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Everyone wants to have a strong, successful art program, and it’s worth looking at how we structure our classes to work toward that goal. For me, it comes down to three things: capturing students’ interests, letting students develop their ideas and talents, and giving students a definite goal to work toward.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Syllabus, Blind Contour Drawing, Contour Drawing, Elements of Art, Value Scales, Still Life Drawing, Perspective Drawing. If I just named the first month or more of your curriculum, things need to change! Are you still spending 45 minutes lecturing on the elements of art? Do you spend multiple days talking about color theory and making your kids take notes the whole time? Stop it!!! I can guarantee right now that your kids are bored. You probably are, too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t teach these concepts, or that they aren’t important–I’m saying there are other ways to do things.
Let your kids get their hands dirty. Break out the clay, the plaster, the paper mache. Go outside to paint and photograph. Get in the hallways to draw. The great thing about our job is that we DON’T have to lecture. Get your kids making and doing from the beginning. Janine Campbell, middle school teacher extraordinaire, has her kids playing with clay and painting on canvas on day one. These different experiences will make your class fun, make it exciting, and most importantly, make it meaningful.
Is it easy to do these things? No. Do we owe it to our kids to make art the best class on their schedules, and one they will remember down the road? Yeah, we probably do. A good Intro class sets the stage for your future art superstars. For the not-so-superstars, this might be one of the only art classes they ever take, or perhaps even the last. May as well send them out remembering us at our best.
In your Intro class, in the midst of all of those great exciting projects we just talked about, your kids probably found something that interested them–a medium, a style, a technique, or an idea that really captured their attention. Hopefully, they began to develop those interests further, and they are ready turn that into a semester or a year of work. At my school, these would be the Drawing I and Drawing II classes. It’s what I teach best, and it’s what a majority of my kids are interested in. Maybe it’s ceramics for those kids always engaged with clay, or sculpture for those kids who think visually in three dimensions. If you run a TAB classroom, it could be any or all of the above.
In this class, kids can explore those interests as they become independent and autonomous. When you let them chase their interests, they will work that much harder to develop their talents, skills, and ideas. They are well on their way to becoming “art kids”, and you can pretty easily talk them into your most advanced classes.
For some, this might be Art 4. For others, AP Studio Art. Maybe IB. Whatever the course may be, it is important that kids have an overarching goal that they can work toward throughout their first few years of high school. This is where the best of the best should reside; this is the home of the superstars. They are the ones on the receiving end of our highest expectations, and we are the ones on the receiving end of the most thoughtful, meaningful, skilled, and significant artwork our high schoolers can produce. When your freshmen come in, mouths agape, in awe of what is being produced in the same art room, they see what they can become with four years of hard work. That’s where the seeds are planted, and that’s what makes the program run–a final class that is a difficult but reachable goal toward which kids want to work.
It really is that simple–use your classes to give kids a great beginning, an interesting middle, and a successful end to their high school art experiences. You will be well on your way to developing and maintaining a great art program.
What are the best classes in your curriculum?
Do you teach any unique or original classes that most others do not?
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