Monday, October 28, 2013

The All-You-Can-Color Bar :: Student-centered Art Education

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I teach all of the foundational level studio art courses at my school and I also serve as the department head of the visual arts and in my time leading to me taking the leadership role I now have, I have found that the best way to facilitate the foundational level art courses is by allowing them to be exploratory in nature.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard the student artists that come through my class ask things like, "Can I use *insert any color here*?" or (during a mixed media project) "Am I allowed to use *insert any dry medium here*?" While it might seem exasperating for me to field these questions, I actually don't get exasperated. More than anything, it breaks my heart to hear the student artists ask these things in their obviously timid ways.

I always start the year with a pre-assessment assignment that allows me to see how much they might already know/can do as well as gauge how confident (or not usually) they are starting out. My favorite type or pre-assessment is one that employs mixed-media approaches. This year I took some brilliant notes from a fellow art education blogger and made oversized foldables telling and and showing the elements of art. (I will be sharing these with you hopefully soon even though they are weeks overdue for this.) The endeavor worked out really well because it allowed me to preview some curriculum I would be instructing upon for this whole semester and it also allowed me to do one of my favorite things which was to set up a "color bar" for them to just dig right into.

It's taken me some years to figure out brands/types and then amass the wide array of dry media that you see above. For your convenience, here are links and more detailed descriptions of each of the things that are pictured above:

Now, just from the links, you might note that everything that I have here is quite high dollar and I just want to be clear and say that I didn't buy all of these just this year and what you see is replenished/replaced on a rotating basis. The Mr. Sketch classpack is one that was purchased two years ago. The Sharpie packs were purchased on major markdown two and three years ago. The Prismacolor classpack and Crayola crayon sets were purchased this year but that's only because they were up for that since I haven't bought either in three years. Rotating the stock so it is replenished in this way takes patience and plenty of time but I have found that it pays off because it allows for us to have higher quality materials that actually will last longer amounts of time. The other thing is that sometimes when the rotation to replenish/replace things comes up for something, there is almost always room in the budget to do so and we can pass down materials to other content areas - like the Social Studies or Science departments that have their students do lots of coloring of maps, diagrams, etc. 

Anyway, I got very much off focus for why I even brought this up but my point was to show you a little bit of what I do in my art classroom with the whole business of just about opening my art supply cabinets to them and just letting the student artists use whatever they want of their heart's desire. I really REALLY like doing things in this very student-centered way because it encourages and supports them to be more personally invested since they are making even more of the major decisions in the creative process of their work. They get excited when I don't tell them what they can't do and instead tell them and SHOW them that I really mean it that they can do a whole lot of what they wanted to do to begin with. 

I have also found that giving them the reigns in their own creativity actually wastes less supplies/materials because they know that if they are wasted they won't be there for them to use to begin with in addition to the fact that keeping them neat and tidy will provide for a much easier navigation of them. The whole "a place for everything and everything in its place" rules in the art classroom because the students realize the value of taking care of things by putting them back! One last thing that makes the all-you-can-color bar even more incredible? I am convinced that it helps the students to learn WAY more because I am holding them back (or things in the art studio back from them) way less. Keep in mind that I do this not just for "free art" days but also for major projects.

If you have never tried an "all-you-can-color" bar before, I encourage you to try it at least once! You might be surprised how much easier it is to manage than you anticipated and you might be even more surprised at how your students react to it (both in behavior and with class performance) in incredibly positive ways. 

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