Learning is work, at least the deep sort that kids internalize is. When kids get new content right away, it doesn't mean they're learning - it means that they already knew it or that it was too easy. Conversely, if work is too challenging students get frustrated and can don't make much progress. The space between these two extremes - not to easy and not overwhelmingly hard - is what I try to create for everyone of my students when I plan instruction.
In mathematics instruction, the term for this sort of content, and the required searching for solutions that goes with it is "productive struggle". The idea is that students solve challenging problems independently, or in groups, where they are not given a process to use or a set of steps - instead, they use their knowledge of mathematical content to figure out how to solve the problem, often through trial and error. When I first heard this term during professional development I was excited, because it captures so much of what I believe creates a valuable learning experience.
Productive Struggle in My Classroom
I plan for and support productive struggle in my classroom with open ended tasks. I use challenges and themes with no set outcome regularly in my teaching, which range from "make work that shows your knowledge of acrylic paint technique" to "create a collection of artwork that shows who you are as an artist". These sorts of tasks require students to interpret, plan and experiment. However, this is challenging stuff, and it can be overwhelming for some students. That's where support comes in
I teach students how to use the Artistic Thinking Process, a decision making process for planning and creating artwork. The Development stage is especially helpful for student when they don't know where to go next. When they look to me for answers, I point them to the chart and help them use it to find their own answers.
Some students need more support, however, and that's where conferencing comes in. I try to talk to each student, every day, about where they are in their art-making process. When students are stuck, I have an Artistic Thinking Process planning form that often helps. If you're interested in what that looks like, check out this article.
If you're interested in making your classroom a place of productive struggle, I recommend learning about TAB.
I use Bootcamps in my teaching to support student choice. Basically, I spend a consolidated amount of time teaching skills, techniques and processes in order for my high school students to have the knowledge needed to make informed choices about media. Recently, however, I realized that my Bootcamps only explicitly taught realism and this was contributing to the value students' placed on art that was the most realistic.
I want my kids to try on different modes of expression to find what works best for them, so I have to show them how.
I've been re-tooling Bootcamps to reinforce a range of art-making styles as well as teaching the techniques and skills that will give my kids foundational knowledge. This week I taught a refreshed painting Bootcamp to my beginning students. I started the same way I always do - with a paint mixing challenge, although I decided to focus on only acrylic paint.
The big difference was in the development stage.
I used This is Colossal to show students a range of artists' styles in acrylic painting, from photo realism to different degrees of abstraction. We talked about how the artists "added more than the observable" by doing things like using arbitrary color, playing with space, adding patterning or inserting imagitave elements.
When it came time for students to develop their ideas, I asked them to do two sketches in paint, each in a different style. Many resisted this - they felt like they knew what they wanted to do and didn't need to explore. However, almost everyone made discoveries in the second sketch, which ranged from finding a color that worked better to rethinking their whole plan.
I noticed that the work produced was higher quality than in the past and much more expressive. The work was varied and felt original, which made the definition of success diverse and inclusive.
Some students made art that was very representational, while others experimented with color and texture .
Others explored symbolism.
I'm so happy with how this Bootcamp turned out!!!!
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.