Team Learning in Art

Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. 2008


In the book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fate of human societies, 2005 edition, Jarod Diamond explains why and how the major world societies have evolved and why other societies have not succeeded in changing or innovating enough to respond to new conditions. Near the end of the book, on page 462 Diamond suggests a generic principle for innovation and success. "If your goal is innovation and competitive ability . . . you want your country, industry, your industrial belt, or company to be broken up into groups that compete with others while maintaining relatively free communication"

To me, this suggests that art classes, instead of only focusing on individual achievement, would be the perfect place to nurture innovation based on some teamwork. By placing students with varying skills, ideas, abilities, into teams they learn from each other and teach each other. Motivation is enhanced when teams are coached to compete and attempt to out-create each other.

In the book, Five Minds for the Future, 2007, Howard Gardner discusses kinds of thinking needed in the future. Gardner makes strong cases for the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the ethical mind, and the respectful mind. Artwork is inherently creative.  Materializing ideas into artwork is also a way to practice synthesizing diverse ideas in the process of materializing artwork.

Successful companies innovate.  They assign teams to develop innovative projects.  Teams produce ideas and profitable products and services. If education is preparation for the competitive work world, students who have learned to work productively in teams will be more successful. Teamwork can be used to stimulate creative ideas.  Most workplaces require teamwork itself as a discipline. Gardner says it takes 10 years to become truly competent at a discipline. Teamwork is a discipline (a skill) that is in great demand in work workplaces. Children who learn the skills required to be team members will have a head start in learning valuable skills.

Teamwork, when successful is also practice in tolerance, open mindedness, leadership, and other skills that foster a respectful disposition.

Art can occur in an isolated studio, but many works have been created by team efforts. I once ask my college advanced design class if they felt better art could be created by individuals or by groups. They had not considered anything other than individually created artwork.

We did an experiment. Four individual students in the class were randomly selected. The remainder of the class was divided in to three teams of four students. Each team of four had one hour to produce a collage. The four individuals each had four hours in which to produce a collage.

A group of senior art majors were asked to jury the collages. They were not told which collages were produced by individuals and which were produced by teams. In this small experiment the team creations were all judged superior to any of the collages produced by individuals.

Many of our students are not destined to be studio artists. Many are not destined to by artists. However, they are all apt to find themselves in many situations where they are asked to work together to produce something that much too complex and large for one person to do it in a timely manner. Even in art, many artists work with apprentices, assistants, and specialists to realize larger commissions and projects.


Collages and assemblage works are natural for teamwork. 

Idea generation for any form of artwork is also ideally suited to teamwork. Idea generation is often not well taught, but teamwork is particularly well suited to learn idea generation. Often, art teachers depend on examples when introducing a new lesson. Instead of showing answers, we are more apt to produce creative thinking if we begin lessons with questions to be answered.  Using teams to develop art ideas is one way to make it easier for students who may have lost their abilities to think creatively. Students that have become dependent on seeing examples can join a team and learn that brainstorming can originate instead of imitate ideas.

Organize teams intentionally made up of students who have diverse abilities and skills.  This might be similar to choosing teams for a friendly game basketball.  Everybody is included, but every team gets its share of experts and those who need more practice (leaders, listeners, & other kinds of contributors). This helps insure fairness and some equity between teams. The teams are challenged to out-create each other. 

Whenever a team completes an artwork, the whole class takes a break from their own projects.  The other teams have to respond to the completed work and try to learn all they can from the creating team so that they might in fact take what is the best about the completed process and product they are looking at. The creating team responds to questions revealing their team process, their discoveries, and how they succeeded in producing their outcome.  Perhaps individuals from the first team to succeed get to become creativity consultants to the remaining teams. Consultants would not be allowed to make suggestions, but they could ask open questions that get the actual team members to think better.

