Teaching is a balancing act when it comes to designing successful art lessons for students. Maybe the lesson you taught had a really beautiful ending product, but it lacked in creativity. Perhaps the project allowed students tons of creative choices, but the results were less than hall-worthy. Maybe you added a rich cultural connection, but WHOPS, you forget to talk about the Elements and Principles of Design. It seems very few lessons have the home run effect.
Great Product + Creative Processes + Cultural Connections + Elements and Principles of Design
Whew. Does it make you tired just thinking of it? No fear! I have come up with a simple formula to help you check your lessons to make sure they are encompassing a reasonable balance of all of the things you know you want each lesson to have, but sometimes the quality check just fails.
Use this formula and I guarantee a home run lesson every time.
1. Start with the Elements and Principles of Design
The boring starts first. I am sorry, but I do think the Elements can be brutally boring. Unfortunately the entire curriculum I teach is based upon the elements and principles of design. This is not by chance. As artists, we know they are the building blocks of all great art and valuable for students to know and understand. We must teach the Elements and Principles but not in solitude. So let’s get started. For example, let’s start with TEXTURE in Kindergarten.
2. Next, Choose an Artist, Culture, or Art History
Look at the element you chose in Step 1. What artist, culture or time period in art history best represents use of this element that is developmentally appropriate for the grade level you want to teach? Why include an artist or culture? Isn’t teaching the Element of Design enough? NO. It’s not. I firmly belive the element is the foundation, but the artist is the HOOK that gets kids interested. Let me elaborate. Imagine the following as you introduce your lesson:
Exhibit A : Today boys and girls we are going to learn about Texture. Texture is the way something feels. (Snor)
Exhibit B: Today we are going to learn about an artist who pained with so much paint, sometimes he didn’t even buy food because he couldn’t afford it. He would rather starve than quit painting. WOW. Kids are listening now, aren’t they? … “Well, Van Gogh needed SO MUCH expensive paint, because he painted with a lot of texture. His paint was very thick….”
So I choose Van Gogh to talk about Texture with Kindergarten because of the wonderful hook it provides as an introduction to the art element. Perfect Pair! Lets move on.
3. What are the Non- Negotiable Parts of the Lesson?
What parts of your lesson are not negotiate These are the steps the students must follow. Maybe all students must have 4 flowers in their Sunflowers vase, or maybe all students must tear the paper, not cut the paper, in order to gain a fine motor skill. For so many of us, and so many lessons I see out there, every single part of lesson is a nonnegotiable. First draw this, then this, and we’ll all use the same colors and have 20 beautiful birds but they all look the same. I don’t like to teach this way. It makes me lose sleep at night because my job is to cultivate learners who can make artistic decisions. We all know, though, our students aren’t professional artists with the ability to sit in their studio and make all kinds of adult like artistic decisions. They are still learning the basic skills, in which we need to teach, which is also our job. Decide in your lesson what those basic things are that kids can’t really change about your lesson. These items will be the foundation in which creativity is built.
3. Give Opportunity for Artistic Choices.
A great lesson balances explicit instruction. (I do, we do, you do) with creative choice. For example, I could provide a tracer and tell students to trace a vase for the sunflower pot in my Van Gogh Sunflower’s Lesson. They would all look great, for sure. But then I go back to that guilt of not providing and teaching divergent and creative thinking whenever I can in a lesson. Besides fine motor, what did the students learn from tracing? What artistic choices were they able to make? Not many. SO, for this lesson I will let them draw a vase in any shape they want, and any size as long as it fits on the paper. You’ll get student choice in each little vase and each product will start to look very unique and take on the personality of the artist. Objective met. I gave them a creative choice WITHIN a structure that sets them up for success. THIS IS THE BEST TRICK I have ever found for my lessons. Creativity Within Structure.
Even though you may not be able to add all of these things into every single lesson, becoming aware of your lesson design, and attempting to combine these simple steps in your lessons, hopefully you can find that perfect balance that will propel your average lessons into you best lessons!
Do you find your lessons are lacking balance?
If you could work on one aspect of teaching your lessons, what would you work on?