PLANNING ART LESSONS
|v The order in which things are done
tells a lot
the teacher's philosophy of education.
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"I Am Playing Tennis With My Father"
|What do you know about the students
that will influence your planning?
Good art lessons need some difficulty to be challenging,
but need to be easy enough to avoid too much frustration. Art skills
are things like: observational drawing, ability
clay do what you want it to, ability to make tools and materials do
you want, and the ability to actively use the imagination. Will your
lesson be easy enough so they are not
Will the students be challenged enough to keep their interest? Skills
learned by practicing. The best lessons are those that include practice
training together with interest builders that motivate self initiated
2. Their art world awareness:
Good art lessons review previous art knowledge. What artist's work can you refer to and expect students to know what you are talking about? What historical examples are familiar? What examples from other cultures are familiar to your students?
What new art terms do your students know, need to review by regular usage, and need to learn by your introduction with this lesson? What design principles do they know or need to learn? How good are they at analyzing the way art effects viewers?
How much enthusiasm do students show for learning new skills, for routine skill practice, for new concepts, for other artist's work and ideas? What do your students know about the purposes of art in the world and in their lives?
Do your students make typical pictures, sculptures, and so on for their age? How many are more advanced and how many are less advanced than expected for their age? How might this be addressed in this lesson?
What are some ways you can foreshadow an art lesson? List some before you read the examples I give you in the next paragraph. See how many scenarios to foreshadow an art lesson your mind can imagine. If any of your ideas are different than the ones I list in the next paragraph, that is just perfect. You have been outstandingly creative, just like you want your students to be creative.
Okay, here are my ideas. See if there are any you want to add to your list. See if you thought of things I missed.
If I missed one that you like, send it to me in an email (please include the web address or title of this page). I do not show examples of what I think they should do. To do so, might result in imitation and a loss of appreciation for their own ideas.
1. ART SUPPLIES
Many art teachers develop an
orderly routine where students are expected to pick up what is needed
as they enter the room before they go to their seats. Some teachers
assign tasks to certain students to bring supplies in order to limit
mob movements. Some teachers withhold a simple
item in order to prevent students from starting before they have
the motivation, focus, and instructions for the lesson. Other teachers
provide written instructions for the first learning activity so no
verbal instructions are needed while the teacher takes
2. OPENING WARM UP
A short review session is always appropriate at the beginning of the session. Ask students questions about the key concepts and art vocabulary learned in a recent lesson. See if they can recall recently studied concepts and help them understand how the ideas and skills will help them with this lesson.
4. LESSON INTRODUCTION
There are good reasons to avoid showing examples of what the students are supposed to produce. For the reasons for this see the list of Nine Classroom Creativity Killers. Numbers 1, 5, 8, and 9 speak directly to the reasons examples are not shown at the beginning of an art lesson. Art History examples are shown near the end of the lesson.
To quote a kindergarten child, "You can't never know how to do it before you ever did it before." Students need to know how the materials and process work in order to be creative with their interpretations of the content and design of their work. If it is a new process, it is only fair to allow and expect them do a preliminary practice session.
This part of the lesson might have some time to "play around" with materials to see what emerges by accident. Limit the time for this. As soon as students cease to be involved in a search, move to a structured activity. I may be useful at this time to ask students to share their discoveries.
Example: The class is about to do a project where the medium will be transparent watercolors over a crayon composition. Give each child five small pieces of paper and a few minutes in which to test out this combination of materials allowing any sequence and any color combinations on several small pieces of paper.
Present some carefully planned step-by-step instructions on the process. This is generally not a teacher demonstration, but hands-on participatory learning. Every student follows along using art materials. This part of the lesson is not art, it is art skill or craft carefully presented by the teacher. The art immediately follows when the students are in charge of their own ideas and work while doing the main part of the assignment.
Example: The class is about to work with B6 drawing pencils. These have soft graphite which allows for very bold dark black. Before using these pencils for drawing, have them make the following lines about five inches long.
At this point the teacher would mention that artists often use many different kinds of lines in the same drawing. The teacher should ask, "Why do you think artists try to use some lines that are very dark, some very light, and some that are medium?" Unless students actively think about why they are doing things, they often forget to use what they are learning. When they start there artwork, they may still revert to pervious habits unless they are reminded with this "why" question again while they are working. When an art lesson begins to change habits of thinking, the students take away benefits that are good for their whole lives. Thinking about using a varied line character to achieve compositional dynamics may not sound like a big deal, but it is an example of how every habitual way of working should be open to new alternatives.
