The June Mailbag: Curriculum, Photography, and Next Year’s Changes (Ep. 418)

As we move toward the end of school, it is time for the June mailbag episode! Amanda and Tim begin with a chat about the chaos that is the end of the school year, then some ideas from listeners about what they want to change for the next school year. They then dive into a bit of advice on planning your curriculum, getting students engaged, and teaching photography. See the links below for all the resources mentioned in today’s discussion!

If you have a question for a future mailbag episode, email or leave a voice recording at 515-209-2595.

Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the June mailbag. We are very excited to have Amanda back with us for this. We love answering your questions. We have a ton of questions that came in, which we are very excited about. Last month, I did a very long introduction with lots of things to say, and right now Amanda’s staring at me giving me the hurry it up motion. So we’re just going to dive right in today. Amanda, hi, and how are you?

Amanda: I am great. I just had a vacation from work and today is my first day back, so this is a very fun thing to do to jump back into thing.

Tim: Welcome back. You get to come record a podcast with me, so I appreciate it.

Amanda: Yeah.

Tim: She may or may not be prepared, but we’ll see how things go.

Amanda: 50-50.

Tim: No, it is Amanda, you are very well-prepared. We know. That’s all right. So I guess we should just start with-

Amanda: No, but I need to say something first.

Tim: Okay. Before we actually start?

Amanda: Yeah. Because do you remember last time when I was hawking protein Doritos and I was like, “These are the best things I’ve ever eaten. I can’t believe protein Doritos exist.” But what I failed to remember was my mom saying, which you know how sometimes you have a parent and they have the saying that you remember always, and for my mom, there’s two, and one of them is, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Protein Doritos shouldn’t exist. And I just need to tell you, please do not buy protein Doritos because they will mess up your insides for so long. It is not worth it.

Tim: How many of them did you eat?

Amanda: I ate two bags. One bag one day, one bag the next day, and-

Tim: And none since.

Amanda: It was not great. I gave the rest away to my friend. Her husband’s really into eating protein. I’ve warned her. I was like, “If he wants to try these, I need them out of my home.”

Tim: Okay, fair.

Amanda: So do not recommend. Do not recommend protein Doritos.

Tim: I was going to say, you were so excited about them last time.

Amanda: I know. The idea of them was so good, but the execution was so bad.

Tim: I’m sorry that it worked out that way for you. I feel bad for you. How are you otherwise?

Amanda: Well, I don’t want to just start with complaining about a lot of things, but also the end of the school year, I’m ready to be done. My kids have another week, my personal children, and in the past few weeks the things that have happened like, “Hi, Mom, I need to memorize all of the European countries and their capitals and where they are in 48 hours.” That happened. I also got, “I need to bring a four-foot tall slingshot to school by Friday.” This was on a Wednesday. And there’s just a lot of concert and plays in the middle of my personal work day that I need to-

Tim: So many things. Yes.

Amanda: And then they throw in the dress up days and I’m just like I get that this is fun for the children, but my kids are in elementary school, so that is something that I need to then own. But I will say, one of them was throwback day and my seven-year-old decided to throw back to the beginning of the universe and wear this sweatshirt with the Big Bang on it.

Tim: That’s a creative approach. I like that.

Amanda: It was amazing. So anyway, how am I? I’m very much looking forward to summer. Very much.

Tim: Yeah, that’s fair. That’s fair.

Amanda: What about you?

Tim: I’m good. I feel like that’s less complaining and more commiserating because I think everybody is going through that with the end of the school year. I have a middle schooler and a high schooler, and there’s just so many track meets and concerts and, again, end of the year stuff. And then they’re both studying for finals on top of that. And so it built up like May is just insane. And I’m glad to be into June and moving on.

Amanda: Me too. Let’s move it on.

Tim: But I was just going to say, I’m feeling old more than anything else. So yeah, my daughter is just finishing her sophomore year of high school and we’re planning college visits over the summer, which is exciting-

Amanda: That’s really wild.

Tim: But also I generally don’t feel old and I’m mid-40s, I’m not old, but I like to joke about it. But yeah, having a kid making college visits really that hit home for sure.

