From the Archives: Building Blocks for Success

We always feel great when we go above and beyond as teachers, but we know–especially right now–that going above and beyond is not always feasible. Sometimes–oftentimes–we need to go back to the basics. Listen to this episode from the archives as Nic talks about the building blocks of a good curriculum, and how she helps students develop the basic skills that will set them up for future success. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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I feel like the message from the last couple of Everyday Art Rooms has been go above and beyond. Find that extra medium that’s going to engage your students, or we’ve had guests come on to talk about going above and beyond with the students, making sure that you’re engaging them in some way, even if it’s after school hours, having arts nights and so forth.

Today I’m going to give you just the opposite message. Today we’re going to talk about bringing it back to the basics, simplifying what you’re doing so that you can make sure that your students have the building blocks to be successful. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

In this past year of fluctuation between learning models and just being in class and out of class, and so on and so forth, I have noticed our society creating this huge group of five-minute crafters. Have you seen five-minute crafts? It’s this whole thing of taking junk from your trash, which I’m all about, taking garbage and turning it into something that you can use.

For example, taking some, I don’t know, container Tufts and putting it together with some hot glue, and some paint, and maybe some glitter, and all of a sudden you have like a makeup case, or something to that effect. It’s a five-minute craft. It only takes, guess what? Five minutes to do, and boom, you have something that’s beautiful and you can use.

Well, often this is what my students seem to enjoy. They love it. They send me pictures of this all the time. Look Ms. Hahn, look what I made, look what I made, look what I made. They don’t enjoy spending a lot of time on projects anymore. I’m calling this like they’re really lacking that artistic endurance. They don’t want to spend time on anything, nothing.

In fact, having them for 60 minutes in an art period is almost torture for some of these kids now, I’m not saying that this is absolutely brand new, and something that I’ve never seen before, there’s always students that are like, “Ugh, are we done with art yet? My hand hurts, this is so hard.” There’s always kiddos that are like, “Ms. Hahn a 60 minutes of coloring, or even a half hour of coloring is super hard.”

I’m not saying this is brand new, but amount of students that I’m seeing that are struggling with this is definitely increasing. And I’m saying it’s majority, if not, all of students are really struggling with this endurance of creation. I’m noticing that they really enjoy quick, easy, fun. And what I’ve done is, I’ve started to give them that. When they came back into my classroom…

Well, let’s even rewind farther, when we went out of the classroom, back in March, when we went home, I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone. My assignments were very watered down. I looked at the very, very essentials of what I wanted my students to learn. I gave them very watered down lessons so that they could do it in a very short amount of time. My goal was 20 minutes on a lesson so that they didn’t become overwhelmed at home.

There was enough things going on in their life, there was enough expectations of learning from their homeroom teachers, and from the other specialist, and just life in general, it was too overwhelming. I just felt as an art teacher that I would just… Actually our whole art team felt that we would put a cap of 20, 30 minutes on what was supposed to be 60 minutes of learning.

And so if students chose to work farther, or longer on a project, that was totally fine. But our expectation was roughly about 20 minutes. When students came back into class, we really wanted to make sure that what we gave them was the stuff that they didn’t have. Our materials that we were expecting them to use were typically going to be things that most students had at home.

At least in our community we could expect that students would have crayons, that they might have markers. They would have paper and they would have pencils. That was the materials that we were asking our students to use. When they came back into the classroom, we were trying to use a more engaging, or different mediums.

We were using paint, we were using clay, we were using metal, and we’re using fibers right now, just trying to give them all the stuff, because these were the things that they were lacking, but it’s very in their face like, “Okay, now we’re going to use this, and we’re going to use this, and we’re going to use this.”

It’s was a lot for the art teacher, definitely, because we’re using everything, all the things, and all the classes. It’s a lot of materials that we’re managing as art teachers, at least at my PLC. But then also for the students, every single time they come in it’s a new medium that I’m introducing, now we’re going to use oil pastels cells, and now we’re going to use…

They’re managing a lot things. And what I’m noticing is that it’s almost becoming too much, especially for my youngest artist. I’m going to just rewind a little bit farther to my very, very youngest artists. Last year in kindergarten, I did not receive all of the kindergarteners. I had too many students, too many sections for myself to maintain all the kids.

The solution for my school was I only had two sections of kindergarten where I’m supposed to have five. Three sections just didn’t receive art. I know, tragic. It made me very sad, but it was what it was. And then in March, of course, we didn’t have anyone in person. That was a disruption of education as well. In the following year, this year, education looked very different, but I did have all of the first grade, but it wasn’t the structure that typical students would have.

