Maintaining Perspective in the Art Room

art-teacher-perspectiveIts half way through my teaching cycle, which for me means that I’m on my second rotation for both my A and B groups. Creating, balancing and maintaining an art curriculum is crucial when I see each class only fifteen times per year. At times, I feel I’m a little too intense when selecting which art projects we will do. Careful planning helps ensure that each class will meet all (or almost all) of the state standards. I try to keep slots available so that if I have a sudden lesson inspiration (which happens often), I can add that to my schedule. I also try to be flexible when a class may require more or less from me…things like more free expression, less direction, etc. Each class is different, as is each student.

A special art program for everyone…

If I had my way, I would design an art curriculum for each child. I see their differences, skills, awareness and learning styles and yet, there isn’t much I can really do to provide the perfect art program for every child. I accept that. Yet, I strive to provide an interesting and dynamic art program that will at best engage children so they will walk away from elementary school with a love of art and at the very least, learn that they were pretty good at making painted paper.

Standards, assessments and the other such stuff…

I’ve become more aware of standards, objectives and behavioral expectations over the past year mostly because of the engagement from my DSS readers. I’m not required to teach to the standards, my curriculum gets seen only by me and I don’t have to grade art. Yet, my readers challenge me with great questions and because of this, my curiosity gets piqued frequently. I start to wonder if I should be incorporating more assessment or standards or better clean-up protocols because people are asking me. I begin to lose sleep because I’m not sure which standard that cute little pig lesson checked off.

Engagement matters…

But then I take a step back and remember why I teach; to engage children with art, to bring out the creative side in all my students and  to help them see that art shouldn’t look all alike. Rubrics or not, I never want to look at a child’s art with a critical eye, only a positive one. I’m indifferent to whether or not a child should understand analogous colors, because the truth is, I can barely pronounce the word. Is it necessary for children to understand or memorize art movements? I’m not sure, but I know I didn’t learn about art movements or art history until college. I try to remember these idiosyncrasies about my teaching style because I know I can only teach in the style that is authentic to me.

I’m in an investigation phase of my teaching development. Here’s what’s interesting to me right now:

  • Exploring new ways to teach art. Right now I’m investigation TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior). There is a TAB website that covers the basics of the teaching style, but I suspect they will be posting more and more on the site as time goes by.
  • Enjoying the complex challenge of designing a balanced art curriculum. I have a new Art Teacher’s Curriculum Workbook coming out in about a month…super excited about this one.
  • Embracing the papier mache projects that I started with my 2nd-4th graders.  This until is a big deal since doing this type of project consumes 1/3 of my students yearly art classes (5 classes).  That means I’m sacrificing other art standards and learning techniques to fit into the art schedule.
  • But the biggest excitement of them all is the yearly 6th Grade Mural that we will start next month.  Our theme is Aztec Art. How cool is that! I KNOW the boys in the group will love it.

What keeps you up at night regarding your art curriculum? What gets you most excited?

12 comments

  1. I love reading that you don’t have to grade the art! That takes off so much wasted time. I have 7 grades per kid and over 500 kids. It took 12 hours just to grade for one semester! At about 10 seconds a grade! What is education coming to? I just try to be as fair as I can and keep things in perspective without taking it all too seriously which is very easy to do. It could drive you crazy the requirements that are being forced on us. But, I just am very straightforward, honest, transparent and try to keep a measured and positive attitude. I try to let an administrator in on a little story about a kid they were talking to so they know why they are performing or acting the way they do. Unfortunately they are dealing with much more then we have to in our adult lives! I hope everyone can understand on a human level that even at 150% there is always room for improvements and of course we are all human.

    • The flip side to not having to grade art or impose standards means that my school district doesn’t value art at the same level as other districts. I’m only partially paid through my district. PTA raises the rest. I don’t let that determine my art program though. I want the kids to be as enriched as anyone in the country. But secretly, I’m thankful I don’t have to grade. That would be hard.

