Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Adventures of a New Artists' Instructor

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." - Erich Fromm

You've seen the posts. Our New Artists love painting, drawing and being creative. Now for some behind the scene action!

Our goal is to teach elementary students about the fundamentals of art, provide experiences to use many kinds of mediums, and bring in guest artists to enlighten our students about what careers in the visual arts can look like. Pretty awesome, right?

I wanted to create this post for a couple reasons. First, the field of education is very giving and the more we share about our process, the stronger the field becomes. Second, it's important to document our process so we can grow here at Brashear and the general community can gain insight. And lastly, this will provide future AmeriCorps members with an understanding of what the program looks like from an instructor point-of-view.


Now for the low down. As an instructor, I have had a lot of fun researching art projects and creating lessons. At first, I was quite nervous about where to start. Do I have the tools to enlighten our students and to cultivate creativity?

Here is what I do have to offer, I have my B.A. in Psychology and I am pursuing my M.A. in Counseling. I don't have a teaching background but I have experience planning intentional programs, leading workshops and learning about human developmental theory. And, I don't have an art degree but I have been creating art most of my life and was once an art major (I took about 12 credits of fine art classes and 6 credits of art history). While this in no way qualifies me to be an art teacher, it does provide me with some basic understanding of theory, application, and history.

Between my knowledge of art and psychology, my skill of planning intentional programs, and my creative abilities, I knew I was able to be intentional in creating an art curriculum. However, I didn't know my students yet and I didn't have a lot of information about how previous AmeriCorps members taught this program in the past. Hence, my nervousness.


While keeping in mind the development and goals of the youth I am serving, I really wasn't sure what to expect that first day. I didn't want to go too far beyond their reach but I didn't want to bore them either. So, I planned two simple lessons on lines for the first day and hoped for the best.

When I got there and started teaching, I realized quickly that this was going to be a little more challenging than I expected. Each student brought a unique level of skill and ability. How was I to balance support and challenge to facilitate learning? How was I to offer an opportunity for each of them?

So, I took a step back. I had to let go of perfection and I just had to accept that some lessons would be more challenging for some students than others. And that is when I started to focus more on diversifying the lessons. I kept thinking, "If one student has fun with acrylics, maybe another student would have just as much fun learning with pencil." And I also thought, "If I create a lesson that requires a lot of patience, maybe I could follow it with a lesson that is more expressive." This thinking has seemed to work well so far.


Before I met the students, I started a simple curriculum map. It was just a table where I mapped out dates, project ideas, and art mediums. Most of the hours I use for planning the New Artists lessons are spent researching art projects and trying to figure out what's best for our students. I especially like to read about the experiences of other teachers who try different projects so I can learn from them. But, there is another layer of complication. I also had to consider if we had the supplies to facilitate these different projects or if there was a way to supplement certain materials with another we might have. Thus, I had to really take in our art supply closet and figure out what we had, what was useful and how much of the materials we had.

Once I got a feel for where my students were and once I learned more about my resources, I adjusted and made changes to the original curriculum map. Then, I created a template for my lesson plans and made sections for a learning objective, an activity plan, and a materials list. This kept me organized and prepared throughout the year.


What about the lessons and the content? In order to provide awesome opportunities and art projects, I had to immerse myself into the Art Education world. I had a book on my desk from a previous AmeriCorps member titled, How to Teach Art to Children, Grades 1-6 - Teacher Resource Book. This book really helped me layout my curriculum so that the lessons would build off each other.

Another resource that allowed me to reflect on how I taught lessons was a wonderful blog post titled, How to Draw Out the Very Best Artwork from Your Students, by Cheryl Trowbridge. Additionally, I spent hours on Pinterest. Check out the Brashear Kids' Art for Kids board on Pinterest to see all the awesome things we have found in our research for elementary aged art projects.

I spent a lot of time on Pinterest in their education and art sections. I used keywords like "teach art to kids", "elementary art", "art ed", "education, art", etc. etc. etc. This led to a lot of inspiration for my curriculum maps and art lessons. These "pins" inspired my lessons, my worksheets, and my curriculum map.


Also, I created art myself! I wanted to feel things out and try these projects for myself. It helped me figure out what should be simplified and explained. Going through the creative process myself allowed me to be grounded and put my shoes in my students' shoes. I shied away from using my examples in class unless it was to show a specific technique because a few wanted to copy the content and the technique. I wanted to encourage them to create their own using the techniques learned.

Now that we are into the Spring semester and I have become acclimated to instructing this program, I feel pretty comfortable in researching and planning art lessons. Some lessons are great, many okay, and a couple which are mediocre. It's a hit or a miss and there are many factors that go into a successful lesson that are out my control. For example, I recently instructed our students through a pointillism lesson and I learned that it was just a bit too much for our young students. While a couple students enjoyed using dots to make an image, the spirit of the class was just not in it. So, it's a constant learning process. There is no one right way to teach kids to create art.


The biggest lessons I have taken away is that the process of creating art can be much more important than the finished pieces of art. Also, 1 hour is not that much time when being creative. I have to constantly remind myself that simple is much better than evolved. And lastly, it's about creativity! I just need to have fun with it and cultivate a fun, supportive environment for the students. That's what it's all about at the end of the day.

If you have any input or want to share your experience and words of advice, please comment below. I'm always on the hunt to learn more.

- Corey

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