Yes, I had all the first grade, but they are not coming to me in the normal way that they would. Their vision of what art class is, is much different than other first graders at this point at April, May, what other students would have experienced at this point of the year is much different than what these first graders would have experienced.

What I’m noticing is their craftsmanship, what they think of as art is very different than what I have experienced from other first graders at the same time of year. When I’m pulling out lessons that I’ve been very successful with students in the past, these kiddos are not finding the same success, not even close.

Then I thought, whoa, initially I thought, man, these kiddos, I just need to give them the kindergarten lessons. That’s all I’ll do. I’ll just bring them down to the kindergarten level, whatever, we’ll just do that. Even the kindergarten lessons that I’ve done in May, they’re still not successful. What am I doing wrong? I’m a terrible teacher. This isn’t working, what is going on?

It’s because I didn’t give them the basics that I give them at the beginning of the school year in September. I’m not giving them the building blocks that allow them to find the success at the end of their kindergarten year. That is what I want to talk to you about today. The building blocks that encourages that artistic endurance that I was talking about, that allows them to create that craftsmanship, that allows students to be successful, and have that endurance throughout their art class.

All right. When I think about it, when I started in September, I often start with shapes and lines. Well, I have actually covered that quite a bit with both kindergarten and first grade, so I can move forward to using those tools, the shapes and the lines to moving into drawing. That would typically be the next thing that I would cover.

That’s what I’m doing right now, is I’m moving into drawing with my kindergartners. It is time for my kindergarteners to get the little tiny eggs into their classroom, they get little chicks that they hatch in their classroom in May. I thought it would be a perfect time to visit the farm in art class. As the students are coming into art class in the month of April, every single time, they’re going to be creating another animal on the farm, and we’re going to be drawing another animal every single time.

We’re going to use the shapes and the lines that they have been practicing throughout the year. And we’re going to turn them into an animal. I know those of you who teach tab or choice-based learning might be cringing right now, because you’re thinking what? You’re going to teach them step-by-step what to do?

But I’m telling you for me, this is the best way in kindergarten and first grade, is to give them the tools and then show them how to use the tools before allowing them to make the choices on their own. For me, absolutely, I teach them step-by-step how to draw a cow. And that’s what we’re going to talk about first. What I do is I show them the picture of a cow, and then I show them how each part of the cow actually looks a little bit like a shape.

Look at that body, I show them a picture of it on the smart board. And then I show them a rectangle on the top of the body. See how that body looks a little bit like a rectangle? Let’s draw a rectangle for the body of our cow. See those legs. They kind of look like rectangles too, nice, tall, vertical rectangles. Everybody let’s draw four tall rectangles for our legs. And the tail, well, that’s a little bit of a rectangle too.

Now look at that head, what could that head be? Well, that’s not a rectangle anymore, it’s more of a trapezoid. Let’s draw a trapezoid, all right? And we just continue and you on that, we’re drawing each shape for all the parts of the cow. And then get to parts that we really can’t draw with shapes, that’s when we move into our lines.

Even the parts that we can’t identify, maybe the spots on the cow. Now we’re talking about more advanced shapes that I haven’t covered yet. We might be bringing in some organic, or freeformed shapes, and that’s okay too. That’s something a little bit more advanced for my kindergarteners, but it’s okay to mention them not necessarily concentrate on them, but it can be a quick little introduction, something that they might learn more in second grade, that’s an okay thing to do.

We go step-by-step through it, drawing our animal, and then we’re going to bring up the big word that I’m bringing up with my kindergarten and my first grade to really build that structure of what I think they’re missing right now. And that is the word craftsmanship. I’m literally bringing this into my classroom as Pee-wee Herman’s Playhouse might way back in the day.

That might be a reference to people that are just roughly my age for Saturday morning cartoons. If you are roughly my age, you might’ve gotten up early to watch Pee-wee Herman’s Playhouse. It was this really kind of odd man who used to talk to his chair, and had a magic word that when it was said it was a different one every week, but everybody in the house would scream, and it was very playful Playhouse, Peewee Herman’s Playhouse.

Anyways, the magic word, the word of the day in my classroom happens to be craftsmanship right now. Nobody’s screaming because I don’t encourage that, but I feel like I’m seeing it constantly, because I’m teaching both my kindergarten, and my first grade, and actually this next week, I’m going to be teaching my second grade too, because guess what? They’re lacking that word too, craftsmanship is just not happening in my class.

