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[teacherartexchange] Responding to student questions


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri May 19 2006 - 05:11:24 PDT

Randy wrote:
>I teach high school art. A student rushed up to me yesterday and asked
>"What is the opposite color of grey.?" I said I couldn't answer that
>because grey was not on the color wheel. Acting a bit impatient she
>repeated the same question a bit louder. so I replied "What ever color you
>like" was my final answer.

Thanks for sharing. This student sounds creative. This is an interesting question, and given the pressure of the classroom, I think you gave some good responses. The question might be a good one to post on the classroom wall.

In an earlier message I mentioned that my third grade granddaughter asked me how to make red. I should have explained this more. When I asked her more about it, I soon learned that she was wondering how they manufacture red pigment (not how mix it from other colors). Of course I did not realize this immediately. However, being an old art teacher, I have worked hard to train myself not to immediately give children an expert answer. I soon learned that she knew that red was a primary color, but she was honestly wondering how the primary colors are actually made (which would be a great extra credit project for a gifted student, but that is another topic).

Student questions often present teachable moments, but they catch me off guard unless I work at my own response habits. It is amazing to me how variable different art teachers are in this regard. For me, my habit of being an expert has been extremely hard to overcome.

With the benefit of reflection, what would be some additional good ways that might work to handle the "opposite of grey" question? Are there special ways for us to think that inform how we respond to student questions?

For many years I was teaching art majors a course in how to teach art. When they taught practice art lessons I noticed how much they loved being art experts in front of younger students. I wondered how this was influencing the younger students. I needed a way to raise the awareness of this for the college students.

When they had their field work observing an art teacher, I decided that their first observation assignment would be to keep a SECRET TALLY of how the art teacher responded to student questions. They found that many art teachers came across as "art experts" and answered nearly every question in a fairly knowing way. Some even answered before they were asked. Other teachers were especially good at getting students to experiment to find their own solutions. Sometimes art teachers just asked the student an open question. This reassured the questioning student that this artwork should be based on the student's own choices.

I gave this undercover assignment, not because I hoped to change what the experienced teachers were doing, but because I found that it was one of best ways to get our INTERN teachers to reinforce and/or rethink what they had learned about how to teach art (generally from their own former art teachers).


Was it ethical for me to ask my students to be educational spies? How did your college prof teach you to observe other art teachers? Did you have to critique them, or were you encourage to imitate them?

On a recent trip to London, I saw security cameras everywhere. I had to ask myself, "What would a camera in my classrooms reveal to me about my responses to student questions?"

For more ideas about classroom questions, see this page (recently edited and revised).


Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171??
"You can't never know how to do it before you never did it before." ... a kindergarten boy working with clay for the first time.

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