Years later I took another oils course. This time the professor took us step by step
through the creation of a particular type of still life. Every class he would be over my
shoulder telling me exactly what to do next. At semester’s end I had a painting that
amazed even me, but I had no real idea how I had done it and could not have
repeated the techniques.
Thinking on these two unsuccessful experiences--where, in my teaching of young
children, was the sweet spot of instruction without micromanaging?
Primary age students are often unaware that certain tools, materials and techniques
even exist. For that reason I offered brief introductions in each weekly class, and
required all students to watch and listen. After four minutes, they would begin to
vibrate and become restless as they prepared to go to their centers for independent
work. For this reason my whole group stand ups were usually five minutes long. At
the end of the demo I would invite interested students to stay with me to hear and
see more, while they interacted with the new material or technique. Students who
were engaged with this had the opportunity to continue with it as long as they
wished. The outcome of this was an increased skill and resulting comfort with the
medium, often far above what might be considered “grade level”.
As a choice teacher with very limited time with my young students, I had to think
hard about how skills should be presented. Some of them were what John Crowe of
Mass Art calls “I do it, you do it.” This might involve how to thread a needle, or what
materials were to be set up before painting. There was no choice in these matters! A
more open ended example of skill development took place when brayers and block
print ink were offered as one type of monoprint. Students had the chance to
experiment with various amounts of ink, and several ways of lifting the color from
the plate to their paper. As they worked we could comment on the sound that the
brayer was making, as well as process how well their print came out and why. The
skills involved in inking a plate were then in place before block prints were
introduced. Arranging the demos in that order resulted in vastly improved success
with the more complicated block printing.
In a TAB studio at any level, teachers plan requirements very carefully, making
certain to be clear on their necessity and applicability to future work. The priority is
studio time for independent art making—so teaching of skills whole group must be
targeted carefully to meet observed student needs. As individual students work,
their questions and struggles can be addressed in a “just in time” manner - one on
one, or in small groups, while the rest of the class works independently."
By TAB co-founder and all-around wonderful teacher and person Katherine Douglas.
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.