A few weeks ago I had a casual conversation with a member of my school’s leadership team. We were casually discussing authentic assessments, classroom organisation and the art room (as you usually do). This dialogue has been brewing and percolating in my mind for a while now and has raised some interesting questions.
At my school, when MS/HS teachers are absent, occasionally another teacher may have to cover. These teachers always comment on how enjoyable it is to cover art classes. They say it feels relaxed and the students are usually engaged, motivated and need little monitoring. “It runs itself” they say. Why is this? Surely every teacher wants that! How can the art room work ethic be transferred to other subjects and classrooms? How can schools and teachers tap into this?
What’s different about the art room? Is it because art rooms are usually bigger? Is there some teaching secret we are not sharing? The answer is simply no. Or should I say yes? Of course the argument goes that we provide hands-on experiences and students prefer this. This is true. However, we also need to interest the students to the tasks at hand just like any other subject. Art is no different. Some students don’t wish to be there because they feel they can’t draw (but that’s another blog post!). In our Middle School, students have to take art. Not all consider themselves artists, but they are engaged. What are art teachers doing different?
Several of my students often comment about our projects being demanding. They mean this in the sense that they are challenged to think both creatively and critically. A successful lesson or project to me is one that always leaves me and the students with more questions than answers. All of us have great comments on how we would improve the task ‘the next time’ at the end of the unit during our self-reflections. We encourage this dialogue. This is done formally and casually as a class, in groups and with their seat neighbours. This is done more than once. It’s done constantly. We share idea brainstorms, project ideas, evaluate past student work, look at popular artists and simply chat, talk and discuss. Sometimes the ideas are deep, and sometimes they are superfluous. But the seeds are planted.
We share our techniques and plans for course of action. We then critique them and ask for ways on how they can be improved. Then the students begin the actual task. This is where I begin to float. My job is almost finished. I have almost made myself redundant.
Can’t these techniques be transferred to other subjects? Of course they can and they often are. Naturally, the art room also feels pressure and stress, but it is more of a productive kind. Timelines and expectations are advertised and explicit. There is no secret. Students know the rubric and they know the difference between the levels. Outcomes are known.
Simply, we don’t push. We have dialogue. We try to make it authentic as possible and we have expectations that pull. I teach a fraction of the time and then I guide. One of the things I like most about sharing an open art room and office with my coworker (HS Art) is the dialogue. We constantly share ideas, resources, critiques and feedback. I mingle with his students and he mingles with mine. We don’t find this odd and we are not threatened by it. It makes it all more dynamic.
Do you have an art room philosophy? Is this a myth? Am I speaking in tongues or are you just glad you’re not teaching introductory music?
The last photo is our Middle and High School art room. As you can see, it is also used as a study hall at times.
(Art work: “Surrealist Rooms” done in one point perspective by my grade 8 students Maria H. and Sean D.)