Can You Really Teach Art in 30 Minutes? (Ep. 033)


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My first five years of teaching, I taught in Nashville, Tennessee and I had classes that were an hour-long in length. I had kindergarten through second grade at that time, and my day looked like this every single day. I had two second grade classes and a first grade class in the morning, three hours of classes back to back, then lunch, and then two hours of two kindergarten classes.

When I decided to change schools and go to a school located in Franklin, Tennessee, I loved everything about my school, except my schedule. I was told that I was going have all of my classes, kindergarten through fourth grade, for 30 minutes each twice a week, back to back to back, 30 minutes and it freaked me out the entire summer just trying to wrap my brain around what it would be like to teach everything that I needed to teach in a mere 30 minutes.

Let’s be honest, when they’re coming to and from a different class, they’re never on time. It’s never an exact 30 minutes. It’s always probably around 25. With instruction and clean up and set up and all that, that gives the kids about, if we’re lucky, 15 minutes of work time. I was flabbergasted but now that I’ve been doing 30 minute art classes for quite some time, going on 12 years, I can say that I … I don’t want to say that I enjoy it, but I think I’ve found some ways to master those short classes. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about how to maximize your time, especially when you have a very minimal amount of it. I’m Cassie Stevens and this is Everyday Art Room. Let me start by saying that now, currently, I have a slightly different schedule. I get questions about my schedule all the time, so I thought I would share with you real quick, up front, before we get the ball rolling, what my schedule looks like. My schedule is different every single day.

I no longer have the same grade levels every day. It just varies from day to day at my school. I see my kindergarten students once a week for 40 minute art classes. For my first and second grade students, I see them for 30 minutes twice a week, which was the way I used to have all of my classes back when I first started. For my older students, I really have to work hard with my principals, and they’ve been wonderful about this, to get an hour with my kids, but the last couple of years, it’s been impossible for me to get an hour with my third and fourth grade kids unless I doubled up my classes, which was my suggestion because I really feel like with those older kids, I feel like will all kids, they need an hour, except for maybe kindergarten, to really have enough time to sink their teeth into the creative process.

But the best that I could do is only make that happen with my third and fourth graders with doubled up classes, so that’s my schedule currently. It’s not perfect but nobody’s schedule is, and let’s be honest, we’re just lucky to actually have this amazing job and have kids who actually get to enjoy art class. I know I never had that as a kid, so I find that my students are very fortunate to have this experience. And they get to have it with me. Aren’t they unlucky, those poor souls?

Anyway, so let’s talk about now how to maximize your time with those short classes because for me, like I said in the beginning, it was a bit of a science. I’m just going to run you through what a typical 30 minute class looks like for me for my first and second grade students, which is the same routine that I used to do with all of my grade levels. When my students come to art, I always try to greet them right at the door. I say always because here’s another little interesting tidbit about my schedule.

My students are fortunate enough to have physical education every single day, so when they come to my room, they’re either coming to my room from PE smelling absolutely delightful or leaving my room and going to PE. So that being said, when they come to my art room, they … Sometimes I’m a pinch late or sometimes my PE buddies are late. Let’s be honest, I’m the one who’s always late, and so I’m not always standing right at the door as I would like to be when my students pop up.

I’m usually walking out the door with my troops, so I try to greet my students at the door. We have a little routine. I’ve shared it before, but I always say, “Hello my most amazing artists,” and they say, “Hello my most amazing art teacher.” I ask them, “How are you today,” and they say, “Ready to create.” It’s a great way to start art class, but the main reason I love it is because it allows us to get in and get in quickly without the 25 question or comment moment that they all like to share. “I lost a tooth,” or, “I’m so excited about art,” or “What are we making today?”

It kind of nips all that in the butt. It gets us in the room quickly, all in a positive mood and manner. Once my kids are seated, I never have my students go to their seat and listen to instruction. It’s funny, I just had … Our school just had an academic night this evening where parents came in with their kids, and when they were in my room, we were making salt dough clay. I did not have them all sit on the floor, and we didn’t have a nice little cozy chat because let’s be honest, there was like 50 people max every single session in my room.

