As a teacher of professional development art courses for the past 17 years, I’ve noticed one consistent truth: teachers are reluctant to teach art because they are afraid. Afraid that to effectively teach art, they must “perform” artistically in some way for their students. They repeatedly tell me things like, “I can’t draw” and “I’m not an artist”. My message to them is twofold. First of all, experience has shown me that everyone is creative to some degree — we all just have different levels of art experience and exposure. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, a teacher doesn’t need to be a trained artist, or to be able to draw, in order to present successful, meaningful, and powerful art lessons in their classroom. In fact, I would argue that the most important thing a teacher needs to be when teaching art, is what I would call a “monitor/motivator”, and one of the most profound phrases in the motivator’s toolkit is, “take another look”.
Just as adults can be intimidated by art, so too are the students we teach. It’s no surprise that the higher up in grade level one looks, the more fear and trepidation one will see in the students. This is where the power of the “monitor/motivator” role comes in. By closely monitoring your students as they work on any given art experience, you will be able to support and motivate them as needed, helping to build their confidence. Actively move around the room offering constructive, encouraging words and comments while you closely look at what they are working to create. When students ask for help and want you to solve an art problem for them, resist the urge to do so and suggest that they “take another look”. Ask questions that will encourage their thinking and analysis of their own work, and of the problem at hand. This is critical thinking made manifest.
Because of a limited exposure to art among other things, students often think they are finished with an art making experience long before they really are. This is the crucial point where you can acknowledge what they’ve already accomplished by saying something like, “That’s a really great start!” and then offer the empowering questions, “What else can you do here? Take another look… what else can you explore?” This suggestion to “take another look” lets the student know that there is still more to see and to do, and that your expectation is that they will continue to search for it. You are challenging them to push past what might have been a quick, simple, and safe solution on their part, while letting them know that you have faith in their ability to go beyond it. As you consistently monitor and motivate your students during art experiences, you will see your students look to you for answers less and less, as they begin to trust themselves more and more.
As Maria Montessori once observed, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” Helping your students develop into inquisitive, self-directed, life-long learners is possible, and connecting meaningful, authentic art experiences to your curriculum can foster this development. Please click here to see the affordable, convenient, and self-paced professional development art courses I teach through Fresno Pacific University. (* No art experience needed or required!)