If possible, do not
do a demonstration for them to watch.
Its usually more effective to have them each actively do a small sample
of the process themselves. Teacher demonstrations might be used if it
would be too dangerous or too complex to explain in a step-by-step way
while they all do it. When a demonstration is the only way I know to
introduce a procedure, I follow it immediately with preliminary skill
practice before requiring any artwork to be produced with a new process.
Sometimes teachers feel that it is more creative to allow students to have complete freedom to decide on any subject matter. This presents several problems. If the teachers says, "Do whatever you want for subject matter," most students simply do whatever was easy and successful in the past. This lassie faire approach also implies that content is immaterial and unimportant.
Art lessons need to help students learn ways to come up with meaningful and important content for their work. How can we expect ownership and motivation if the content is trivialized?
All art content comes from three sources: Observation, Memory, and/or Imagination. Lessons in observation are important for the student's skill formation. See this link for a list of helpful ways to help children learn observation skills. This Beginning Rituals page describes careful observation practice. This link discusses the human need to give aesthetic order to our world.
Memory is rich if it comes from rich experience. We remember what we notice. When a child is fascinated and absorbed in an experience, it will be a pleasure to remember and express it. Teachers and others can encourage curiosity and awareness. Teachers, parents, and others can make a point to ask many awareness building questions before, during, and after field trips and similar activities. "Why do you think the giraffe has such a long neck?" "What shape (color) are the spots?" "Are some a different shape?" Some on-site sketching can be done. In the class it can be developed into a larger drawing, painting, collage, diorama, and so on. Students should be told in advance of the field trip that it will be the basis for artwork. This heightens awareness, attentiveness, and observations while on the outing.
Imagination gives us amazing power. It is what allows us to speculate about the future. It even allows us to imagine what others think of us and how our actions might effect others. It allows us to think of alternative ways to act. Art, creative writing, story telling, pretend play, drama, songs, etc. allow us to practice and develop our powers of imagination.
We need to increase the number of ways we teach the development of new ideas for art work. Here are a few ways used by art teachers and artists to help decide on content for an art project. These can be used for observation, memory, and/or imagination. We can encourage our students to practice these methods.
Art lessons need to help students learn ways to use the visual elements and principles of design to achieve the effects they want to express in their work. Good design generally seeks unity, harmony, and good integration of diverse visual effects. On the other hand, it needs strong interest, emphasis, repetition, variation, motion, emotion, and expressive content.
Consider special motivational
activities to enrich their frame of reference for creative media work
projects. These might be sensory exercises to make them more aware of
texture, tone, hue, size, depth, intensity or some other visual quality
5c. PREPARATION for
Most mature artists fall into one of four large categories, but also have a very individual recognizable style within the larger category. Most art styles fall under realism (naturalism), expressionism, formalism (including minimalism), or surrealism (fantastic).
Students often experiment with several styles. Ideally, we want students who can experimentally develop original styles rather than students that mimic or copy established styles. Since it may take years and many works before an artist can be expected to have a mature distinctive style, students are encouraged to experiment with style, looking for effective ways to achieve results. In the following experiments, every student is likely to see individual style emerge.
Preliminary experiments directed to style might include:
5d. PREPARATION for observation
I said, "When I draw something new, I like to sit and look at all the shapes and lines before I start. When I look at this part (pointing to the top) of the handle, I notice that the top here is more round, when I look at this part down here I notice that it is almost like a straight line. I also like to look at how big the different parts are, and compare the size of the handle and the spout, or the size of the handle and the belly of the pot."
I do not draw any examples because I do not want children to observe my drawing when they need to learn to observe the subject. I do talk about my drawing experiences. I know that children fail to learn because the are afraid to fail. Therefore, I talked about all the mistakes I make when I draw something. I said, "Usually, I draw a line, but after I draw it, I can notice that it should have been a little different shape or a little different size, but I don't erase right away. I just leave it and I try another line. When I am finished, I might go back and erase some mistakes. My mistakes are good because I learn to see better from them - they are my practice lines. Whenever we try a new thing we expect to make some mistakes, but with practice we get better at it."