Amanda: Yeah. That’s wild.

Tim: So if any listeners have any advice for me on those, I’d appreciate it. And then we went over Memorial Day weekend to this amusement park that we always go to, like a family tradition for that weekend, and there’s this huge roller coaster, I love roller coasters, but my brother-in-law, I always ride with him, he was not there for this trip. And so I didn’t everybody to go with and I looked at this roller coaster, I’m like, “I don’t want to do it.”

Amanda: I’m the same. I love roller coasters, but I don’t know what would happen if I went on one right now. I feel like I would get vertigo immediately. My body just cannot handle it anymore. Even though I want to want to.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I want to want ride. But I don’t. I looked at it and I was like, “Nope, not doing that today.” So again, between those two things, just feeling old. But that’s okay.

Amanda: Yeah, I mean, me too. I’m getting really excited about my garden, which those words, I’m shocked they’re coming out of my own mouth. And also we’re out of bird seed and I’m like, “Oh my, I have to go replenish the feeders.” Am I a grandmother?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Have you ever seen that tweet where it talks about it’s how ridiculous, how fast bird watching creeps up on you. You spend your whole life being completely indifferent to birds and then all of a sudden just one day you’re like, “Is that a yellow breasted warbler?”

Amanda: Well, quick plug. Get the Merlin app if you like birds because it’s like Shazam for birds and it’s very excellent.

Tim: Oh, it’s great. I love the Merlin app.

Amanda: Very excellent.

Tim: Yes. Let me talk about my garden as well. A few years back, I started a pollinator garden and this is year three of the pollinator garden. And it struggled the first couple years. It was not great. It was slow-going. But then this year it is beautiful and I just spend so much time, I’m so happy when bees are flying around. And again, I’m old. I’m old.

Amanda: Right. I would never make a pollinator garden because I’m afraid of butterflies, which feels like a discussion for another time. But we have a herb garden and I also planted some peas and they are really… Everything’s doing great.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, I also have vegetables and wildflowers going, so maybe we should just do a garden check in every week. I feel like we’re going to lose all of our podcasts listeners, but you and I are going to be excited about it.

Amanda: This is going to be our show.

Tim: No, our teachers can appreciate the beauty in wildflower gardens, right?

Amanda: Yeah, 100%.

Tim: That’s good. We like it.

Amanda: Maybe they’re gardening this summer.

Tim: That could be.

Amanda: If you actually want this to turn into a gardening podcast, please email us at

Tim: Or maybe we just need to put a post on social just appreciating the aesthetics of the garden. Have everybody share pictures of their gardens. That would be worthwhile.

Amanda: That would be a great idea.

Tim: All right. Sounds good. We’ll see if we can make that happen. But until then, I think it is time for us to answer some questions. Amanda, please give us our official introduction.

Amanda: Oh, it is time to open up the mailbag.

Tim: Our first question comes from Diana via email, and Diana had a lot of kind words to say, but she said, “I love the podcast. It’s such a great way to feel connected to others in the field,” which I love. And she said, “I’ve been a middle school art teacher for 22 years. My school will be changing their schedule next year. We’re transitioning from art every day for one marking period, one short period, to art one day out of a six-day cycle for the whole year. So what advice do you have for transitioning my lessons from every day to once as part of a six-day cycle?”

All right. I like this question. I think it’s a tough one to solve. Well, not a tough one to solve, a time-consuming one to solve. I think the strategy is easy, it’s just going to take a little bit. So Diana, what I would say is to go through all of your existing projects and just think to yourself what still works with this schedule and what doesn’t? And I think having 22 years of experience is a very good thing here. I don’t know if I would put this to a new teacher in the same way, but I think you have the ability to break things down and figure out how to transition these.

So I think one option is to have a lot more one day activities where you can just do things quickly, get them in and out of the room without too much trouble. But I think the better option is to break those down into particular steps and just do a little part each day, which this gets done all the time by a lot of teachers. So it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. It just is going to be different for you. It’s going to take a lot of reminders, a lot of reteaching as far as, “This is what we’re working on, this is what I want to remind you of. This is your goal today. And by the end of the period work toward this goal.” And so I think there’s going to be a little bit of a different approach to teaching that, which I think you’ll get used to.

