Monday, September 17, 2012

Best Practices: A student-centered studio classroom | Visual Art

I cannot tell you how worn down I am already with teaching/working and it is not even close to the end of school year let alone the first semester OR marking period. Last week I got an FYI email from the academic dean that said, "Guess what! We are halfway through the first marking period!!!" WOW. Just... WOW.

Now, I already have a hard enough time knowing what day it is as it is (and usually I don't know what day it is) but I am really REALLY bad about knowing what day it is in the grand scheme of things and deadlines pop up on me all the time forcing me into "do or die" mode at any given time. This isn't because I procrastinate though. Really, it's because I'm so caught up in the moment and investing myself completely that I am not thinking about what is beyond that as much.

Take my current endeavor for classroom management as evidence for that...

One thing I am determined to do is make the studio classroom as student-centered as possible. While such a thing requires an incredible amount of planning, prepping, and then taking out and then putting back in of things - I am SO pleased to report that all of my efforts are WORKING!!!!! There have been less and less incidents of such things like students asking me questions like, "May I use [insert any color, shape, design idea, etc. in this place]?"

Now, I totally get that school is meant to help teach conformity and the importance of conformity. Just the same, I have found it's been sort of damaging to the creation/production of successful artwork. I have found it has made student artists to be more timid, far from confident, kind of afraid to try things out in order to answer a question or satisfy a curiosity they might have, and just generally unwillingly to be autonomous if they can help it. Perhaps this is just a high school thing and I have really REALLY obedient students (the latter is VERY true and I am abundantly blessed to have this) and this is why they want specific directions in order to follow them but I don't know. The one thing I do know is that it has squeezed the beautifully organic creativity that I know would otherwise be there from the hearts and imaginations of my wonderful student artists.

In the past I have really compartmentalized each of the student project endeavors with a general attitude of segregation between the mediums we use. I have thought of it like, "Now we are doing scratch-art and when we are doing it that is ALL we will do." This has left very little room for organic creativity and even original thought to occur. I never realized how damaging this was to the act or creation OR the way it was a damper or even elimination of original thought or ideas.

I mean, definitely there are certain types of work where it isn't possible to do more than just one type of medium but if I don't have a requirement to limit mediums, why not allow the students to decide how and when to layer them OR if and when to use them at all? If I provide them with a place where their exploration and experimentation is not only suggested but also aggressively encouraged and fostered, it is certain that they WILL be more creative because they almost can't not be as the situation dictates and the objective of the projects require. For all of these reasons I have decided to try and make every possible medium that could be used available to the students for every single project we do. How they use them, and IF they use them ends up being completely and totally up to them. 

One last way that I really manage and facilitate this very student-centered approach to art education and instruction? I do my best not to tell them what I think and I push them to tell me what they think about how and what they are doing. I probe them to look intently upon their own work so that they can not only find things to articulate and explain about their work but even more so pushes them to find the words to say about what they are doing especially if they don't have them immediately. It is common practice for the students to ask me what I think and for me to just look at them quizzically and then turn the question back to them  and say, "Well... what do YOU think?" Despite what this might imply that I don't answer their questions or give them specific directions that would help instruct them in the most constructive way, it's not that. Rather, I allow them to start the conversation, I (immediately and mentally) assess what they say in order to understand where they are coming from/what they understand, and then I steer the conversation based on that.

So far I am dog tired by doing things the way I am doing but you know what? It has been SO worth it. It has been SOOO incredibly worth every last ounce of effort and energy. My classes as quickly becoming the "well-oiled machines" I was so praying and hoping they would be and the student artists are truly going beyond making things and truly being imitators of the almighty Lord by CREATING.

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