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Re: [teacherartexchange] Why I Stopped Teaching Copy Work


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Aug 14 2006 - 06:16:06 PDT

In a previous message about copy work I failed give some of my reasons. This is not a complete list, but it gives a few more reasons that have grown from my own experiences. These are my reasons. You should teach in ways that you believe is best for your students.

1. I stopped teaching copying when I started to realize that by allowing students to copy they would think that I agreed with them that they were incapable of learning to draw.

2. I stopped teaching copying when I began to realize that copy work was teaching them to avoid thinking for themselves and it was teaching them to rely on experts instead.

3. I stopped teaching copying when I saw how excited they were to discover the self-confidence and gratification they experienced when they learned that they could learn (with practice) to draw better from observation.

4. I stopped teaching copying when I realized that being able to draw was such a great way for students to develop their own ideas, refine their inventions, communicate with others, and so on. I saw students who could not draw loose their interest in art. They did not have confidence in their own ability to develop creative ideas. They were frustrated in their ability to communicate. Some were creative by nature, but were increasingly frustrated in finding ways to solve their problems creatively. I saw their love of creativity in their clay work, but also saw their frustration when drawing.

5. I stopped teaching copying when I learned that virtually every child can learn to draw when properly taught how to observe carefully, when taught ways to draw expressively, and when taught ways to use their own imaginations in their drawing. I found that I SHOULD NOT SHOW THEM how to draw by drawing in front of them, but I should begin by having them look at what they were drawing, not at my drawing. The only way NOT to have them look at my drawing was for me NOT to show them, but to have them do it themselves--beginning with what they can do, and working up to in stages to more difficult work. I STOPPED DEMONSTRATING. I have them show me how to do it. If they can not show me, I make it easier until they can. Then I make it gradually harder until they can draw anything.

6. I stopped teaching copying when I was able to learn fail-proof ways of teaching drawing from observation, from imagination, and from experience. I no longer needed copying.

7. I stopped teaching copying when I realized that copying was okay for kids when they have no teacher, but was not essential when they have a capable art teacher. By this I mean that is realized that copying is better than nothing (we have all done it), but it is not as good as can be learned with a good teacher. I realized that I no longer needed to teach copying even though we all know that it is used by many who not know other ways to learn and teach.

It was about 40 years ago when I decided to stop teaching copying (because of the research results I was reading). I have been lucky to live long enough to see the phenomenal success of adults who were taught not to copy. Instead, I encouraged them to learn how to observe better and how to experiment and come up with their own work. These people are turning out to be successful award winning leaders in all kinds of vocations including art. Many are not highly intelligent, but they know how to learn and they understand how to use the intelligence that they have. It was not always the easiest way to get a nice quick result in the art class, but I believe it has been the best thing for my students. These are now people who believe in themselves and their value in the world.

We always knew that kindergarten children could draw wonderfully from imagination and from memory without any patterns, coloring books, or copy work. I am now finding that I can also teach kindergarten and first grade children the basic methods of observation drawing so that by the time they reach 2nd and 3rd grade they all know how to practice and they assume that they can learn to draw because they understand the methods of observation and the results of practice. They learn how to learn. This is something that copying does not do very well. I believe that if we were to teach reading and writing the same way we teach drawing, only about 10 percent of the population would learn to read and write.

Marvin Bartel

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