It can be scary as an Art teacher when you are considering a new project for your class. With some mediums and classes, it can be a gamble. New teachers struggle with this dilemma on a regular basis, and a lot of times, it’s part of the learning process. Experienced teachers have their “tried and true” projects that get repeated every year. But where’s the fun in doing the same stuff year after year. What a boring life this would be! Even experienced teachers need to try a new lesson every once in a while. The purpose of this article is to take a look at some of the precautions and considerations that you can take to make sure that that new art lesson will be a success and not a total failure.
All veteran art teachers, at some point in their career, have presented a project or lesson that completely failed. It’s a part of the job. It’s part of the learning process. And it’s part of becoming a great teacher. Recognizing mistakes and understanding how to prevent them is a skill that every great art teacher should long to develop. No teacher nor lesson is perfect. So how do we prevent total failure when we present a new project, maybe a risky project, to a group of students? How can we ensure that the project will be successful? Well, I don’t have all of the answers, but I can share what I’ve learned along the way.
Begin with A Purpose
The first thing that you need be sure of when designing a new art project or lesson is that there is a purpose. No student will “buy in” to what your preaching if they don’t see the relevance of what they will be creating. Make sure that the project that you are presenting to your students is concrete enough for them to understand the purpose. Usually this can be stated in one or two sentences. If it can’t, you may need to focus your purpose a bit more. An example of a purpose statement may be…”The purpose of this lesson (project) is for students to learn of the relationship of positive and negative space to artistic composition; and to create a paper cutout image that balances the use of positive and negative space”. Once you have a clear purpose, every other aspect of the lesson planning should reflect that purpose.
Create a Plan
Most teachers will moan and groan at creating lesson plans. But creating a definitive and clear lesson plan will help ensure that your new lesson becomes a success. You can use whatever structure that you like but there should be: (a) a clear objective (Purpose statement), (b) outlined procedure– including how you will present the lesson and what is expected of the students, (c) evaluation guide-how the students’ work will be graded and (d) a list of required materials. Perhaps, create a lesson plan template that makes you comfortable, yet is effective. If you’re nervous about the lesson, write down everything that you want to say. During my first year teaching, I did that and it helped me ensure that I didn’t leave out anything that I wanted my students to learn. Don’t be afraid to look at your lesson plan while you are presenting the lesson to your students. After a couple presentations, you won’t need it anymore.
Create an Example
Never, ever approach a new art lesson with a group of students without attempting it yourself. You’d be surprised how many teachers jump right into a new project without completing an example. Create an example of a completed project for the students. During the creation process, ask yourself some questions…
- “Will my students struggle with this exercise?”
- “What are some possible mistakes that students could make?”
- “Is this exercise too hard, or too easy?”
- “Does this exercise reinforce the purpose?”
- “Is there the potential for a quality product?”
- “Will this assignment help my students grow artistically?”
- “Will this assignment encourage creative thinking and problem-solving?”
- “What are the keys to success in this lesson?”
As you create your example project, these questions should be answered. You may even want to jot down the answers. Use these answers to create your lesson presentation to your students. Warn them of any pitfalls that they may encounter and be specific on how they can be successful.
Prepare a Visually Stimulating Presentation
Now, it’s time to figure out how you will capture your classes attention and make them excited about the art lesson and the product that will result. Our students respond to visual stimulation, so your presentation has to be visually stimulating. There are a variety of platforms for doing this. One obvious choice is a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint allows you to roll through slides and present your lesson in a clear and concise way that can keep students attention visually. Another option is to record on video your creation of the example piece. (This is my fav method, of course.) You can comment on the video while you show it to your class and point out your own creative process. It’s okay if you make mistakes in the video. In fact, it’s cool to show students that mistakes are part of it. I have never done this before, but I know a few art teachers that like to dress up to grab their students attention. You may decide to dress up as a famous artist from history, and depending on how far you want to take it, actually act like them. (Disclaimer-Behaving like some artists from history is not a good idea.) This depends, of course on the dynamics of your class.
Don’t Set a Due Date
This one may sound pretty weird, but the first time that you present a art lesson, I suggest that you let the project take it’s course. Don’t rush the students to finish, but don’t let them slack off either. Setting a due date at the start of a new project can be destructive to the success of the assignment.
These are steps that I go through when I present a new art lesson. Granted, even with all of the steps, lessons can still fail. These steps are just a way to help new lessons succeed. Everyone will have a lesson failure every now and then. Don’t sweat it. Either improve it or chunk it.