I receive quite a few inquiries from art teachers asking how to teach well in very short class periods.
I recently consulted for a very excellent school administration (in another country). They were sincerely wishing to provide the best possible ways for their children to learn. When I met with the art teachers, one of their main problems was the fact that their periods were too short for meaningful learning. Considering the time for kids to get out materials and do the clean up, the work time was too short for meaningful learning. They lacked time for instruction, for practice, for generating ideas, for meaning personal connections, for creativity experiments, for questions, for discovery learning, for critique, for connecting with art history or neighborhood art awareness, for study of art history, and so on. The teachers felt they had to come in with quickie projects. The art teachers knew better, but felt pressured to have things to show and did not feel they had any options.
I met with the administrators and suggested to them that their children were learning that art is trivial and unimportant in life. This was because quick results were pushed more than quality. They were not learning artistic thinking because the teachers felt that time restraints were forcing them to give the students answers instead of asking students to learn how to think. This was quite alarming to the administration. In less than a month they had doubled the length of the art class periods. Each art class met half as often, but twice as long. Everybody was pleased that is was so easy to achieve a better outcome. The art teachers were challenged to really teach, and their students are now able to gain considerably more depth in their learning. Of course fewer session may mean that they cover fewer things each year, but they are learning to think more like that an actual artist, and what they cover has considerably more educational integrity. The classroom teachers still get the same amount of prep time, but of course it is in larger blocks of time. The art teachers have fewer and longer session, so they can prepare better for the sessions they have.
Where you work, the schedule may be harder to change this quickly, or the administration may not be as enlightened. In these situations I wonder if art lessons or units might be segmented into smaller sequential parts so that one unit or lesson is continued for several sessions. What if we made fewer projects, but included more kinds of art learning rather than more kinds of art projects?
1. The first session in a series might be only practicing the processes, but the teacher drops hints and explains why the practice makes the processes easier and gives them some hints about how this practice will be used in subsequent sessions. The teacher encourages the students to begin thinking of some great ideas to use when the get use these techniques in their upcoming project.
2. Another session might start with quick review of the practice. Then it would include brainstorming questions, sketching, and teamwork to generate lots of individual ideas for the upcoming project. It would end with a challenge to keep refining their ideas and sketching so they would be ready to start next time.
3. Plunge in. Two or more sessions are used to work on the projects and talk about what is being discovered and learned during the working process. The teacher does not design the work, but coaches by asking pertinent questions that help focus the choice-making, broaden possibilities, identify discoveries, enhance refinements, and so on. During the project work we are there to coach in ways that gives students autonomy, mastery, purpose, inspiration, and self-motivation to excel as they work.
4. One session reviews the discoveries made, the learning achieved, and looks at art, art history, and things in their worlds that have been creative and produced in ways that that relate to the strategies they learned in this project.
When we are limited to short periods, it is terribly important to guard against teaching strategies that make art trivial. If our students grow up thinking that art is a trivial hobby, the profession we love will become extinct.