"What if art was taught not with absolutes, but with questions?
What if we gave choices instead of steps to follow?
What if we gave suggestions instead of answers?
In my high school Art 1 class, I start the year with Bootcamps, designed to develop skill with media and process. This week we worked through drawing. I gave students short experiences with a variety of drawing materials, with a group activity, independent work and "Draw Around the Room" (inspired by Diane Jaquith), where kids rotated through centers to experiment with different media.
I started the week with a question, asking students to spend the next two days deciding what drawing media they wanted to explore in a longer, finished artwork.
I included choice in demonstrations and process charts by giving examples of techniques and asking them to try a few.
When students had questions about how to do something I pointed them to the design section of Design Process Thinking. "Which of these options could help you here?" I asked.
Interesting things, things I couldn't have expected, started to happen. Fingerprints were used to fill in a background and chalk was filed to make a sky filled with stars. My students thought creativity and worked in individual styles as they experiment to find answers to the questions they need answered.
What happens when the teacher model is taken away?
Printmaking is always a challenge to teach and include the level of student choice I like to. It takes a while for even high school students to understand the process, plus the whole image reversal thing complicates it all. Taking the time to teach one printmaking process is a commitment, but I wanted to teach three without spending weeks.
The answer was flipping.
I linked videos and a slide show about block printing, screen printing and monoprinting on my website (I'm still building this, so excuse the mess!). Next, I made some short quizzes with Google Forms about key concepts essential to each process. These quizzes were not for a grade - instead they served as a check and balance. Kids could take them as many times as they wanted but they had to pass before they printed.
This worked wonderfully. Students really payed attention to the steps in the videos, talking notes or watching them multiple times. Taking the quiz let them see what they still needed to know and review at the same time.
I wondered - would the video/ quiz combo prepare them to follow multi-step processes correctly? Yes, it did, and better than my traditional lessons. I had far less questions about what to do next and, if I was working with another student, I could easily direct anyone who needed help back to to video. Instead of spending days teaching processes it was done in under a class period. True, each kid didn't learn every type of printmaking, but they were exposed to each one and they can easily access the steps when they're ready to try it.
I'm all about packing as much knowledge into as little time as possible. Who wants to spend weeks on color theory? Not me and certainly not my students. Applying knowledge in student directed artwork is how I want my kids to spend the limited hours we're given together.
Enter the color mixing challenge.
I start by telling the class that we'll be having a group challenge and that they'll need to know the following information to help their team. Next, I spend 5 minutes going over some basic color theory while they take notes. I cover primary, secondary and complementary colors, plus how to mix tints and shades.
Then it's time for the challenge.
Each group gets a palette of primaries and white, plus a magazine page. The challenge is to match as many colors from the magazine as possible.
They talk and mix beautifully complex colors, applying vocabulary and processing new information as the do it. Colors that are created are matched right on the magazine page for immediate feedback. It's easy to set up, quick and fun, plus it creates the needed foundation of knowledge for further paint exploration - my idea of the perfect lesson.
What would your students do if they had class time in art to focus on something they were passionate about? This summer I listened to teacher and author Kevin Brookhouser speak about he uses 20Time in his high school classes and I knew I had to try it. The concept is inspired by Google, which gives it's employees 20% of their time to work on any project they want to. Kevin does this with his students and the results are amazing.
My kids have quite a bit of choice in my TAB classroom, but it's mostly centered around themes and topics that I select. I want my students to have the opportunity to really focus on pursuing the things they are passionate about. I also want to give them a space to investigate how art can intersect or support other subjects.
I want my class to provide the type of learning experience that is remembered for a lifetime.
I decided on the following criteria for 20Time:
I was excited and a little nervous when I shared this idea with my Art 1 classes yesterday. Would they get it? Would they be able to come up with ideas?
I presented the information above and had them identify one of the three project categories that they connected with. I saw them sit up a little taller as I talked, eyes bright with interest.
Next, they got in groups based on the category they selected and did a brainstorming activity. I asked them to list possibilities for projects without considering the cost, feasibility or their ability level, to tap into creative, out of the box thinking.
Next, I had kids fill out this planning sheet on my website. Some chose to work alone, other in groups. I was amazed at some of their ideas. Here are a few I'm excited about:
Building a website for a current business selling used xboxes.
Worldbuilding for a novel being written.
Character development for a future graphic novel.
Exploring watercolor technique.
Designing a toy drive for a local animal shelter.
Writing a smartphone app.
And this was just week one! I'm very much looking forward to next Friday.
I'm a firm believer that the tone we set in the first week of school can influence the whole course. When planning what that time period would look like in my room this year, I wanted to accomplish the following:
- Create a culture of collaboration.
- Foster a problem-solving mindset.
- Intro my Design Process Thinking model.
- Start a conversation about originality that will be revisited in every lesson.
On day one I skip the rules and syllabus review. Instead, we played one of my favorite games - "What's in the Bag?". The task was to create an object that could shoot a projectile at least three feet. I love the moment I tell students we're doing this - I watch their eyes go from glazed over with boredom to alive and curious. It's a fun activity for kids but it's also an effective way to preview what the class will look like in terms of student responsibility for making decisions.
The next day, we started a short assignment about re-purposing ideas. The task: each group remixed an old master painting. The big idea I wanted my kids to take away from this experience is that artists need to be collectors of ideas that they have on file to use and adapt. It's a big paradigm shift that needs to happen to get where I want them to go.
Next week, it's on to Bootcamps. My goal is to fit more information in a shorter timespan by using a combo of flipping and google forms. Stay tuned!
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.