But just something to be considerate of, because with middle schoolers, they don’t remember what’s going on from class to class. They don’t remember what they did six minutes ago, much less six days ago as this part of rotation. So I would say just break down your stuff, figure out the steps of the project, think about what your goals are for each class period, where kids should try and get to, what stopping point might be, what they’re working toward, and then how you’re going to pick up from there on the next class period.

And just think through that because with painting, it might be nice to get to this next part, and you may or may not get there. With ceramics, it may be non-negotiable, “You have to attach this today, otherwise that chance is gone, especially six days from now.” So just kind of break things down on, figure out what your steps are and figure out how they can be spread out a little bit more and just put some thought into each one of your projects, what you want to teach and how you can spread that out. And I think once you take the time to do all of that, then it should be something that is feasible. It’s something that is not necessarily easy, but it’s definitely doable. So Amanda, your thoughts?

Amanda: Yeah, this was an interesting one to me because this is just how it worked. I only taught elementary school. I mean, I did practicum and student teaching at other levels, but this is how it worked. We were on a four-day rotation. So my biggest piece of advice, you kind of already talked about this, but I would break each project into very distinct steps. So if you think about a painting project, maybe day one is you’re introducing the project and they’re working on ideation, and you do not let kids go beyond that step, because then you’re going to have kids at wildly different ways. So maybe if they get done with their ideation and sketching, they can work in their sketchbook or do some other activity until the end of class for the last 10 minutes.

Maybe then day two is laying out the composition and you have a mini lesson about that. And then days three, four and five are painting. That has been something that worked really, really well for me with any grade level at the elementary level, and I think it would work well with middle schoolers as well. Of course, like Tim said, you do have to then start with a five-minute overview at the beginning of every class to orient everyone. “Remember, this is what we did last time, here’s what we’re doing today.” I really like to provide written or visual project steps so kids can see where they are and exactly what they’re supposed to do. I would make a few slides for each project so that the kids could self-serve with their questions and just project that up on the board during work time.

And like Tim said, the biggest issue is likely ceramics. I mean, six days between class periods is pretty long, especially when you throw a weekend in there. I think you can probably assume that you can keep projects workable for two class periods, but probably not much longer than that before you get into like, “Oh, they’re drying weirdly, or there’s mold issues.” But I would put them on old lunch trays with a damp paper towel and just wrap them in a giant garbage bag. And honestly, that kept them pretty workable for a pretty long period of time. But I would think about if you’re used to doing a long ceramics lesson, you’re probably going to have to break that down into a couple of different projects.

Tim: Yeah, good advice. So yeah, like we said, it’s doable. It’ll take some work, but art teachers everywhere are doing things like this. So it’s definitely-

Amanda: You could also ask elementary teachers for other tips. If you need a specific thing, ask, “What do you do with your fifth graders?” It’s probably going to be very similar to what you’re going to be doing.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. Good advice. Okay, next question, Creations_Cassandra has asked on Instagram, “My principal wants me to teach photography next year. Any suggestions for high school?” I have so many suggestions. I will try and make this brief. I love photography. I think so things can be done. Anything that you want to teach is probably out there, especially with every kid carrying a high quality phone in their pocket. The cameras on most phones are good if not great quality. And so there’s so much that you can do and play with and experiment with. My biggest piece of advice would be just to think about what you want your kids to learn. What are the big picture ideas? What is your art class trying to get to do? And sorry, in advance for this terrible pun, but just look at that through the lens of photography.

Amanda: Okay.

Tim: I couldn’t think of a better way to say it, I’m sorry. But no, just think about your big picture things and think about how can you teach those through photography. If you want to do the elements of art, how do you teach color through photography? How do you teach line through photography? Principles of design? How are you teaching repetition? And how can you do a photo assignment with repetition? Or whether it’s creativity or problem solving, whatever it may be, how do you put that together into a photo curriculum? And again, like we just talked about with Diana, it may take a little bit of time, but it’s definitely doable. A couple of resources that I really want to share because I think they’re good. Number one, of course, the Ask the Experts podcast from just a couple of months ago.