The kids don’t have that artistic endurance right now, because I haven’t been working on it. I haven’t been really emphasizing it in my classroom, but guess what? Today is the day, right now is what’s going to happen, we are bringing craftsmanship back big time. In kindergarten, and first grade quite often, in second grade even, I have students outline their pencil with a sharpie marker.

Now, really for the base of this, I’m asking students to do this just to have more practice with their fine motor skills. I think it looks better at this age level as well, but it’s mostly just for fine motor practice. Students will take some time to outline, and we talk about how craftsmanship is important in this too. Taking your time, slowing down, making sure you’re trying to stay on top of the lines. I think that students do a really nice job on this.

And we talk about how you can see the line better from farther away if you use the sharpie marker on your line. That’s part of craftsmanship too, trying to make sure that your art can be seen from a farther distance, from across the room, the way that the art is intended to be seen. Then we come back to the carpet again and have a quick conversation about craftsmanship with coloring before we start coloring.

The main things that we’re talking about is coloring. There’s three main things that I talk about, it’s coloring with leaving no white spots behind, using lots of colors, and staying inside the lines that you have already created. Well, I definitely have created these three points in magnets that go on my whiteboard. I have these magnets that I’ve put up for emphasis as I’m talking about them.

I make a big deal of that. No white spots, rack, that goes up on the board. Lots of colors, whack, that goes up on the board. Inside oh, all of your lines. Yes, it goes on the board. You get the picture? And then I typically will print out a cow or two or three, and I color on top of them in live form or in video form, it doesn’t matter one of the two. And I show them, give me a rating thumbs up for my absolute best job, thumbs down for not so hot, I could use some improvement, thumbs to the side with that, “It’s okay, Ms. Hahn.”

I scribbled on one of the cows and then I ask them, “How did I do with no spots?” Of course, they all gave me a thumbs down and laugh a little bit. How did I do with using lots of colors? No good, right? Thumbs are down. And how did I do with stain inside my lines? Once again, no bueno. They all give me a thumbs down and I say, “Right, let me see if I can improve this.”

Maybe I already have a better version, and it’s pre-colored a little bit, then I asked them the three questions again, pointing to my magnets on the board. Maybe they give me thumbs to the side for these three. Maybe I do it one more time, and I have a better version that I can show them. I get thumbs up, we celebrate, I’m doing much better. I got thumbs up, and now it’s their turn.

They’re going to go back and do the same thing. You might even give them one step farther when it’s time for them to start asking about their cow, instead of immediately coming to you and saying, “How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I doing?” You might ask them to ask three before they ask me. Asking their friends, how am I doing before they come to you.

That’s asking for a peer assessment, ask three, before you asked me, that is always a good plan beforehand. And then I tell them when someone’s asking you how they’re doing, be thoughtful with your answer, make sure that you’re looking at their artwork, and really analyzing are there any white spots? Help them out.

Sometimes I also go over the fact that they have to answer with no words, they just put their pointer finger up, and point to where they see a white spot. That is a really good way to kind of go over with your students, how to be critical, but kind ahead of time.

Doing these things with my students, really working on craftsmanship, bringing them back to the basics with my kindergarten, first grade, and now moving into my second grade is not only going to really benefit my students, but it’s also really helping me. It’s helping me slow down with them, and it’s helping me assure that they have what they need to be successful artists, maybe not for this year, because I only have like nine times left with them.

But I’m setting them up for success for the next year that they come in. I’m allowing them to be as successful as they can be for the artists that they’re going to be this summer, and the artists that they’re going to come to me as in the next school year.

Summer’s right around the corner, and you might be looking for some continuing ed credits. If you are, The Art of Education University is ready to help you out. Summer 2021 Art Ed Now Conference is July 29th, and it’s not too early to sign up. You can go ahead and earn some continuing ed credits there. We also have pro packs, once you take your pro pack, at the end of the pro pack, you can just print out a certificate that says how many hours you have participated in. And those count towards certification, and hours towards your continuing education as well.

We do have graduate courses that you can take, there is a plethora, and so many different subjects that you can take. I can’t even handle it seriously. Anything that you’re interested, including studio courses, which is the most exciting part, but specifically to art, you can take any of these courses and it’s just speaking to art teachers, which is beautiful, such a beautiful thing.

And if you’re really ready for a deep dive, of course, The Art of Education University has a master’s degree. If you haven’t checked it out, it is worth looking into if that’s the stage of life you’re in. Of course, we have all of these resources on our webpage, it’s worth looking into. Thanks again for listening today.

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.