 WAYS TO ASSESS IT (also see Rubric below)

Assessment might take place after each project or near the end of every grading period where every student has to do self-assessment where they use a form to list and elaborate on their own contributions and their own new learning. They would also be asked to describe how another person on their team was helpful (explaining some specifics) to the success of their team projects.  Additionally, they would be asked to list other positive contributions made by other team members. If grades are required, the teacher could use this information, observations by the teacher, and so on.

 In a good team, we might find that some are innovators, some are refiners, some can synthesize diverse ideas, some are good questioners, some are good cheerleaders and encouragers, and so on.  I believe this might work from grades 3 or 4 through adult.

 I was inspired to encourage team learning in art by reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel; and by seeing the pictures of Clyde Gaw's art students working in a team. Gaw teaches at New Palestine Elementary School, east of Indianapolis, IN.

Teachers are encouraged to experiment and use the parts of the list below that seem to work best.

  1. Form four or more teams to make lists of words and short truisms, making it a contest to see which teams can generate the most usable meaningful words and truisms that help us understand the worlds in which we live.
  2. Work with the class to develop a set of scoring guidelines. Give extra points for unique ideas (those that no other team thinks of).
  3. Have each team's list scored by three other teams to assess and give points to each team.
  4. Make a master list on the board. Questionable words or truisms are placed to the bottom of the list. No two students may work on the same word or truism.
  5. Draw names to randomly decide who begins.
  6. Allow each student to claim a word or truism. Each student must claim a different word or truism.
  7. Each individual makes a series of sketches for graphic interpretations for their selected word.
  8. The whole class is allowed to see every proposal.
  9. Teams reassemble to discuss sketch ideas.
  10. Individuals create final projects.
  11. Teams reassemble and for critiques sessions.
  12. The end of the the lesson, the student teams present and discuss art by Jenny Holzer, Robert Indiana, and other artists who use words as art.

    Teamwork Rubric
      as html file   Teamwork Rubric  as .pdf file

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TEAMWORK RUBRIC   your name ________________

Give the names of all the others on your team here:
Directions for students: By making these choices, we all learn to be better team
members in the future. Please choose from others (not yourself) based on your
experience working in this team. You may use initials or just first names so long as there
are no duplicates on your team. Please keep your answers to yourself and do not look at
other papers. Fold the paper when you are done so only your teacher sees your answers.
1. Who do you think was the most careful and positive listener? ___________
2. Who do you think was best at asking good questions? __________________
3. Who do you think was best at encouraging others to join in with ideas and
questions? __________________
4. Who do you think made the most creative suggestions and ideas? ________
5. Who do you think was best at explaining things? ___________________
6. Did somebody do or say anything else that you want to mention?
NO ___ or YES ___ If yes, please explain.
7. Which one or two from your team would you most like to have on your
team next time? ____________________
8. Why would you want this person on your team again?
9. If you were the teacher, why would you use teamwork next time for this
assignment or project? Or, explain why you would not use teamwork next
time? Write a short statement.

Marvin Bartel, © 2008
biography of author

Teamwork Rubric as a Separate Printable Page 
Idea Generation as Art Curriculum
Drawing Instruction - Does it Transfer?
Creativity Killers in the art room

Conversation Game generating creative ideas for artwork while teaching relationship skills.  This also works well as a teamwork idea generation project.
Teaching Creativity

Creativity Links   
Word as Art  another version of this page from 2006

Art Education Essays, Lessons, and
many other resources for teachers and parents
from Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. Emeritus Professor of Art, Goshen College

  Marvin Bartel Home Page, Bio Page
All rights reserved.  This page © Marvin Bartel.  
this update February 11, 2009

Teachers, you may copy, paste, and print copies of the TEAMWORK RUBRIC by itself for use with your own students. Please let me know how your students respond and how you think it works. Contact the author.

Other copies are NOT allowed and posting on other sites is NOT allowed without specific permission.

Teachers may print one copy of the entire page for their own use so long as the copyright information is with the copy.  For permission to make more copies or handouts contact the author. You may make links to this page from other web pages. top of page

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