Amanda: Of course.

Tim: We have an hour long episode on teaching photography with a plethora of great ideas and all kinds of questions being answered. There are two great NOW presentations. I will share these in the show notes, but I want to bring them up. One is Christina Brown called Challenges to Foster Creativity. I think she talks about five different photo challenges that she gives her kids, and all of the things that she teaches them within those challenges. So those are ideas that you should absolutely steal and we’ll put those out there for you.

Also, Sarah DeKett, a few years back at the NOW conference, did a presentation called A Comprehensive Guide to Teach Digital Photography. And it has everything she does with challenges and exercises and artist examples and a calendar, just everything you will need that is out there, it’s great. And Candido Crespo also interviewed her when he was doing the Everyday Art Room podcast, so another good podcast to listen to, give you a little bit more information. And then our magazine has a ton of articles on pinhole cameras and digital ideas and darkroom ideas and so much more. So we’ll put together a ton of links in the show notes that you can explore, and anybody else who’s interested can check it out. So Amanda, other thoughts, other things that I’m missing?

Amanda: Yeah, I mean, I think the idea to use a class you already teach as a blueprint to develop a photography course is a great idea. I think sometimes people get really nervous about the medium that they’re teaching. “I’ve never taught printmaking before, I’ve never taught photography before.” But you have taught other things before. And so that course shell will look very similar. You’ll just plug in a different medium, like you said. I think don’t be afraid to play around with non-traditional techniques, especially to hook kids. So there’s sun prints and cyanotypes and mixed media work with photo transfers, or sewing on top of photos. There’s so many different things you can do with photography these days.

And like you said, Tim, anybody can take a great photo. I just took the most beautiful photo I’ve ever taken of the top of the capital dome in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was an afterthought. I was like, “Oh, I should just snap a picture of the top of this. And it just came out so amazingly.” So your kids do have the tools. You don’t need to worry about the type of technology that you have available. Yes, it’s great if kids can learn on a DSLR camera and get really fancy, but they don’t have to. Especially not when you’re teaching it for the first time.

So I think it’s important to dig into, especially at the high school, what are they doing with those camera photos? Those phone photos, what are they trying to say? What are the ideas behind the work they’re doing? And then I just had one more resource to mention. If you literally have never taught photography and you’re really looking for the basics, there is a really good pro pack called Digital Photography Basics that will take you through all of the basics, F stops and shut speeds and all of that kind stuff, if you’re looking for a really comprehensive resource to the teaching side of it.

Tim: Yeah, I love it. All right, so plenty of resources out there. We’ll link to as many things as we can. Okay, as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, we had a ton of questions that came in and we also had some comments, which I really liked. We asked on Instagram, “As you end the school year, what do you want to change for next year?” So I want to share a few of these, Amanda and you tell me which of them stand out.

So first of all, we love that everybody’s reflecting on this school year, thinking about what they want to change for next year. Always appreciate that. And we always talk about that on the podcast. There are quite a few really good answers. So I’m going to read through, I think, six of these, Amanda. And then can you tell me which ones you like or which ones you want to chat about? What do you want to change for next year? Haley Maher said, “More positive messages home.” ItMeKT said, “I want to simplify the grading process.” SmashleyO559 said, “More artist spotlights.” Noelle_Adventure said, “Boost teacher morale.” TheDangZ said, “Continue to increase student independence in work time and cleanup.” And KeraAboutArt, K-E-R-A about art-

Amanda: Oh, that’s nice.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a good word play.

Amanda: That’s a good one.

Tim: “Implement more of what I’m learning or making in my AOEU classes.” So I like a lot of those. Amanda, what stood out to you as far as good idea for things to change for next year?

Amanda: Yeah, well, all of them are great ideas. I don’t want this podcast to be 14 hours long, so I think the one that really stuck out to me first was boosting teacher morale.