She was noticeably pleased with her own achievement. In this one drawing of the teapot she moved from the "schematic" stage of geometric simplification to the "dawning realism" stage in her drawing. She now has a basic foundation for learning to observe. She can now draw anything she wants to (with similar observation and practice). With enough of this kind of instruction and practice in the first grade, she can be spared the crisis of confidence that many third grade children experience.
The problem with many drawing instruction books is that they prescribe shortcuts and formulas that give success without any actual observation. Without developing much ability, they replace the motivation to actually learn. Observation practice and many more links on teaching drawing can be found here. Teachers who teach drawing by drawing for the children are not directing their minds to right learning task. The task is not to replicate a drawing. If the learning task is to create a drawing by observing the real world, the child learns to draw anything - not only the specific thing being taught.
Give or review the detailed explanation of the assignment. Be sure instructions are understood, and they feel comfortable about your expectations. Empower them to create. Define limits to encourage problem solving, but allow individual ownership of ideas and work. Explain the main points that you plan to evaluate. This link has a rubric for grading artwork. Some teachers make a poster with their assessment points. Some use a handout.
Be especially sensitive to
they first start to work. If there are more than one or two questions,
stop and clarify things for the whole class. If there are slow
make sure they understand, but allow time to think, to experiment, to
and time to look at more than one option.
While they are working, stay tuned to the class and be thinking of ways to keep them on task. Art teachers sense when a class is getting off track. Students begin to discuss their social lives and other topics that have nothing to do with the problem at hand.
A series of focused but open questions can bring the students back on task. Good open questions bring richness and content into their work. "Does the dog have a special smell? What is the part of the dog that is the darkest? ... the lightest? How much larger does the dog's body seem than the dog's head?" Questions help passive knowledge becomes active knowledge and gets it included in the artwork. Open questions (those with many possible answers) stimulate the imagination.
If they are working directly from observation of the subject (the dog is in the room), they will be encouraged to make better observations if the teacher goes over to the dog and asks about specific aspects of the subject. Ask, "How does height and length compare?" while placing hands near the subject to show height and width. Focused but open questions generally result in much richer student work. They surprise themselves with how well they can do. This works with an individual or with the whole group. If several students are floundering at once, it may be more efficient to call the whole class to attention and take time to refocus.
What questions might have been asked related to the tennis picture shown at the top of this page?
MOTIVATION - verbal - I resist making suggestions - I use open questions to raise issues for them to consider in their work. Their greatest need is thinking practice. I do not want to take this away from them by providing answers. I try to use focused questions. Eventually they learn to anticipate the type of questions needed to produce better art, and they will need less hand holding. Good teaching empowers them by helping them learn the kind of questions artists use to improve their own work. When I am asked for a suggestion, I first ask what the student has been thinking about. Often the student already has an idea or two, but was not confident to try it.
MOTIVATION - multi sensory - There are many kinds of motivation. I have used unseen (hidden) sound making devices as motivation for texture. When when working from food, flowers, plants, smell and sometimes taste is incorporated into the preliminary experience. Studies show that students who examine something by touch create richer artwork than those who only work from visual observation.
MOTIVATION - animals - Live animals elicit instinctive attention. Every child pays attention to an animal moving around. Field trips to farms, zoos, etc. are great venues for drawing and/or for asking lots of observation questions.
I avoid showing examples as motivation because imitation is too easy. It shortcuts original thinking.
7b. DELIBERATE AND SELF-DOUBTING
Do not be tempted to tell them that quality doesn't matter and don't say, "I'm not an artist either." Say, "I often make mistakes when I am learning a new thing, but I like my mistakes because they help me learn by pointing out what I need to practice more. Often I don't erase my mistakes until I finish so that I can learn from them. When I finish, I even leave some mistakes because they add motion or extra excitement and magic to the work. Sometimes my mistakes are the best part. Sometimes they give me an idea for something better to try." Encourage them by pointing out that some things are only learned by practice and the more we practice the better it will get.
Find the best part of what they have done and tell them why you think so. Don't use praise that is empty or general, but praise together with specific information so they can learn from it.
8. PRECAUTIONS and HOW TO HELP WHEN
IT IS TOO HARD
If they are having trouble drawing or modeling from observation, go over to the thing being observed and ask in detail what they see. If more is needed, explain in detail what you see. If they are working from imagination or memory, use detailed questions to help them remember and value their own past experiences. Encourage the word challenging instead of too hard.Click here to review list making and other ways to generate ideas.
