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How to Get Your Apathetic Middle Schoolers Invested in Art

Have you ever been in a class filled with students, yet it feels like you’re the only one in the room? Or maybe you’ve experienced the feeling of utter silence when you ask a question. It feels like you are pulling teeth just to get one student to engage in your conversation.

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Unfortunately, in a middle school classroom you’ve probably encountered one of these scenarios. You are not alone. Apathetic middle schoolers fill our art rooms everywhere! Some are required to be there while others simply don’t care. As the teacher in the classroom, though, you are the most influential person. You create the classroom climate, the rules, and the routines. You also have the power to engage your students and make apathy fade away!

Here are five ways to get your apathetic middle schoolers invested in art.

1. Incorporate Technology

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Technology in the art room can be powerful and engaging. Our students live in a tech-based world, but there is still a lot they don’t know and they are eager to learn. For those hard to reach, apathetic students, technology could be your answer. It is not just another medium, but it can be used to deepen thinking and provide immediate inspiration to your students. When used appropriately, technology in the art room can be transformative.

2. Make it Hands-On

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Is it really any surprise that working with clay is a favorite among middle school students? There’s something about the hands-on nature of the medium that engages students. Generally, the projects that create the most mess and take up the most space are fan favorites. Those same projects almost always require a great deal of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. But those are also the projects that greatly impact learning. If you’re willing to embrace the mess and get a little dirty, apathetic students may become truly engaged!

3. Bring in Pop Culture

One of the best ways to excite students is to make learning relevant. When lesson planning, think about what’s relevant to your students and incorporate it to engage their attention. This can be done by allowing students to incorporate pop culture references into their art projects. Better yet, make it your idea for students to use pop culture! My students thought I was crazy the day I told them to take out their phones and get on Snapchat. But it worked. In turn, they were invested in the project because it stemmed around a platform they use for fun in their daily lives. Bringing pop culture into your art room requires you to know your students. By knowing them you will be able to engage your students by bringing in elements that are important in their daily lives.

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4. Allow for Student Choice

Empower your students by providing choice. This does not mean you need to run a choice-based curriculum or a TAB classroom. If you allow your students to be part of the decision-making process or provide freedom within their projects, they will be more invested. Providing student choice allows students to use their strengths and personal interests. This approach will enable students to become more invested and find personal meaning in their artwork.

5. Create Variety

Teachers are often the worst students. You’ve probably experienced a professional development day or staff meeting where you are lectured the entire time. This type of setting does not capture interest. It’s important to create variety in your instructional time. While there are times where a lecture is necessary, try to break it up. If you are beginning a new project and know you will lecture for a large portion of class, try throwing in some hands-on activities to engage your students. This could be as simple as having your students stand or take a lap around the classroom every ten minutes. Breaking up the monotony is key in creating less apathetic students.

Ultimately, the art room should be a place where students are excited and eager to learn. The next time you see one of your middle schoolers exhibiting some apathy, try one of these strategies!

How do you deal with apathetic students?

What strategies do you use to engage your students?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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