So this is a perpetual problem, right? We’re all at the end of our ropes. I think earlier and earlier in the school year, we’re seeing teachers say, “Oh my gosh, this is so hard.” It used to be like that would come in January, February, and now it’s coming a month into school. So as you think about next year, I would say there’s a lot of things that play into morale that are systemic. If you don’t have a supportive school environment, if you don’t have funding at the state level, what are you supposed to do about that? I would really try to figure out what you can control.

Do you have the bandwidth to advocate for something, not everything, but what is the most important thing to you? What is the issue that’s really bogging you down at school? Is it that you don’t have any time between classes? Is it that you have more duties than everybody else? Is it that you don’t have enough budget? Figure out the one thing that you would love to see some movement on, and dedicate your effort there so you’re not spreading yourself too thin. And also potentially band together if you have other teachers in your district who are feeling the same way, maybe you can get on the committee that makes the schedule, or maybe you can go to the PTO, or maybe you can write up a proposal that shows how you would like your duties to be distributed differently and the other things that you’re doing during that time.

I would also say find ways to have fun with your colleagues. So at my old job, we had Snack Attack Wednesdays. So every Wednesday, twice a year you would sign up to bring snacks for the staff. And I cannot tell you how excited I was about snacks on Wednesday. And it’s so, I don’t know, the universe works in mysterious ways, I had an old colleague message me, a colleague and friend message me on Instagram, and she was like, “Oh, do you remember that beer cheese dip from Paula? That slapped so hard.” I was like, “I just was thinking about Snack Attack Wednesdays.” And neither of us have worked there for over 10 years.

Or if there’s happy hours, sometimes it’s hard to drag yourself to those things after school, but forming those relationships with your colleagues and building those so that you actually enjoy going to work or you have somebody to vent to, those are really important things in my mind for morale. And then of course, I would be remiss not to say, you should come to the summer conference because that going to give you a very good jumpstart. There’s lots of fun things. We’re giving away over $10,000 in cash and prizes. If you’ve been to the conference before, the Rainmaker Money Machine will be coming back. And so hanging out with thousands of art teachers is also a great way to boost your morale. So maybe we can add that to the show notes if people want to [inaudible 00:24:06].

Tim: Yeah, that’s a great way to start the year is coming to the NOW Conference, getting things started off on the right foot and giving you some ideas to make the beginning of the year a little smoother. So I think that’s good. Anything else from there that you want to chat about?

Amanda: Oh gosh. I think increasing student independence in work time and cleanup is a good thing to focus on because again, that just gives you more bandwidth to do other things. And maybe that thing is sit down for a minute or take a breath or spend less of your time doing things that other people could be helping you with. So I would say, if you’re thinking ahead to that, just make sure your routines and procedures are extremely clear. Practice your routines and procedures so many times at the beginning of the school year.

And then help students find ways to answer their questions that are not asking you. Because if you can even cut down on 50% of the kids asking you question, your brain is going to be so much clearer during the day. So I think many of us have heard of, “Ask three before me.” Train them to ask other students a question before they come to you. Some people do designated teacher helpers that are rotating, “The yellow table are the teacher helpers for this class period. And do not ask me, go ask them.” Again, I talked about this, projecting the steps. So just making things super, super clear so kids can self-serve and know what to do next. And then include visuals so all different levels of learners can access the information as they’re able to.

Tim: That’s all good.

Amanda: I don’t know. Do you have anything else to add?

Tim: I don’t think I want to add too much to that. I just would say it’s a really worthwhile goal because it’s good for kids and it’s good for you. Like you said, if we can take some of that mental load away, that can be beneficial for you in so many ways and just allows you to be more present when you’re truly needed. And I think that’s a good goal. So I would definitely encourage you to work toward that, help your students work toward that. I wanted to chat just real quick about implementing more of what we’re learning and making in AOEU classes. And I would just say it doesn’t have to be AOEU classes, even if you’re just doing your own art making-

Amanda: Right. Whatever professional development you do.