So I had them go to the seats, and I gave instruction at the front of the room. Y’all, I realized then and there, that’s why I never do it that way. With all the supplies on the tables, it was just so much of a distraction, so I’m glad that I have the system where they come in, they sit down, and we have that moment where there’s no distractions in front of them, and they can just sit and listen or we can have a conversation about what we’re doing today.

That happens all very quickly. One thing I do almost immediately when my students walk in is I have what’s called a happy/sad board, and it’s just a dry erase board with a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. You can usually feel out your students. You can gauge how they are coming to you based on how they are either standing outside your door or coming towards your door from another class. If they’re a little bit bouncy, as they sometimes are when coming from PE, then I know when they walk in my room and sit down, that energy level is still pretty high.

However, if I reference the happy/sad board, if I say, “Oh, first row just did such a great job sitting so nicely, I’m going to draw a line under the happy face for them. Thank you first row,” usually when they hear that, they’ll notice, “Oh, okay. We want to get more lines under the happy face so we’re going to work towards that.” If they still don’t get it with that subtle hint, then I’ll say, “Oh, but there’s one person in the second row that’s not quite sitting correctly, so sadly, unfortunately, I’m going to have to draw a line under the sad.”

So that usually kind of reigns them in, if I feel like I need it. At this point in the school year, we’re in a pretty good place. I looked at my happy/sad board the other day and realized we hadn’t been using it at all, but it hadn’t really been necessary. Although I say that but with spring break quickly approaching, maybe we’ll have to bust it back out because we use a little squirrelly. Once they come in and they’re seated quickly on the floor, I start introducing to them the word of the day.

I like to kick off every lesson with what our word of the day is, and when I forget, the kids are really good about reminding me. I have it usually written on a dry erase board, but if I forget to write it down I can just spell it for them. For example, we are chatting quite a bit about Vincent van Gogh, so our word of the day is usually an art word like line or color, warm colors. You get the idea.

However, since we’re talking about Vincent van Gogh, and we’re edging in on spring break and in dire need of it, our word is currently perseverance because I need to persevere to get me to spring break and they need to persevere and do their best on their art work. When I introduce a word, I tell them, “Our word of the day is perseverance,” and they know to do, “Whoop, whoop,” when they hear the word of the day. I’ll say, “If I say perseverance, whoop, whoop, you say perseverance, whoop, whoop. You already know what to do.”

Then I’ll ask them, “Who has an idea about what perseverance is?” It gets a little short conversation going, but like I said, it’s a great way to start to introduce the lesson. It’s fun and it’s engaging for them. Once I do that, we dive right into the lesson talking about either the artist influence that we’re going to be inspired by for our masterpiece, or we simply just talk about the lesson at hand, but I have to keep it short.

Now, if you’ve listened to this podcast at all before, you know I am a little bit long-winded. It’s just how I am. Lately, what I’ve been doing is filming myself teaching, and I have been doing this for a couple of reasons. I always want to see how other teachers teach, so I have been posting myself teaching on my YouTube channel and snippets of it on Instagram just to share, but it’s really helped me notice a couple of bad habits that I have.

One bad habit that I have is talking too much. I think I tend to over-explain things so for that reason I’m trying to be a little bit better about it, but I would recommend to you, this is just a little side note, tape yourself. Get your phone out, put in a place where the kids don’t notice it. Just film yourself teaching. When you watch it, don’t watch it with a criticizing, “Oh, I can’t stand the sound of my voice.” Just turn the volume down if that’s going to drive you bananas, but just try to watch it and think about it from the perspective of a first grader or a second grader.

