I was tiptoeing around the subject, so I’m going to be clear here. Cookie cutter lessons are a waste of your time and do little for students. Consider why teachers use these projects - they produce good results. Is this a valid reason for teaching a lesson?
We shouldn’t be in the business of worrying about what looks good on the wall, but rather with making students who are independent artists.
These sort of step-by-step projects often take weeks to produce and leave students with little more than the work itself. Other issues include:
I think that most teachers realize how empty cookie cutter projects are, but many do them anyway. We’re pressured to put on a show, to always have appealing work on display. However, just because it’s expected doesn’t mean it’s right. If a lesson of yours produces indistinguishable work, get rid of it. If it is all about the product, try something new.
Try lessons that:
The most important thing when deciding what to teach is this:
What do I want this experience to leave my students with?
There is no one right answer to this question. It might be an understanding of art history, a love of painting, the ability to create independently or mastery of a specific skill. “Something pretty on the wall” is probably not your answer - don’t let it be your contribution.
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.