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There is a lot going on right now, and everyone is doing their best to cope, manage, and continue in the best way possible. Schools and districts across the country are transitioning at rapid rates to online instruction. As you’re likely experiencing, this is happening with little time to learn and prepare how to do this most effectively for our students and curriculum. Drawing on your own experiences doesn’t help as you likely haven’t taught an online course before or even taken one as a student. So, how do we even get started, and what direction do we head?
Before you rush into photocopying packets of drawing activities and developing a list of prompts, start by identifying what students will need to be successful in this new environment. Take a digital-day to help students develop a system for scheduling their day and time management. Students and staff rely on structures like bell schedules and forced daily interactions to guide learning. Think about how you can help students (and yourself) manage when those are taken away. The first assignment could be to identify the time of day the student will work on their art assignments each day, setting progress goals, creating an artmaking space, and listing the materials necessary.
Or if students will need to utilize a form of technology, the first step could be just learning and interacting with the tool. Also, remember students might be accustomed to using forms of technology, like Google Classroom, in their other classes that weren’t originally as applicable in the art room. Tapping into what the students are already using can lessen the learning curve and increase success.
Learning at home is going to impact all students differently. Some of your students will be closely monitored and directed by a parent who is able to enforce the structured learning activities for several hours each day. Other students will need to be at a friend’s house for several hours as families rely on different methods of childcare that will take precedent over learning activities.
Overall, not all of your students will be able to access the same level of resources and support. As a result, plan assignments with a variety of options and choice, allowing students to make decisions based on their circumstances. Also, provide extended deadlines for longer assignments to allow students time to complete them when they’re able. Last, consider student’s reading abilities and how that can impact their progress. You can differentiate your instruction by posting audio recordings or videos of your explanations and directions.
If you try to replicate everything in your curriculum and just move it online, many of your students will likely fail. Your typical curriculum and projects were supported by an art studio, readily available materials, teacher feedback, student support, etc. All of those things now look different, and, as a result, your curriculum needs to look different. Adjust your assignments by taking a step back and identify the “why” behind the project. Then, select one or two aspects of the project and think about how students can accomplish those at home.
For example, let’s say you were originally going to have students create a self-portrait with a background of supporting images that described them. You could break this down by having students learn how to draw facial proportions and features through exercises. If you want students to demonstrate how objects can create meaning, have them render a three-piece still life of selected objects. It’s not the same project because it’s not the same instructional approach—and that’s okay. Breaking it down and isolating the specific goals of the project can help make it more manageable for you and the student.
The first priority is always your students’ well-being. Find a way to check-in with students on the phone or video chat. It’s important they hear your voice and feel your support. Remember, your class was the best class of the day for some students. And for some more extreme situations, your class was the only reason they came to school. Your most vulnerable students still need your support through this difficult time.
After supporting student well-being, prioritize an approach to giving students feedback on their artwork. If you want to see the real impact of an art teacher, be absent for a few days in a row and see how that impacts the quality of the artwork. Even though students will be making art without your daily support, find a way to give frequent feedback on their process. This could include video chat, sharing images, etc. You want students to be successful artists during this difficult time, and your feedback is critical to achieving that result.
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At this point, everyone knows someone whose school has shifted to digital learning. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to go through this alone. Teachers on social media are rallying together to share resources, materials, powerpoints, videos, etc. Don’t hesitate to reach out, join an online group, ask questions, and join the collective effort to make this the best possible experience for our students it can be. We will get through this together!
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Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.