I realized this month just how dramatically my teaching practice has changed when confronted with the reality that I must now teach Art to my grade 6 students. At Dundas Central we have had the luxury of a subject specialist teaching Art and Drama to middle school students for many years, but our staffing was reduced this year and that has had an impact on programming. Hence … me … Art Teacher. It’s not that I haven’t had to teach Art in the past, but it has been a long time and my art lessons then were more like weekly craft lessons. Students followed instructions to complete an activity, many of which turned out quite beautifully, however, I wouldn’t say that there was any enduring understanding or insight gained by those students.
Our fist day began with a discussion – How do you feel about Art as a subject? This is something that would never have occurred to me to ask in the past and marks a clear shift in practice – trying to diagnose not just skill levels, but attitudes and possible barriers to fully engaging with a subject.
There was a range of attitudes. Many students love Art. Many students find Art a frustrating subject. When students expressed dislike for the subject, I countered with “Tell me more” – that simple but useful phrase I learned to use from the work we have been doing with Integrative Thinking – that helps students think more deeply and clarify thoughts without my coming to conclusions and interpreting their thoughts for them. They eventually figured out that the reason why they don’t like the subject is not just because they are not good at it, but because they begin with an idea in their heads and become frustrated when their works of Art look nothing like what they had visualized. This helped me begin to think about how I might facilitate their learning.
Setting that discovery aside for the moment, we began with the introductory lesson: Types of Line. I asked students to think about different types of line and draw them on the board which they did with enthusiasm. I then posted a Types of Line sheet, similar to this, and students had to fill a grid with different line designs.
When we came back together next Art class we again began with a discussion, “What is it that actually causes Art to look bad?” We figured out that at a certain point students begin to lose focus and rush in order to finish. Students examined their efforts and those of their peers with a critical eye to try to see where they had lost focus. I introduced them to the idea of persistence and asked them what would happen if they slowed down, maintained concentration to the end of an activity, and persisted when things became difficult. We decided to find out. I gave them a simple line design task that another teacher, Kelly Dunford, had found on Pinterest, and asked them to concentrate and persist. First however, we talked about tracing hands and how difficult it is to trace a hand. Students had to figure out independently how to hold a pencil in order to get an accurate tracing. This took some time for many of them. Once they were satisfied, they attempted to create a line design that makes the hand look 3-D.
From this students discovered that focus, reduced speed and persistence are key to producing quality pieces of art.
Next students used this discovery to create a line design of their names (picture to be added) applying what they had learned. It was delightful to watch their commitment to producing quality work and to see their sense of satisfaction when the finished products were put on the board. They were proud of what they had accomplished.
We were not yet finished with line though. We shifted our learning to how artists use line. Thank you, Rodriguez Art, for uploading this Slideshare so I didn’t have to create this myself!
We had great fun discussing the lines and I asked students to see if they could use their learning to create a picture using line. The goal was not to produce a quality piece of art, but to experiment. This immediately reduced the risk factor and allowed students to enter into the pleasure of drawing. Many students discovered that they could actually draw. (note, I have not drawn or modeled anything up to this point).
One student used pencil to draw a skyscraper with looming clouds and rain coming down to represent how he feels in a large city, which provided me with the idea of looking at skycraper paintings. Thank you google images. We scrolled through the paintings and began to see the many different ways artists use line to create completely different effects. This was eye-opening to my students, that just with line they could actually create mood and suggest movement.
There is so much more I could write about that occurred during this inquiry. Below are 3 things that stand out for me.
1. The number of students who said, “I never used to think about line and now I see lines everywhere.”
2. The number of reluctant artists who are now asking if they can have time to draw and coming to discuss their ideas about what they would like to draw next.
3. Our librarian mentioned a conversation she had with some of my grade 6 students about what we are doing in class. They told her that they are learning about persistence and concentration.