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Re: [teacherartexchange] speeding up the students?


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Apr 28 2009 - 07:36:06 PDT

Nadine wrote:
>>My 7th Graders have been doing a 2 point perspective project (cityscape) and it is taking them weeks! I know teachers before me took a long time on this, but I want to move on to other things, and if I'm getting bored, the students surely must be! They planned them, drew them out and are now coloring them with colored pencils.
>>One or two students are finally finished, but others seem way off.
>>We have a 50 minute lesson 2-3 times a week. How can I get them to speed up without ruining their work?

WARNING: This message may contain educational heresy.

Your question is excellent. As an artist, you can identify with how your students are feeling. You are aware that there may be better alternatives.

I always think about alternatives. Recently, I have been wondering about our doctrine of serial projects (one thing after another)? Studies show that successful and productive highly creative people tolerate (or cherish) many unfinished projects. Unfortunately, I often see students who slow down and probably stop learning while doing boring or tedious work because they feel trapped by the situation. Even though slowing down is a self-destructive passively hostile act, they are feeling trapped and have not learned how to rebel in more creative and redemptive ways.

As an artist, I have many projects in-process. I finish the better ideas and have learned to cut my loses on failing ideas.

Might more be learned if students could self-manage more of their time and were expected to alternate between at least three or more projects simultaneously. There are days when something slow and tedious might fit an individual's mood, and other days when it feels tedious. I often learn things on one project that can be used on other projects. As teachers, we call it "transfer of learning". Creative work requires time-on-task as well as "away time". Inspiration and ideas often happen when we are working on another thing. Highly creative people have learned this.

Could we imagine expecting students to start at least twice as many projects as they finish? For a given grading period, one project is well done and and finished better than anything previously done by the individual, but many other projects are also attempted. What if credit is given for progress, for time management, for persistence, for creative ideas, for skill development, for care in work, for new knowledge, for being a good studio citizen, and for other learning and progress on artwork (including work that is not entirely finished)? Imagine class time being set aside for learning about the creative processes, and homework time dedicated to finishing projects (for the product centered overachievers).

If we insist on the serial system, inefficiencies in learning are inevitable because tedium sets in when we have to produce requirements defined by an outside person. It may be better for the slower workers to set their work aside temporarily. Give them a break. Allow them spend at least few minutes with the whole class doing some hands-on practice of new concepts and different skills.

In art (and in life), everything is connected to everything else. The learning on one project effects every other project.

Abandoning the serial project doctrine can introduce other problems and inefficiencies in learning. It is especially problematic for students who have been conditioned to be rewarded when they follow narrow linear thinking and work habits. I believe that there are productive transitions and solutions, but it is more than I can explain here. It may be better to begin new kinds of expectations in September rather than in May. Many of you have better ideas than I do. Please continue to share them.

Marvin Bartel

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