Is it an engaging lesson? You don’t have to be a standup comedian the whole time, but they only come to art, y’all, like a sliver of the school year. I feel like it’s our job to make it an exciting experience for them, which can be exhausting and like I said, you can’t do it every time. I also notice I can’t be super exciting with all of my classes because they don’t have the ability to know when to turn off the excitement. Do you know what I’m saying about those certain classes where, I always have a couple of classes where I have to have the lights dimmed. I talk in a lower voice, I talk a lot slower and softer, and I do this in an effort to calm them down because they are already keyed up.

You also have to be really great, as you guys know, at gauging your audience. If you notice that your silliness is rubbing off on them, but not in the best of ways or they’re not able to turn it off, then you know that this is perhaps the class that I have to be a little bit more chill with. So anyway, let’s go back to our convo. After I introduce that vocabulary word to them and dive right into the directions, I always, always, and I’ve chatted with you about this in other podcasts, do a call and response.

I cannot recommend call and response enough. That’s probably one thing I’m a little addicted to when I’m doing lessons with my students because we do it all day long, and it’s a great way also to reign them back in. Just quickly because I know I’ve shared before, call and response is when I clear my throat and when I introduce it, I say, “When you hear me clear my throat, that means you’re going to repeat after me.” They’ll clear their throat, and I will say the first set of directions.

“First, I will go to the store,” which is where we call the long table that we gather supplies, “And I will get three things.” The more animated and silly and hand motions you add to it, it really helps them remember the steps. It’s also great for your friends who are ESL. We have a very high ESL population at our school, and it’s so good for them to be practicing call and response and talking aloud with their peers to hear their own voice next to their peers and hear how the words sound.

Once I’m done giving directions, I call my students by rows and I have them go “shopping at the store”. In my art room, my students gather their own supplies. I have yet to master the whole art jobs thing. I praise those of you that do, but for my 30 minute classes, it’s definitely something I want to do. I want to roll it out next year at the beginning of the year, but it’s not something that I can recommend or give advice on because it’s just not my bag baby. So when my students stand up in their rows, they go straight to my cafeteria style table and they gather the little list of supplies that I’ve told them to get.

Then the majority of the supplies that they use, the materials they’re using, are almost always set out on their table. Then my students work, and my new thing for them is to have them work quietly. For my older students, my third and fourth grade students, we are incapable currently of working without talking. I’ve noticed that when they do chat a lot, their work, we talked about this last week, their work really starts to slide. I have recently started reading to them aloud.

I have done this in the past, and I don’t do it all the time because so many of the projects that we do with our students requires us to always be available for them when they need help with sewing or they need a little bit of assistance when working with clay. It’s not so easy for us to sit in a chair and just read aloud to them. Currently, though, my students are working on a James Rizzi meets Vincent van Gogh project. You can find that lesson on my blog and my YouTube channel if you want to use it.

In fact, it would be a great lesson for you to use if you’re going to NAEA, but what I really enjoy about that project is it really allows them to spend time in their own thoughts, just drawing, just putting pencil to paper, like what we used to do when we were kids before there were tablets everywhere. So as they’re drawing, I’ve been reading. It’s been phenomenal. We dim the lights, my third and fourth graders are eating it up. Some of my favorite books to read to them, currently we’re reading The Hundred Dresses.

It’s a fabulous book about bullying, and I think … It’s a chapter book, and it’s a short enough chapter book that in three hour-long classes, we’re probably going to be able to knock it out. Other books that I’ve read to my students are the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Those are so much fun, and then they can vote on what “adventure” to go on. The Choose Your Own Adventure books are some of my favorite because they are usually cultural books. So if you’re learning about, let’s say, Egypt, you could find a Choose Your Own Adventure Egypt book. Those are super.

When my younger students are working, my first graders and my second graders, this year I don’t know what’s gotten into them, but they are super quiet without my asking so I created a playlist for them because they’re a little creepy quiet. You know what I’m saying? A little too quiet. So I created a playlist. I’ll be sharing that very soon on my blog, some of my favorite songs and some of the kids’ favorite songs. For my kindergartners, we’ve been using the Quiet Critters, which I chatted about last week.

