The Best Way to Engage Boys in Art Class
One Word: Blocks.
Having a set of blocks in your art room will significantly change the way reluctant boys feel about art class. It’s easy to say you will have clear expectations and consequences to follow, but sometimes being proactive, instead of re-active, is an additional approach you can take to curb behaviors in the art room. What special learning features will set your room apart from the other classes? Sometimes unique materials and experiences will be just the hook students need to take notice in how special art class really is.
This idea all started with my mentor and elementary art teacher, Ms. Spears. She had a set of blocks that were available for students to use when they finished early. The boys (and some girls) were magnets to this center. Then, she would take photos of their finished creations (if she deemed them worthy) and put them up in a wall of fame.
I purchased a box set of Keva Planks my first year of teaching, and have since added several more sets for my art room. These blocks are a special treat for kids. Because my curriculum is so jam-packed with content, there is very little free time. When kids do finish early, I never feel badly about allowing a few extra minutes of architecture time. Why would I feel bad? Well, the administration is very focused on kids being engaged in learning outcomes at all times, and I totally agree: No fluff. However, it’s very easy to justify a class set of blocks on so many levels! When students build with blocks, they are working on: collaboration, innovation, Working in 3D, practical life skills, concentration, perseverance, patience, creativity, and sharing. The list goes on!
With the benefits, comes the challenges of offering something this enticing in the art room. The biggest challenge I’ve encountered with allowing studnets to build in 3D is trifold:
1. Students rush through the regular project in order to get to the blocks. I will usually limit only certain days that blocks are even available, or I will check for quality work before they are allowed to use the blocks, and send them back to work if it’s not up to par (knowing the student, of course).
2. Students want to build large forms, and not wanting to share the blocks.
3. Catapoults, flying blocks and building towers just to knock them over. (sigh)
I created the following rules into a handy poster that I post down near the carpet where they build as a constant reminder.
Overall, the benefits outweigh the challenges, and I will have a class set of blocks in every classroom I teach. Middle school students come back to the art room begging to use the blocks one more time. It’s kind of funny. It’s also something my old classmates talk about at reunions. A treasured memory!
The boys (and girls) in my art classes beg me to get out the blocks. They come get them during indoor recesses (I loan them out) and they are so proud when I take their photos next to the creations and display them in the yearbook. It’s just the “hook” some students need to feel engaged and connected to an art form, and has really improved my reach to all students in the art room.
Do you allow students to build in 3D? Tell us about it!
What are other ways you engage reluctant boys (and girls!) in the art room?