Note: To protect the privacy of our members, e-mail addresses have been removed from the archived messages. As a result, some links may be broken.

Find Lesson Plans on! GettyGames

Re: New Student Work on My Website: little kids/big ideas


Date: Mon Feb 21 2005 - 07:35:53 PST

In a message dated 2/21/05 8:23:00 AM, writes:

> It also reminds me that I sometimes think of myself as a frustrated high
> school art teacher who constantly needs to break down and adapt big ideas for
> little hands and uncomplicated minds.
Susan, I think that many would agree with you. But very young students have
many big and complex ideas...the tricky part is finding a way, in the rush of
public school schedules, to access them. John Crowe moved from high school
teaching to elementary and experienced quite a shock which led him to new forms
of instruction. You may be interested in a portion of his story, reprinted
below. The complete story is on the Ed. Alliance of Brown Univ. web site
kathy douglas
For art teacher John Crowe, the long road to choice-based art education began
with teaching in elementary and high schools, then evolved to a position as
professor of art education and hands-on work in schools. It has been an ongoing
investigation of how to bring elements of choice to art education.

Crowe was initially trained in the theory and practice of Victor Lowenfeld,
who was concerned with the emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and
creative growth of children through art experiences led by the teacher. (See
Lowenfeld and Brittain's Creative and Mental Growth, 1967.) In his first teaching
experiences, however, Crowe felt "on stage," conducting Lowenfeld-inspired
motivations every 45 minutes for over 2,000 students in seven different elementary
schools with no art rooms, no sinks, and no carts. The once-a-month art
lessons were exhausting but provided him with enthusiastic applause six times a day,
and, he states, "What job offers that?" At the age of 25, he decided to
change the pace and context, and he transferred to the high school level where he
taught for 11 years. "The luxury of meeting with high school students every day
and working on long-term projects led to a more fulfilling teaching
experience involving more individualized instruction," he says.

In 1989, Crowe became an assistant professor at Bridgewater State College.
One component of his job was developing the art education program for 300
elementary students at the Burnell Laboratory School, which had an affiliation with
the college. Reentering the classroom as an elementary school teacher, Crowe
had a surprising reaction: "I began by relying on my tried and true
Lowenfeldian approach, but it now felt heartbreakingly hollow. I noticed that the results
of the lessons were driven by my role as the sole provider of motivation,
subject matter, materials, and methods. I felt on stage: My relationship to my
students was like a performer to an audience. I really missed the one-on-one
dialogues I was able to have with my high school students, and I wondered if I
could build those intimate, artist-to-artist relationships with my new
elementary school students."

In an effort to connect more to his students, it occurred to him to survey
the fifth and sixth graders' interests in preparation for conducting a unit on
painting. He asked two questions of the 100 students:
     1. If you were able to create a painting about anything, what
would you be interested in painting? He asked students to ignore what they felt
they couldn't do, maintaining that he would teach them. Sample responses were:
something outside, mountains of Vermont, mother and daughter doing something
together, a football game, Paradise (Revelation 21: 3,4), a bald eagle flying,
things of cheer, a glass castle.
     2. If someone were to ask you to paint something, what would be
your least favorite thing/subject to paint? Sample responses were: a boring
painting, a fishbowl with no fish, falling off a cliff, Hitler, a well textured
animal, a dancer, a picture of someone I know, a one-color painting.

He took the surveys home to organize them; it was easier than he anticipated.
The student responses fell into the categories of people, landscapes,
objects, and imaginative scenarios. He compiled a list of preferences from each of
the four classes and gathered books and resources for the chosen subjects. When
he met each class at the art room door, he called out the names of students
organized by interest category. Each group was assigned to a large table and
asked to look at the material piled in the center. Some students figured out that
the resources related to their surveyed interests. After a brief introduction
to what he had arranged, he stated, "I want you to follow your interests. Use
the resources for inspiration if you wish. I will teach you individually and
in small groups what you need to know to paint what you want to paint."

He offered mini-lessons: for example, mixing a variety of skin tones to the
figure painting group, the many ways of creating the illusion of distance to
the landscape group, the tradition of drawing upon dreams to the imaginative
scenarios group. In addition, he honored individual and group requests for
instructional topics. Since he provided a wide variety of exemplars, the class had
many sophisticated discussions around the definitions of the genres in addition
to the 'how to' requests. He reflects on the success: "Teaching became more
fulfilling for me, learning more engaging for my students. The resulting
artwork was more authentic and varied. My first step toward student choice was
modest, yet encouraging. I was off the stage and into the more intimate venues of
small groups, organized around their own motivations, not mine."

