Dealing with Unfinished Artwork

How often do you end up managing a stack of unfinished art projects at the end of the day?

It can feel downright defeating knowing that not all of your students are able to complete a project in the time given. But you’re not alone. Unfinished artwork is one of the most common organizational issues facing art teachers.

You might wonder if you should dedicate another session to finishing a project or if you should just move on.

The truth is, there’s not one magical answer. Every class is different, just like every teaching situation is different. But there are some ways to help you feel more confident in making your decision.


Dealing with Unfinished Artwork

How many students are finished?

If only a few students need to finish, move on to the next lesson. If the class is split half and half, move onto questions 2-4 to make your choice. If no one is finished, reflect on the difficulty and pacing of the lesson before you continue.

How many sessions have already been used for the project?

Project fatigue is a real thing for students and teaching alike. If you’ve been working on a lesson for three or more class periods, you can always take a break and come back to it later.

Some projects, like the Rural Barn project for upper grades do require many class periods to complete. So power through as children who spend considerable efforts with their projects like to see them through to the end.

But for younger grades, 3 weeks is about the maximum number of sessions before they get a bit squirmy and lose interest.

Are there any behavior concerns with the class?

Days when students are being more disruptive then engaged, it’s time to step back and nip the behavior issues in the bud. Stop the project and re-evaluate your classroom management plan. Sometimes just 15 minutes of reminding students of your behavior policy will help them get back on track.

Does the project need to be finished by a certain date?

If you have an art show or event that you need a project finished by, continue to finish, or schedule a catch up day prior to the event.

Make Up Art Days

Dealing with Unfinished Artwork

One of the most effective ways to tackle unfinished work is to schedule a make-up art day for your students. Not only are they helpful in building the confidence level of your young artists but they’ll have more finished art to choose from for your annual art show.

These one class sessions can be done with any grade level and positioned in your schedule after children have 4-5 projects under their belt.

Most children (50%) will have all but one completed, but there will be many who will need to work on 2 or more projects. The tips in this podcast will explain how I helped my students complete all of their projects with good craftsmanship and pride.

What is your favorite way to deal with unfinished projects in your art room?

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Dealing with Unfinished Artwork

What do you think?

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  • Christine Hatfield

    Love the idea of a make up day! I could even make it an after school event. I have an art show coming up and am worried about everyone having a completed piece.

  • Domna Panagopoulou

    You are in my mind .It s the item that interests me this moment!

  • Domna Panagopoulou

    It s exactly this that I m thinking this period

  • Lynn Morgan

    I do a “Ketchup and Pickles” day now and then. I create a Google Slide. On the Ketchup side I list the work that needs to be done. On the Pickles side I have some fun, earlier finisher activities and links. I think there may be a graphic freebie on TpT that I use.

  • Julie Whelihan

    I offer my students a chance to come into the art room anytime they are free (lunch /recess) to finish their unfinished art work. I give them till the quarter is finished, and if they don’t come, I let them know they will not be earning that A! I teach almost 1,000 students, so it’s pretty important that I help to get that artwork finished.

  • Amy Harrod

    When my kids finish early, I give them a toy dinosaur to draw as realistically as they can.
    We discuss proportion, thickness of legs and torsos, distances and angles. Most enjoy the subject matter as well as the challenge.

  • Janet

    This is a very helpful article! If there are just a few students who need to finish their project, giving them time to do so during a “make-up and free draw session” seems to work best. You are right about project fatigue. Forcing students to continue is, at some point, counterproductive. I’ve seen young students in tears when a teacher insists that they keep working on a project that has exhausted them. I don’t ever want to do this to a student.

  • stephanie councill

    I follow the same set of conditions and when we have the majority of a class needing more time on something, we have a UFO day near the end of a term! (UnFinished Objects) 🙂 If there is a student or two with nothing unfinished to work on, I bring out the Early Finishers lessons as a free art choice. 🙂

    • Jennifer Eagle

      I like the UFO reference! That is funny. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jessie Sinagra

    When there are works-in-progress piling up, I have “Mustard and Ketchup Day” toward the end of the quarter because we “must catch up” on unfinished work. It gives everyone a breather and time to reflect and revisit earlier work. This works pretty well with second grade through upper elementary. Plus it’s a great play on words and just makes everything a little lighter.

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