When a student is afraid to try something, give them extra paper on which to make several experiments or to practice on. Artists frequently do experiments, practice, and research before they feel ready to try it in their actual work. Of course artists work according to many different styles and strategies and some of them want all the expressiveness of mistakes and false starts to remain as evidence of the creative process. For an abstract expressionist (action painter) much of the meaning and feeling of the work would be lost if they pre planned or practiced it, but for most art styles it is common to practice or make sketches ahead of the actual work.
9. MEANINGFUL ENDINGS
- making criticism pleasant
Interpretation refers the the meanings and feelings seen. We can ask for ideas for titles. We can discuss the visual reasons for meanings and feelings observed. The one who created the work may want to verbalize about this, but I try to delay this until others have a chance to respond. We need to learn about the richness of meanings and feelings that are possible in a group setting.
Never allow judgmental comments like, "I don't see why anybody would use that color for . . . " When commenting on a perceived weakness allow only neutral questions so the student artist may be asked to explain rather than defend a choice. "Can we talk a bit about the effects that this color is producing? Who can give us an idea?" Frame the questions in non-judgmental terms. Use questions to raise awareness, not to declare mistakes.
Don't only discuss works you happen to like, but allow time to include each work. Emphasize the positive and use questions to get discussion going. Take advantage of learning opportunities. Some situations may work better if this is done in smaller groups. This might begin when the first four to six students complete a project. Each time another four to six students finish, another discussion group is formed. Written forms can also be used at times.
Your lesson planning strategy often starts by thinking about the closing portion of the lesson. What creative activities will best build a frame of reference for this experience? What do you want students to take with them from the experience? Just as a beginning ritual can help focus and center the class's attention, an ending ritual gives meaning and relevance which is so vital to learning. This link is a beginning ritual that includes an ending connection from art history.
This is also a good time to ask questions about ways they will now notice things differently as they leave the art room because of the lesson they have worked on today. Will it change the way they see colors? What will be the new things they notice in their everyday experiences?
11. DISMISSAL WITH PURPOSE
Artists never get away from the homework of the eye and the mind. We dream art both at night and in our daydreams. We sketch and journal these rich ideas so that when we finally get to enter the studio, the ideas force themselves onto the canvas or into the clay. Art teachers understand this and find ways to inculcate their students with artistic ways of seeing and thinking about all of life.
You may be thinking, "This is too much to do in one art lesson." An Example Lesson with all the parts is at this link.
When students are meaningfully engaged in learning, it is not time wasted. Because art is experiential learning, and because they are doing things about themselves, children often have a much longer attention span for art lessons than for other studies. If so, use the art lesson as a way to develop their attention span capacities. Too often art has been a waste of time because it was only taught as an "activity for the hands" resulting in products for decoration at best, but without learning about art as a discipline and without ownership of the ideas by those who made it.
If possible, budget time to teach the whole lesson. Many teachers successfully continue one lesson over several sessions. Think of it as a unit if that helps. This is a much better option than leaving out the meaningful parts. You can repeat the opening rituals to start each session, and include a short review before each session.
Following the above guidelines is DBAE (discipline based art education). DBAE includes the four disciplines of art production, aesthetics, art criticism, and art history. Additionally, these methods will foster creativity and can be used to foster awareness of artwork from other cultures and from both genders.
Be sure to do the activities and projects yourself before you teach the lesson. Make a list of the materials as you use them. It is best way to be sure you have planned for everything.
What I Learned from planning and teaching this lesson:
Teaching is practice. Every experience is a chance get better. Make notes of successes and shortcomings. As in any skill, we seek to make the best of our strengths and try to remedy our weaknesses. If I ask a teaching job candidate about her/his mistakes, I would hope for a response that lists many mistakes, but also many things improved because of being able to recognize teaching mistakes. If a teachers says, "I've had a few bad results, but it was not my fault. The students were just having a bad day." I would hesitate to hire that teacher.
2. Make yourself notes to repeat the best parts of the lesson next time you teach it.
3. Make a list of ideas to try to improve any part of the lesson or experience that seemed less than ideal. It is often helpful to discuss these issues with successful teachers with similar experiences. Successful teachers cultivate friends who are positive, creative, and helpful to each other. Teachers who spend most of their time complaining about students should find another calling in life.
(the short version)
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