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The Best Way to Engage Boys in Art Class

There is one item that you can include in your art room that will significantly change the way reluctant boys feel about art class.

What is it? Blocks.

The reason is simple. Clear expectations and consequences are great ways to curb unwanted behaviors in the art room. But, sometimes, the lessons and materials you use matter even more. These may be just the hooks students need to see how special art class really is.

This idea all started with my mentor and elementary art teacher, Ms. Spears.  She had a set of blocks that were available for students to use when they finished early. The boys (and some girls) were magnets to this center. At the end of class, she would take photos of the elaborate finished creations and put them up on a wall of fame.

I purchased a box set of Keva Planks my first year of teaching, and have since added several more sets for my art room. These blocks are a special treat for kids. Because my curriculum is so jam-packed with content, there is very little free time.  When kids do finish early, I never feel bad about allowing a few extra minutes of architecture time.

Why would I feel bad? Well, the administration is very focused on kids being engaged in learning outcomes at all times, and I agree. No fluff here!

It’s easy to justify a class set of blocks on so many levels!

When students build with blocks, they are working on collaboration, innovation, working in 3D, practical life skills, concentration, perseverance, patience, creativity, and sharing. The list goes on!

However, there are a few challenges in offering something this enticing in the art room.

These are the 3 biggest challenges I’ve encountered with allowing students to build in 3D.

1. Students rush through the regular project in order to get to the blocks.
I will usually limit only certain days that blocks are available. Or, I will check for quality work before they are allowed to use the blocks, and send them back to work if it’s not up to par.

2. Students want to build large forms on their own without sharing.

3. Students are too rough with the blocks.
Think catapults, blocks flying through the air, and roughly knocking down towers.

So, I created the following rules into a handy poster that I post down near the carpet where they build as a constant reminder.

Overall, the benefits outweigh the challenges, and I will have a class set of blocks in every classroom I teach in. Middle school students come back to the art room begging to use the blocks one more time. It’s also something my old classmates talk about at reunions. A treasured memory!

The boys (and girls) in my art classes beg me to get out the blocks. They come get them during indoor recesses (I loan them out), and they are so proud when I take their photos next to the creations and display them in the yearbook. It’s just the “hook” some students need to feel engaged and connected to an art form and has improved my reach to all students in the art room.

Do you allow students to build in 3D? Tell us about it! 

What are other ways you engage reluctant boys (and girls!) in the art room?

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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