Tim: Whatever PD you’re doing, whatever art making you’re doing, bring that into your classroom. Kids love seeing that. I always each summer try and get a little better at something. Maybe it’s just I want to get better at watercolor this summer. I want to get better at this particular drawing technique. But then just think about how you’re going to take that back to your classroom. I did the Designing Your Art curriculum course with AOEU back in the fall, and one of the cool things I love there was just having all of the ideas, part of the course was to figure out how you’re going to implement them in the classroom. “This idea goes in third quarter, these ideas wait until fourth quarter.” And I think the important part of that is just making a plan, making a specific way, and having a clear idea of how you’re going to bring that back to your classroom. And I feel like that’s sort of your area of expertise. So can you chime in a little bit?

Amanda: Yeah, yeah. No, I would give that exact same advice. First of all, write it down. Write it down, describe exactly what you want to implement and when you want to implement it, and then put it on your calendar and also block time to make it happen. You can have all of the intentions in the world, but we all know how the beginning of the school year is. And so if you don’t have a dedicated hour or two to really get that project or initiative going, you’re not going to do it. So if we take another thing, so someone said, I think it was simplify the grading process. Maybe you learn about that in a PD, you want to do that. The very, very first step might be to create a spreadsheet. So try to find the literal smallest first step that you can take, because I think getting started on something new is the very hardest part, or maybe it’s gathering all of your rosters. Maybe we can make that even smaller. So think about what the very first thing you need to do to initiate that new idea is and start with that.

Tim: Oh, good advice. No, I appreciate that. Especially me being a terrible procrastinator. Any small steps that can get me going are incredibly helpful. So thank you. Would you like to read last few questions? I feel like I’ve been dominating all of this conversation.

Amanda: I would love to, especially because they’re from Instagram, my favorite place. We have a question from Mrs. Malone’s Classroom, “How do you keep those engaged?” So I think what this is trying to say is, “How do you keep students engaged who won’t bite on anything? This is a great question.” You know those kids who just sit in the corner.

Tim: Yeah, don’t want to do anything. Yeah, it’s really tough. And I will just say, you’re not going to get all of them. That is the reality of teaching these days. You’re not going to be able to get all of them. But I would say my biggest piece of advice would be to do the exciting things. Like what’s more exciting than what’s on their phone? Probably not a lot to be honest. But you need to find things that are engaging and fun. For me, that has always been things that are hands on. And when kids get to construct, when they get to build, when they get to work with their hands, whether that is ceramics or sculpture or just bringing out the Model Magic or the Sculpey or anything like that, figure out some of the best things that you can do with those hands-on materials, get them building.

And honestly, it’s tough to scroll through your phone if your hands are covered in clay. I mean, I’m not saying that they’re going to put that effort in, their phone is face up on the table, you look over the top of it to get the face ID to unlock. I saw a kid trying to scroll with their nose one time just because their hands are covered. But they’re still going to try. But there are a lot of things you can do that get them engaged, get their hands working, get their hands messy, and they generally enjoy those sorts of things. So I’d say dip into your bag of tricks when it comes to hands-on stuff. Janet Taylor, who’s on all the time has talked about how jewelry is her most popular class now because kids just love being able to come in and build and construct. And so anything you can do with that, that’s probably my best piece of advice.

Amanda: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. I would also say, again, this is not going to work for all kids but some kids, some kids if you get to know them better, they are going to be more willing to work for you if they think that you like them. So I like to ask, “What are you obsessed with right now?” It’s a really good question to see what are they really excited about or what could you talk about for hours? I also like to ask if there’s anything that I can do to make their experience in the art room better. I had one kid who was like, “I want to sit under the table.” And I was like, “Okay, go for it.” You know like those kids who you think about, every few months I’m like, “Man, that kid is a grownup now. What are they doing?” But I let him-

Tim: Sitting under the tables at work.

Amanda: Maybe. He sat under the table for probably three full class periods. And then he joined the class. And then he enjoyed coming to art. And it was kind of this moment of me just seeing him and fully accepting him for who he was. He was kind of testing a little bit and I was like, “Yeah, that’s fine.” And it was a turning point for us. You can also try a student survey. Now again, some people are not going to be motivated to fill that out and that’s not going to work for those kids. But in some cases it can give you a little bit of insight into what they’re excited to do in art class or what themes or what subjects they want to work with. So that can give you some insight as well. And then Timothy Bogatz has a pro pack called Motivating Reluctant Students that also might have some ideas for you.

