Monday, January 19, 2009

Our Fourth Year of Choice

This is my fourth year to have a choice-based art room. It is satisfying to observe that students who have been with me for several years have grown in their skills, creativity, and craftsmanship. They seem to need no direction at all from me. I have many older students who automatically use a variety of media to create a mixed media art work, and many who go to the painting station to finish a cardboard sculpture. I seem to have drawing clubs in each class, in which groups of students who love to draw do so day after day with concentration, improving their drawings of their favorite subjects. I am going to introduce plaster cloth soon to the sculpture area, to see what the students can create with it or how they use it to add to existing sculptures.

I currently have a group of second grade girls working on a village. I had shown them how to fold origami houses during one of my introductions. They have each created a variety of houses, decorated the interiors and exteriors, and made cars and families to go with them. I am going to encourage them to mount these on a large sheet of roll paper for a mural.

I just posted a mural on the wall outside of my room that two fifth grade girls made. It has collaged portions, stickers, and splatter paint, and looks similar to many of the modern art creations that I have seen in museums. Jackson Pollock is one of the artists that I introduced this year, so these girls were familiar with controlled splatter painting.

One new activity this year has been wire sculpture. All of the light fixtures in the building were being replaced with more eco-friendly and economical ones the week after school was out. I was in and out of the building, and noticed all the boxes of scrap wire in red, yellow, blue, white, and brown. I asked the electricians to save them for me, and now have enough wire to last a couple of years. The students have loved sculpting with this material, and adding clothing made from the colored duct tape that I found at an overstock store.

I purchased two new sets for our building station: Dado Cubes, and Dado squares. I introduced the sets early in the year, before I opened the cardboard construction station for the younger students. I think that using these sets has helped them to understand slotted construction with cardboard. I have noticed them using slotted cardboard pieces more than they have in other years.

All in all, I continue to strongly advocate for this method of teaching. I see my students developing a wider variety of skills, and a much broader knowledge of techniques than they ever did before when I taught traditional lessons, in which every student made the same project. I am able to introduce master artists much more frequently in our daily 5 minute introductions of each class.
The questions that they ask during our introductions are about the visual displays in the art room, in which I have many prints of master art works, as well as menus for each station: drawing, paper, fiber arts, which includes weaving and stitchery, computer graphics, construction, wire sculpture, painting, and clay. I am able to switch out stations at will, adding such things as clay, printmaking, and papier mache and plaster cloth.

Many of my students tell me that this is their favorite specialties class, and I believe them when I hear them groan when it is time to clean up. How much more satisfying can teaching be?


jondodge said...

Hello, I would just like to thank you for your inspiring blog about choice based learning. I am just finishing up my first year as a teacher. I teach art in an inner city elementary school in Memphis, TN. I am also in a teaching education program as required for my licenser and I am doing a research paper on TAB. Your blog has not only been extremely helpful to me for my report, it has been an inspiration to me as a teacher. I have been struggling the whole year with how to get through to my students and get them to enjoy art making. Your account and the others I have found in my research has given me hope for the future. I plan to find a way to implement these strategies in my own class room, and I expect to see a very positive difference. Thank you so much.
-Jonathan Dodge

p.s. If you would like to reply you may emai me at

Anonymous said...

I think the stations sound great. I am a teacher of many years who wonders about clean up...and waste. I know that my budget is small and I must ration what students use to make it through the whole year.