They have to take art. They are not artists or necessarily interested in art. They may see art as drawing or crafting or making things, and they have not done any of that since elementary school and then only maybe. Instead of first considering the scope and sequence of lessons, what if we step back and ask a broader question of “how do we make this course relevant and full of meaning for our students?” Asking the question of engagement first, will help us to see our students in their lived experiences, rather than coming to them with a supposed agenda for them to consume and produce “check-box” products.
In this approach we can still scaffold the elements of art, the principles of design and our favorite holiday gifts. But we can also broaden our instruction to aesthetics, to visual literacy as communication, and the relevance of art history. Taking this approach to teaching also helps keep the teacher excited and engaged as we learn to flex and build lessons and learn from our students. We can create a classroom that is guided by strong intention brought by the teacher and meaning and fluidity that is brought by the students. Are we willing to trust our students as we ask them to trust our teaching?
This is what it might look like in my classroom as I build my lessons, consider scope and sequence and allow my students to bring their voice to the lesson. I want to introduce my students to clay, this is my medium that I need to check off my standards list. I want them to understand the process of working with clay, forming the clay, additive and subtractive processes, and final glazing. We only have time for one or two clay projects within the semester of an overview class. I look at my standards list and want them to be able to understand the art historical timeline of clay work, be able to consider reflective practice and use the language of the elements of art. There is already so much, how do I also add meaning to the project? This unsteady scaffold of expectations will stabilize as I ask my students to enter into this process with me, the responsibility for learning is not all on the teacher.
My first step as an instructor is to research projects, past and present, that might allow me to explore a broad range of clay techniques. As I research I save images to a slide show, I save all of them and will edit later. These images will help the students see the broad range of possibilities and begin to perk their interest. I include work from a nearby gallery to show them their community and what is happening in our city. I look at modern work, craft and historical pieces and some work I might not like, but may draw in a student or two. The project that I choose needs to be a blank canvas. I chose a handbuilt cup. Students will learn techniques of how to roll a slab, and use a template. They will learn how to score and adhere one piece of clay to another. They will learn to mold and form the clay. They will learn to play with the medium and respond to the creative process.
A “cup” is frot with problems and the students' standard for a cup is a mass produced thing that they purchase at a big box store. We need to get past this. I use the language of form rather than cup. I cut the slabs for the circumference quickly and unevenly. I have examples of “art cups' ' not drinking cups. I introduce the word “vessel”. We explore the idea of what it holds on its surface and how it can be transformed. I want the students to also learn to mold the clay from the clay body. I show them samples and demonstrate how to push out a face on the side of the form. A face has all sorts of perfection traps as well, so where do we go? We go to the whimsical, fantastical or animal. I ask the students to create this vessel into some sort of animal reference. We explore the possibilities and what are the subtleties between a pig face and a cow face. I demonstrate techniques with my own cup, keeping standards high and reminding them that craftsmanship matters. We have lots of laughter. I ask the students to get to know their clay and hold their initial ideas loosely. Working with clay is a relationship and we have to go slow enough to notice and respond as we work. We add textures and build up and out of the clay vessel. This simple little cup begins to transform into language, self expression and a source of pride for the student. They are finding thier own ways to meaning within the parameters of this simple project.
In creating a rubric for this project I look at the standards again, alongside what my goals are for creating meaning. I ask the students to first self evaluate and check their own boxes for the project. It is clear and simple. Did you create a cup? Did you use additive and subtractive methods? Did you form a face? Did you add texture? In this overview class, their grade is not based on amazing creativity and skill level. There is always a student of two that will stand out and has natural skill or interest. They do not automatically get an A, often the creative student may have a hard time staying within the parameters and not want to create the simple cup! Throughout the lessons I have posed bigger meaning making questions, but ultimately it is up to the student, where they took the project. The second part of the rubric will speak to those questions. Did they take a risk in their creating? This helps evaluate a class with broad ability and meets each student where they are at...they need to push themselves to the next step. Did they show courage in their creating? Did they show persistence? These questions push our students to be responsible for their own learning and speak to STEM and critical thinking. It gives them a place to pause and be honest with themselves and with the teacher if they showed up. It allows the shy nervous student to take a small step and the bold confident student to dig deeper. As I read through the self evaluation it gives me a moment with each student to see them engaging with how they showed up, encourage them where they need it and to call out B.S where I see it.
As we move to glazing, students are having fun and learning that the art room is a safe space. They are learning to trust me for clear instructions and demonstrations. And they are learning that I have high expectations for their engagement and participation, not just in the task they have been given, but in participating in the process and relationship of learning. They have taken the clay, built a cup and have found a medium that can hold more than just water. We have had fun with metaphors, meaning and imagination. And a few have fallen in love with art and the joy of possibility.
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I am a teacher, a mom and an artist. I have my BA in Arts Education from U of Oregon and my MS in Curriculum and Instruction from Portland State. I've been teaching for 25 plus years in a variety of settings. Teaching private lessons, in community centers and as a classroom teacher. This has given me a wide view of teaching art and what it does for our lives and our students. I have found creating to be a place that we can all meet, find our humanity and surrender to process.