Art Class Rules

Of course every classroom you walk into is going to have rules and procedures. Students need to know what to expect during transition times, how to use and not waste supplies, and what is generally expected of them. Rules and procedures not only maintain order in a classroom but can also create a culture in that classroom.

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But I have found that it is also important for teachers to have rules and procedures for themselves to guide them through confusing moments in class and to maintain better control of the class without the need for more structure. I noticed that each of my classes follows a certain format and when I stray from that format the class is not as enjoyable for me. In fact having guidelines for myself allows me to experiment and try new things without losing control of the class and derailing the learning experience for both me and my students. The procedures I have noticed myself following keep me honest to my teaching philosophy, and just as rules and procedures help students make sense of new material and situations, they help me find sense in the chaos and find sense in my own experimentation.

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Rule #1    I never do the art for the student.

I work with young kids and I still do not do the art for them even if they start crying because they “can’t do it.” Doing the art work myself will not allow them to problem solve, it reinforces the idea that there is a “right way” do to art and the right way is the teachers way. It doesn’t allow them to develop their own creative voice when they’re trying to copy mine. Also, any part of the work of art that I make will LOOK like I made it, one of my favorite things about children’s art is that it LOOKS like it was made by a creative little artist.

I do have a few go-to answers when they tell me “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how to do that.”

-A lot of times they’re already in the process of doing it and I let them know that they have either already done it or that they have already started and to keep going.

-Another favorite is to say “that’s not the point of being in art class.” They aren’t in class to only do things that they already know how to do. The point of art class is to figure out how to do it. One of my proudest moments was when one of my returning students told this to a new student that we had in class who was lamenting about not knowing how to do the assignment. She actually told him that we were in art class to learn how to figure stuff like that out.

-If nothing is working and they are inconsolable I ask if they need to take a break. I don’t want to punish them for feeling inadequate when it comes to art so taking a break lets them take a step back and lets their curiosity build again when they see that their classmates are capable of figuring it out and are having fun.

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Rule #2    I always start every class with discussion.

I find if class does not start with even just a short discussion there is less depth to the experience as a whole. It becomes more a matter of completing tasks instead of exploring ideas that are being talked about or it becomes unfocused and more like free time or recess.

One of the art teachers that I interviewed for my thesis mentioned that she ties every lesson to art history or an artist otherwise the lessons are not as full with not enough connections.I was afraid to do lessons without these connections until I realized that for my classes, it was JUST the lack of discussion that made a lesson less fulfilling. There is always something to talk about even if it’s not related to an artist. There needs to be something to tie the lesson to the student’s personal experience and make it relevant to them. They will have more take-away if they can think of it in terms of something with which they are familiar. So I let them talk and decide how to relate to it.

If a class does not start with some sort of discussion the students are in a different frame of mind. Discussion makes them more thoughtful than they would be otherwise. So even if they’re in the middle of a project and they know how to come into class and get started on their own, we always talk about it first.

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Rule #3    I always try to make my lessons universal. This is an idea that I employ as both a dance teacher and an art teacher. By universal I mean that any student I present the material to will get something out of it and be able to interpret it based on their own level of sophistication. Amazing things can be built on a solid foundation but a lot of times that solid foundation is neglected. I teach a wide age range. In some of my classes students are anywhere between 3 and 7 years old. It is very important to come up with lessons that the youngest student and the oldest student will benefit from.

In dance classes I tend to teach basics. The beginner student needs to learn them and become comfortable with them, the more advanced student learned them and then moved on and never revisited them. I love technique classes in both art and dance in which the student learns HOW to do something and then plays with it in different contexts. I like teaching print making and water coloring in particular because the very youngest student can have fun playing with the medium and the more advanced student can create a more sophisticated work of art but they are all playing with the basics and interpreting them to the best of their own ability.

Looking at these rules I can see that they are all derived from my teaching philosophy. I had been thinking of these rules as independent, but now that I see them laid out I can see that my teaching philosophy informs them. It makes a lot of sense to have a quick set of rules which help me adhere to my principles though I actually didn’t realize that’s what they were until writing this blog.

One of my teaching goals is to show students that there is no exact way to create art. All three of my rules further that goal. I encourage creative decision making and learning through brainstorming, thoughtful reflections on student’s work, and looking at the work of practicing artists and historical artists. Making sure I start every class with a discussion fosters and adds depth to this goal. I encourage students to discover and embrace their own style, aesthetic sense, and creativity and do this not only through the discussions in class, but by having universal lesson plans because the interpretation of the lesson is totally up to the student.

Do you have a set of rules to which you either knowingly or unknowingly adhere? Is it better to come up with a teaching philosophy based on what you like to do/think is important to do in class or should it be the other way around?

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