Here are three mentoring strategies that really work for me.
1. Start with questions.
When a student needs directions or ideas I used to start with suggestions but then I realized I was talking away a really valuable learning opportunity from my students. Now, my first response is always a question. If you're stuck - what have you tried? If you're not happy with how your work is progressing - what was your vision? I often start units with Big Idea questions proposed to students and recently I've started experimenting with asking students to develop their own guiding questions as the first part of the planning process. This all adds up to making the learning experience a differentiated journey.
2. Provide a range of suggestions.
When I start with questioning and a student still really wants my opinion I don't give them one answer, because who's work would it be then? Instead I give them a list of options. I try to always give at least three. My goal is to provide a buffet instead of automatically giving the student what I think is best on the menu.
3. Include other voices.
I think it's always best to see what others think and I try to model this. When addressing student questions about work I try to involve the whole table to get a range of opinions. Often other students have great ideas or suggestions that would never have occurred to me. Plus, this type of conversation in the art room helps build community and it's great for everyone's learning. The key idea here is to take away the concept of the teacher as the sole expert and instead teach problem solving and independence.
We all have units that are our favorite. Here's my current - Artists Communicate. I do versions of this unit with my Art 1 and Art 2 classes. For the summative project Art 1 focuses on the self, interpreting the theme of identity (more on this next week) while I ask Art 2 to make art centered around current issues.
This project is full media choice with a very open and challenging theme. At this point in the school year my students are comfortable with open-ended tasks and tackling big ideas with them is SO MUCH FUN. I love seeing how their personal opinions merge with their developing style as they create. The "I don't know if I can do this" that I see early in the semester is replaced with a thoughtful "what can I do here?"
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.