That’s kind of what work time looks like. As far as cleanup, it’s got to happen quickly and efficiently, and that’s a science. In my room, cleanup looks like this. We play our cleanup gong. We clean up quickly and quietly as soon as we hear the gong. Then, as soon as my students are cleaned up, they know that their signal to me that they are cleaned up is to stand behind their pushed in chair with a zero in the air. This helps me out because I can just visually look around the room. They are standing up so I can at least visually check the tables and see if they’ve picked up everything, and they’re standing there quietly. A zero in the air in my school is a signal for silence.

When they’re done cleaning up, I’ll choose one student who’s standing so very still to be what I call the cleanup contest judge, and this is such a fun way to end art class. I can’t recommend it enough. My cleanup contest judge will come over and stand next to me on one of my stools, one of my stools that the kids use to reach the sink. They stand on the stool, and they say, “Drum roll please.” All the kids then pound on the back of their little plastic chair, which makes a lovely loud noise for a hot second.

When my cleanup contest judge makes the stop signal with their hand, the kids stop and they start calling the tables. The judge calls the tables by color to line up. I always say, “Please keep your zeros up as you line up or else your table will be disqualified,” so they line up really quickly and really quietly. In a perfect art class, we would then have time to play something called The Smartest Artist, and that’s a fun game that I’ve shared on this podcast plenty of times but the gist of it is, is it’s a game where my students have to guess the answers to questions like the primary colors, the secondary colors, and we keep score on a dry erase board.

If that felt a little crazy and hectic, then that’s what 30 minute art classes feel like in my world. I would love to know how many of you guys have short art classes and what you do to maximize your time. I will say this. When I first started at that school, like I mentioned, I was really, really freaked out by the 30 minutes. Very quickly, I got extremely efficient with my instructional time, despite still talking a lot, and really efficient with how I was approaching teaching the lessons.

I got really good at being able to break the lesson down, knowing exactly how much they could get done. The biggest issue is trying to pack in too much. The kids rush through, and then they don’t create the real quality work that you know that they can do. The key is, when you have those shortened art classes, don’t try to cram so much in. It will stress you out, which will then become a stressor for the kids.

If they happen to finish early because you didn’t give … They’ve just finished early and they … I don’t know why I can’t finish this sentence. If they have finished early, then what I like to do is have that Smartest Artist game be a little bit longer to kind of combat the whole, “Well, we didn’t actually have that much to work on today.” It’s a balance. It’s something I struggle with every 30 minutes in my day, but I feel like the key is not trying to cram in too much because let’s be honest, a happy art teacher is going to make for a happy and relaxing art teacher environment. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

All right, guys. Thank you for letting me share my 30 minute short art class experience with y’all. I hope it helps you if you find yourself in the same kind of spot.

Tim Bogatz: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning into the podcast. We appreciate everyone that listens, everyone who’s left positive comments and contacted us with your feedback. If you want even more information from Cassie, check out the podcast tab on theartofed.com and get signed up for the Everyday Art Room weekly mailing if you haven’t done so already.

We’ve been talking a lot about Art Ed PRO, the subscription service that provides on-demand professional development for art teachers. You can check it out at theartofed.com/pro. I want to tell you that a lot of administrators are supporting the service and a lot of schools have funds to pay for your professional development. Just ask. You can send your administrator to the theartofed.com where they can click on “PRO for Schools” to see if it’ll work for your school.

It doesn’t hurt to try, and who doesn’t want to have control of their own professional development? Please make sure your admin checks out proforschools@theartofed.com/pro. Let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she reads the mailbag and finishes up the show.

Cassie Stevens: Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This first question comes from Sarah. Sarah is asking a question about our pizza pillow project that I just wrapped up with my fourth grade students. They used felt and they stitched these giant slices of pizza, I think New York style pizza. They stuffed them, and they are going to be using them as pillows. They are, going to brag, they are pretty stinking cute and the kids are in love with them.