Tim: I feel like I should just dig up my old outlines from that, and that would’ve been a much better answer to this question.

Amanda: All right. Instagram question number two is from Sarah Mathos, “I’m starting a unified art class at my high school, and I need to create a curriculum.” That is more of a statement than a question, but I’m assuming she would like advice about that.

Tim: Yeah, we are not going to grade anybody on grammar or punctuation or what they’re writing in. I think, and know this as adaptive art class, and so I may jump back and forth between those two words as we’re answering. But I would say just kind of going back to what we told Diana and what we talked about with the photography one, think about big picture. What are we trying to accomplish? What are we trying to do? And just figure out where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, what kind of lessons that you’re going to need to do.

And I have never taught an adaptive art class, and I just remember watching colleagues do it. And it’s a struggle because you go through things so quickly and it’s tough to come up with enough lessons and enough ideas to do that. So I would just say, put the call-out for resources. I would talk to other people who have done it before. I would talk to special ed teachers about how you’re going to put it all together, what the kids enjoy, what the kids can do. And I think there’s a lot there that is waiting for you.

Two things that I think can help. Number one, I have no idea if you have the time or if your school would like to pay for it, but AOEU has the Adapting the Art Room graduate course, which is a great course. It has instructional strategies, talks about accommodation, but also assessment and working with special ed staff. And so it’s not just curriculum, it’s more of the holistic approach, which I don’t know how deep we want to dive into all of this, but that’s a great way to do it. And there are a ton of resources on AOEU with, like I said, instructional strategies, techniques for teaching adaptive art, like favorite tools, favorite lessons. And so we’ll link to a bunch of things there that can help Sarah. So Amanda, your thoughts?

Amanda: Yeah, I think this is less about what projects do I do and more about how do I approach this, like you said, holistically. And I think one thing that you really need to get into place before you try to do this, who are your partners at the school? Who are people who you can collaborate with? You need to make sure you’re really confident with differentiation and that you’re doing all you can to understand your students’ needs before you plan. Because if you plan something and then you find out that your kids have limited mobility or something and what you have planned is not going to work at all, that’s going to be a waste of your time and everybody’s time.

There are obviously a lot of different abilities within an adaptive art class. And so you really need to make sure that you understand the strength and differences that your students are coming to your classroom with. If you don’t have time to take a full graduate course, we do have some really, really, really good pro packs. There’s one called Understanding and Implementing IEPs, which again is all about understanding what the kiddos are coming to the classroom with. Another one about collaborating with paraprofessionals. Again, getting those relationships with the students support staff in a really good place is going to benefit you a lot when teaching that type of course. And then we also have one called Teaching Adaptive Art, which would be great obviously.

But think about like Tim said, you are probably going to need more than one activity per class period, whether that’s because kids are going through them more quickly or because they have different abilities and not everybody may be able to do the same lesson at the same time. So again, just really trying to do a lot of that front loading with yourself in terms of who’s coming in? Who are my partners? And then, just like any class you’re teaching, trying to find things that the kids are really enjoying. How do you want your students to feel in your classroom? What are the big ideas you want them to walk away with? Yeah, I think that’s it.

Tim: All right, sounds good. Would you like to find our last question? Are we to our last question for the day?

Amanda: It’s our last question for the day.

Tim: Oh my goodness.

Amanda: All right, this is from JLB4_22, who is wondering about the best way to transition between projects when some students need more time and others don’t.

Tim: Once again, not a question, a statement, but we will go with it.

Amanda: I’m thinking maybe this is how we worded it on Instagram. Do you know what I mean? I think maybe this is our way of speaking now.

