Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Thoughts About Change


It's something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. I feel like I do a pretty good job as an art educator, but I'm intrigued by some new (or not so new) ideas that I've come across lately. 

I suppose I should start by explaining my teaching style and background. Art has always been "my thing." I graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design and went directly into the Master's program for art education at The Ohio State University. My education has greatly influenced my style. Technique and technical skills were often at the heart of my own arts education. 

As I develop lesson plans for my students, I use art, literature, and techniques as the basis for most of the projects I create. For example, a very popular lesson that I've posted about in the past is my totem pole project. The heart of the project is stylization. Students discuss and visually dissect culturally accurate examples of Pacific Northwest Native Americans. Students take quite a bit of time to develop good drawings of an animal of their choice in order to make it stylistically match the artwork we are studying. The final version of the project is a beautiful and often quite intricate collage of construction paper. Because we spend so much time developing drawings and studying art, this is an extremely successful project. 

Enter meetings with my elementary art colleagues. My district currently has 12 elementary buildings and the same number of elementary art teachers. Of the 12 of us, three run choice based classrooms. I'm intrigued by the idea of choice based art because I can see that students of those three teachers are doing work that is more personally meaningful. There is often deeper thought in the student work and I like the flow of work from one project to the next. I have added quite a bit of choice into my projects, but there is always a lesson plan that the student choice fits into. 

My biggest struggle with purely choice based instruction is the actual artwork. Since instruction time of actual techniques is so limited, I see so many pieces of artwork that have great ideas, but poor execution or craftsmanship. I know many of my lessons are outcome based. There is a lot of good thinking and creativity that go into the lessons, but the goal is ultimately to provide learning experiences for students that provide a balance of technical skills and meaningful thinking and creativity. 

At my latest elementary art meeting, we met in the room of Mr. Callicotte, a colleague who secured funding to completely redesign his classroom. In was, in one word, stunning. He was moving toward choice based learning, but realized that different students have different learning preferences and needs. He did an activity that resulted in students figuring out what kind of environment resulted in their best work. The design of the room was such that it accommodated learning needs and provided space for different media as well as gathering space for the whole class to learn together. 

Mr. Callicotte's redesigned art classroom. New design to meet new needs. 
My current classroom. 
I feel like I'm at a crossroads for my teaching style. I want to make some changes to my space. I want to make some changes to my style in order to provide considerably more choice while still maintaining the quality of the finished art. Is there a name for this style? Maybe I'm being innovative and coming up with the missing link between traditional teaching and full choice. Probably not. I'm sure some of you are already doing this. 

Do any of you do anything similar? What are your successes and struggles? I can't wait to hear.