Sarah’s question is about that. She says, “Just wondering approximately how much felt to purchase. What was the size of the felt that you gave each of your students for the brown crust? I have about 85 students that I will be doing this project with. What stores would you recommend?” Okay, so here’s what I did. I went into JoAnn’s, and knowing that I wanted to do this project, knowing that I would want tan to be the base of the pillow, so I started buying or started loading my cart up with pieces of felt.

Now, felt sheets, they’ve gone up in price. They’re now $.35. When I first started teaching, I feel like they were 10. And they’re not huge, and I wanted their pizza pillows to be really, really big. So after loading up my cart, I thought, “Let me just go see if I can actually buy this felt by the bolt.” I went over to the fabric section. I was in JoAnn’s. I’m not sure if I mentioned that. You can buy it by the bolt, and it’s only $2.99 a yard, and that’s with the fabric folded in half, meaning you’re actually getting double the amount.

Not to mention places like JoAnn’s and Michael’s both offer teacher discounts in addition to the discount that they already offer you. So when I was there, I just bought the entire bolt, and it ended up being about 20 bucks. To me, that was pretty reasonable, especially since it’s going to cost quite a bit more for me to buy the sheets of felt. I had a lot of leftover scraps, so it’s perfect for our next sewing project. I’m not sure which grade yet, but they’re going to be working on stuffed doughnuts.

Now, the other thing that you’d have to get for this project is stuffing. What do you stuff a pizza pillow with? I did a little pricing on that because immediately I just thought I would get those bags of stuffing, but those are pretty expensive. What we actually did was I purchased a huge role of cotton batting. Think what’s inside of a quilt. We used that, and I again had my teacher discount, and I also waited until these things were on the 40% off sale. If you can buy it … Give yourself a little bit of advance, buy it when it’s already on sale. You’re going to get a pretty good deal.

That ended up being I think about $20 also after the 40% off discount and the teacher discount. That the stuffing was more than enough, and they cut that stuffing to the same size as their pizza because it’s sheets of stuffing. The batting is a sheet of stuffing. She wants to know approximately how big it was. I would say that they were about 18 inch by 12 inch rectangles of fabric, each kid needing two. So I hope that helps. I know in the video that I shared, we did almost exactly the same process, so you can find this whole pizza making video on my YouTube channel and my blog. The whole process is there, it’s just that we were working on a larger scale. So I really hope that helps. I hope that makes sense.

My next question, is a quickie, is about oil pastels. “Did you mention in one of your podcasts that Sargent Art was your favorite oil pastel?” All right, now let me just say a disclaimer. I don’t work for Sargent, don’t work with JoAnn’s. I’m just throwing out my favs here. My very favorite oil pastels on the planet are made by Sargent, and they are the fluorescent ones. I still use regular oil pastels, but the fluorescent ones, they are my jam. I probably buy about 16 new packs of those every single year because we wear them out, so yes Morgan. That’s exactly what I love to get. If you guys have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way. You can find me at The Everyday Art Room at theartofed.com.

It’s funny because when I have my second grade students in my art room, near the end of the year I start to get really excited and I tell them, “Guys, just think. Next year, when you have art, you’re going to have an entire hour.” They get so stinking excited, and then some days, like earlier this week when we had spring break fever, and I did have my third graders in there for an hour, that I thought, “Man, if only these kids were in here for 30 minutes, it’d be making my life a whole lot easier,” so you know what? There’s pros and there’s cons to every single schedule.

I don’t think any of us have the most ideal schedule ever, but you know what? We’re art teachers and we always manage to find a really creative way to make work with what we’ve got … to make what we’ve got work. You know what I’m saying. We’re awesome. Its just what we do. Thank you so much guys for letting me share how I manage to have art for 30 minutes and still try to cram in and make do as much as possible.

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