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addressing the paradox of student work as exemplars and high standards


From: Kevan Nitzberg (knitzber_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Dec 11 2002 - 04:40:21 PST

on 12/11/02 2:00 AM, ArtsEdNet Talk digest at

> So, I ask? How do we set high expectations without the intimidation of
> examples that will only be copied? How do we set expectations of discovery?
> and how do we show what practice and learning is all about?
> Patty

Hi Patty,

I think that the answer lies in approaching examples for students to
consider using a multi-faceted approach. As Woody suggested, using master
works by artists is an important component in developing a sense of what the
underlying aesthetic principles are that are being taught within the scope
of the lesson. In addition, the exposure of students to art and artists
that illustrate a variety of styles of working in addition to the historical
and cultural value of that exposure is invaluable. It is also a good idea
to include in the information about the artists a wide range of materials
that will allow for maximum student learning - slides, prints, computer
resources, video, hands-on practice, etc. are all slightly different in
terms of how they are received and interacted with by students in terms of
their particular learning styles, and should all be used to some degree as
often as possible.

In addition, I have found through the years, that having students look at
previous student work to examine how others have interpreted the material
and found their own voices in the process, is an extremely important part of
the learning experience as well. Students are intimidated to some degree by
those master works that we as teachers have had a lifetime to get
comfortable with and even regard as old friends at times. Not so with
students who are relatively new to the whole process of looking at art to
find the messages and techniques that are being communicated and applied.
By looking at other students work (both successful and perhaps not so
successful), there is a better understanding that is developed of what is
possible to achieve at their own level, and, perhaps, what they may even
surpass. In fact, as I have seen in my own classroom, they typically do
surpass the work that has come before.

The other factor involved in using student examples is that they are able to
develop a better understanding of the variety of response that is also
possible and then don't succumb to the all too prevalent thinking pattern
that nothing new is possible. I encourage my students to always find a
unique approach to what they are working on even though there will always be
some implicit structure involved in the creation of the work that they are
involved in making. The concept of encouraging students to become
successful at creative problem solving may ultimately be a far more valuable
lesson for them to take away from my class that whether they can replicate
the texture on the surface of a Van Gogh landscape or create the intricate
morphing of an Escher tessellation.