Tim: Again, we’re all getting to the same place at the end, so we’re just fine. Okay. So my go-to for this, and I wrote an article, oh my God, probably a decade ago at this point. But I always love to have three things going in my classroom at once. And this is obviously from a secondary perspective, it’s going to be different for elementary. I’ll let Amanda speak to that. But with a secondary art room, I love to have a teacher directed project going on the same time as a student directed project going on the same time as sketchbook assignments or design challenges or whatever else you may want kids working on. And that way everybody’s always working on something.

And so it takes a lot of front loading and takes a lot of options. We have a list of sketchbook assignments that the kids can be working on. We have the projects that I am continually introducing and kids are working on, and then we have a student directed choice project that they’re working on that hopefully will take most of the semester. And sometimes that can be a little tough for them to get into or really realize the scope of what they can do or what they might want to do. But then once they get there, if that’s always there for them to be working on, then I love having that to not only give them a little bit more choice about what they’re doing, but to fill time as well.

So I’ll link to a podcast about that and a article about that and whatever other resources we have just talking about how I do that. But generally just one teacher directed project, like you’re probably used to doing, along with some smaller assignments that kids can be busy with at any time, and then a choice project that they are working on at any downtime or if they need that to replace something else, that’s what they really want to work on, that’s fine. But if you have those three things going, there’s never really any downtime for kids. So I think that’s the best way to approach it at the secondary level.

Amanda: Mm-hmm. If this is elementary, if you teach elementary, there are a few different ways that I’ve seen teachers approach it. So one is to build in an extra day to all of your projects or units more likely and just have a one-day extension lesson. So if kids are done early, they have something else that they can do that’s related to the main project, but maybe it’s, I don’t know, just extending that learning in some way.

Another way that people sometimes handle this is having different levels of details, and some kids get all the way through those different levels of details, and some don’t, right? So there’s drawing, there’s painting, maybe there’s embellishing and maybe some kids only get through the painting part, but their project still looks complete. You can implement a, I hate this because I hate condiments, but a ketchup day once per quarter, some people have a ketchup bottle that they’ll bring out and slap on the wall, which I’m not a fan of, but I do like this idea. So everybody always moves on to the next project no matter if they’re done or not. But on that ketchup day, they can catch up on whatever they need to.

And sometimes I would say sometimes kids don’t finish a project. This is my own personal child, my own personal child comes home with some unfinished work or skips a project every once in a while because he is just a very, very meticulous, careful worker. And his art teacher has been wonderful in working with him and allowing him the space and time to do things to the level of detail that he wants to do. And that’s okay. Art classes is about the product and it’s also about the process. And so for example, he just came home with a color wheel where he had learned to mix the colors, but he was not done adding the details, but he got what he needed to out of that lesson, which was learning to mix the colors. He had made some very complicated Minecraft world, whatever, that he didn’t have time to finish at school, and he can do it at home if he wants to. So those would be my suggestions there.

Tim: All right, love it. Thank you all for all of the questions that you sent in. If we did not get to yours today, we will try and put it in the July mailbag. And we may have another onslaught of questions and we have no idea what’s coming, but we will do our best to get them answered. So thank you all for your support. Thank you all for writing in, but I think we’ll go ahead and wrap it up there. Amanda, would you like to come back next week and do another podcast about green flags and interviews and administrators?

Amanda: Oh my gosh, yes. I love talking about interviewing. It’s one of my favorites.

Tim: It’s going to be awesome, and we would love for y’all to tune in next week. But for now, this is it for us. Amanda, thank you so much.

Amanda: Thank you. Bye.

Tim: Thank you to Amanda, and thank you to all of you who sent in some questions. We appreciate you listening, and we appreciate you being a part of our art teacher community here. Now, we’ll have another podcast with Amanda next week on some green flags and red flags when it comes to interviewing for jobs. Should be a fun one. But until then, feel free to dive into all of the resources that are there in the show notes for you, and hopefully you can find something that will be helpful for you either inside or outside of your classroom.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening, and we would love for you to share anything that you find helpful with someone who you think could use it, whether it’s part of the conversation today, one of the resources that we link to, an article, another podcast, we would really appreciate if you pass it along so we can continue to help as many art teachers as possible. We’ll talk to you next week.

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.