"Why can't my kids mix colors?" I remember thinking in my first few years of teaching. I had taught my kindergartners how to mix secondary colors just a month ago, and now it seemed like half my class had forgotten. It couldn't have been my lesson - their paintings inspired from the book Mouse Paint, complete with little cut paper mice, almost all had correctly mixed secondary colors.
It was my lesson.
I had taught the color theory and I had provided guided practice but I had stopped short of doing what needed to happen for my kids to really learn the material.
I hadn't given them a chance to apply new learning.
When I switched my elementary classroom over to TAB I worried that skills like color theory might be harder to teach. I was surprised to find that the opposite was true; students learned and retained information much better. The reason? I was now giving kids ample time to apply new learning as they worked in centers.
Kindergartners, who in years past had been unable to remember how to mix orange, easily mixed all the colors they needed from primaries in the Painting Center. I'd demo, let them practice together, then provide the opportunity to apply new learning every time they needed to mix colors.
This same formula works at high school, whether it's applying technique to draw, thinking about color theory to mix paint or using understanding of perspective to draw an anamorphic illusion.
The key to getting students to remember new learning is giving them the chance to apply content as they investigate their own ideas. This requires them to process and store information as they use it to accomplish their goals. This can't happen if your lesson doesn't go farther than kids replicating your example. We have to make learning meaningful by expecting students to apply concepts as they work to accomplish their own artistic goals.
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.