The substantive discussions around the landscape, figure, still life, and
imagination/dreams genres inspired him to revise his curriculum for fifth- and
sixth-grade students. "I was thinking about how we teachers try to accommodate
different learning styles and wondered how I could concurrently support a
variety of art styles. As a start, I decided to adopt the identification and
descriptions in Edmund Burke Feldman's Varieties of Visual Experience (1972) of four
art styles: objective accuracy, formal order, emotion, and fantasy."

The following year, Crowe offered students a choice of these four styles for
every assignment. For example, a figure drawing assignment would outline four
distinct challenges, each based on a single art style, from which students
could choose. "I was working with many student teachers and interns at the time,"
he reflects. "They found this structure to be helpful in designing lesson
plans, looking at an assignment in four different ways. The students clearly
appreciated the choices and were intrigued by their classmates' choices -- it was
like multiplying the art content by four." (In retrospect, Crowe comments, "If
I were to pick up this curriculum structure again, I would use as the
foundation Graeme Chalmers' roles of artists, outlined in his book Celebrating
Pluralism: Art Education and Cultural Diversity -- it would be much more

 Meanwhile, he was teaching grades 1-4 in a more conventional manner.
Searching for ways to open up, his thoughts returned to the elementary school
teaching of an old friend and colleague, Kathy Douglas. He says, "I remembered the
energetic spirit of students working in the many centers in Douglas's
choice-based classroom: The room was alive with purposeful activity. But I knew couldn't
spin all those plates at once, all those 2D and 3D centers, even a clay
center with a firing schedule!"

Crowe thought hard over the following summer about how to structure a
center-based art room that he could handle. He started with what he wished students
would do better. "I was struck by how most of my students weren't inclined to
play with materials or ideas. And, at the same time, they weren't apt to care
about any single work beyond the allotted 45 minutes. How could they, within my
conventional pedagogical structure?"

As a solution, Crowe developed the themes of PLAY & CARE as the basis of a
curriculum framework. Every class brainstormed what 'play' and 'care' meant to
them in terms of art work and shared the results. The sharp focus of these
age-appropriate themes helped to clearly communicate the goals of program to the
most important group, the students.

He posted the following schedule for all his students in grades 1-6 to see:

Term 1: Drawing
PLAY (4 - 5 weeks) & CARE (4 - 5 weeks)

Term 2: Painting
PLAY (4 - 5 weeks) & CARE (4 - 5 weeks)

Term 3: 3D
PLAY (4 - 5 weeks) & CARE (4 - 5 weeks)

Term 4: Student Choice
PLAY (4 - 5 weeks) & CARE (4 - 5 weeks)

 Crowe and his college student helpers provided a dozen media and
content-area centers designed around the subjects of each term. For example, the drawing
centers covered media such as colored pencils, ink and related tools,
mechanical drawing instruments, charcoal, and chalk. Centers for content areas
included human anatomy and "writing as drawing." There were fewer 3D centers, but
they included found object, woodworking, and clay centers. An age-appropriate
library with a reading rug was always accessible.

Working in the centers, students conducted PLAY experiments with media and
content. Over time, students assembled their experimental artwork into
portfolios that provided the basis for reflecting on their artwork and guiding their
learning. Crowe asked students to place stars beside their favorite PLAY
experiments and file these in the front of their portfolios. Then he had individual
discussions with students about their PLAY experiments. Discussions centered on
finding a direction to explore for their CARE works, or longer term projects.
"With some classes, who seemed skittish about truly playing, I mandated that
they make at least 10 mistakes and number these in their portfolios. It was a
revelation to some that their 'mistakes' could become some of their favorite
PLAY adventures and even lead to a longer term CARE project."

The one-year PLAY & CARE experiment was a huge success. He explains, "It
seemed to strike a perfect balance of structure and freedom both for me and my
students. So many of my classroom management problems disappeared when students
could pace and direct themselves. Students could hop from one center to another
in a single session, or work week after week on a major undertaking. But
above all, students were required to find their own paths and delighted in the
freedom to pursue them. I delighted in teaching individuals and small groups
about topics they were motivated to learn. I was free of a prewritten script."