to be sure everything in planned. Refrain from showing this work until students have had a chance to do their own thinking.
What do we learn from planning and teaching this lesson?
Teaching is practice. Every experience is a chance get better. Make notes of successes and shortcomings. As in any skill, we seek to make the best of our strengths and try to remedy our weaknesses. If I ask a teaching job candidate about her/his mistakes, I would hope for a response that lists many mistakes, but also many things improved because of being able to recognize teaching mistakes. If a teachers says, "I've had a few bad results, but it was not my fault. The students were just having a bad day." I would hesitate to hire that teacher.Next Steps: Top of Page
2. Make yourself notes to repeat the best parts of the lesson next time you teach it.
3. Make a list of ideas to try to improve any part of the lesson or experience that seemed less than ideal. It is often helpful to discuss these issues with successful teachers with similar experiences. Successful teachers cultivate friends who are positive, creative, and helpful to each other. Top of Page
Pink, D. H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Penguin Group, New York.
Posner, M. I. & Patoine B. (2010) "How Arts Training Improves Attention and Cognition" The Dana Foundation website.
Author NOTES: Much of what is offered on my web site is motivated by the
desire to help students learn to think for themselves. Few
goals are more important than this. Many authors
have influenced my ideas and helped me think about thinking, expressing emotions and ideas, and how this
Notice: © 1999, 2001, 2005 Marvin Bartel. Those who wish to copy or
part of this electronically or otherwise must get permission to do so. Teachers may make one copy for their own personal use. Links from other sites are okay.
Contact the Author at bartelart.com/mb.html