  2. Joyce Mucher says:

    We should all take a moment to step back and reflect, no matter what subject we are teaching. We need to remember we are teaching children, not lists of standards. As a kindergarten teacher who is responsible for getting my students established as emergent readers, I try to never lose sight of the big idea. It is a journey, not a race. Correction, a joyful journey!

  3. Kathwell says:

    We give G, S, N, and U grades in Art, Music and PE. Good. Satisfactory. Needs work. Unsatisfactory.
    I base my Art grades on participation, following directions, and proper use of Art materials. I am much more interest in the process than in a finished product. I always remind my students that their work shouldn’t look just like mine. “I’m a grown up and my artwork will look like grown up artwork. You are a 2nd grader. Your artwork will look like 2nd grade art work. Do you look just like me? Your artwork won’t look just like mine, either”
    In fact, as most of us know – we get some of our best ideas from the kids! (Wish I’d thought of that!)

    • Yes, that’s how it should be in elementary. It’s important to have standards but equally as important to keep the standards age-appropriate. I heard there are new National Art Standards coming out. Does anyone know if this is true?

  4. Sandy Daly says:

    I’ve been reading your website for over a year and have purchased a few of your offerings.

    I am a retired Art teacher who has been teaching small after-school classes for fourteen years, first out of half of my garage and now out of a small studio I had built in my back yard 12 years ago. You can see pictures on my website. I have used some of your ideas, adapted others and continue developing my own. It seems that there is a never-ending ocean of ideas….you just have to fish for them.

    I just wanted to share an idea that was useful when I was teaching public school. I developed what I called the “Squeaky Clean Coupon”. I had one for each table in each class (lots of coupons!). Five minutes before the end of each class I called for clean-up. As soon as each table was clean and students were seated I would stamp one of five squares. When the coupon was filled (it took at least five weeks) everyone at that table would get a small piece of candy…a tootsie roll or a mint…..not much of a reward but they stayed focused on getting that coupon filled and my classroom was always clean. If a table failed to clean up they did not get a stamp. It only took once for them to get the idea.

    Thanks for the idea mine…..it’s good to see what other teachers are doing. Again, check out my website….you might find a few ideas to borrow and/or adapt yourself. And, most of all, enjoy. I can’t think of anything that is more fun than teaching Art to children…..and more rewarding when you see how excited they are over their beautiful and personal creations.

  5. It is so good to hear other teachers experiencing the same things I am. I too lay in bed at night wondering if what i just taught meets the state standards. But then I catch myself again and remember why I am teaching. If so many schools don’t even have an art program, but I am enriching these children’s lives and creating a passion for learning about and through art, my job is done.
    I just love your website and use so many ideas from it. Keep them coming!

    • Thanks Katie! I know many schools who don’t have art program. Even my children’s elementary school didn’t have one. And although I wish the kids had more exposure to art, I’m grateful they have what they have.

  6. abilly says:

    I’ve been reading your website for quite awhile and I am inspired by your passion to teach. I do have to grade and follow a curriculum that was designed by myself and other art teachers. Sometimes that takes the passion out of us…but reading your site gets me excited to try new things and look at things differently. Oh and what keeps me up at night??? Student behavior is one thing, I worry about troubled kids, I also like to perfect everything so I worry that I won’t have time to make a lesson as I good as I want it to be. Thanks for your inspiration I look forward to seeing what you’re doing everyday!

  7. John Vance says:

    I am a frequent visitor of your site, and have used many of your ideas in my own classroom. I teach in Columbus, OH and am very fortunate to work in a district, and even more so in a school that greatly values the arts. We do have to give students grades, but do not necessarily have to grade every work of art. I try to keep it as subjective as possible when I do my grading. We only give a 1 through 4 (4 being the highest) for “Art Achievement” and “Art Effort”. What has so many Art teachers frazzled here is the new way the state is requiring districts to evaluate teachers. 50% of our evaluations are supposed to be based on student work and their year to year growth. How do you measure that in the Art room? We do not give tests or anything else that would give us concrete measurable data to be evaluated on.

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