Art Teacher Talk

5 FoolProof Strategies for Art Classroom Success

The Fabulous Class Opener: Greetings to a World of Creativity

The Door. I stop whatever I’m doing and I stand there. Outside. As they enter, I am speaking to them one by one, complimenting a new haircut, a particularly artsy outfit, or just telling them to “get in here, we have fabulousness to attend to!” In my art classroom, fabulousness is the only goal, and everything emanates from this one goal to create an environment that allows for every student to be creatively unique. This blog will further explore alternative class-opening techniques, ensuring your students start each session with a dose of inspiration.

When we think of students coming into the room at the start of class, we tend to consider this a chaotic time. Especially in art class. Everyone is moving around the room, finding their work in their cubby or their folder – or “not” finding it…”Miss! Someone stole my artwork! It’s gone.” I can actually hear this as I type…lol.

Once students are inside, allow me to suggest another way to begin your class. Students come in and they sit and wait for your direction. Before all else. No matter what kind of day it is – presenting a new concept or a studio work day – before all else comes your “Call to Action.” 

There is something energizing about addressing students every day at the beginning of class, thanking them for showing up, and rallying them to the task at hand. It gives you a chance to remind them what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how long they have to complete it. Repetition is a powerful learning tool, and consistency is equally as powerful.

When students come into your room expecting a kind word to begin their day, the entire learning climate shifts in a more positive direction.

The Concept of Time Breakdown: Transforming Student Perceptions of Time in the Art Classroom 

How do your students view the concept of “Time”? Our concept of time often clashes with students’ perception.  How urgent is the phrase, “You have a week to finish this.” As a teacher, I hear, “Wow, a week!, I have all kinds of time!” As students, who have almost no working concept of time, this phrase sounds like an eternity.

So we as art teachers get really bent when the end of the week gets here and only half the class is finished. There are a variety of reasons that this could be happening, and we’ll save those reasons for another post. Today, let’s focus on the concept of “Time” as it relates to student procrastination.

As the art instructor, communicating timeframes in a way that resonates with students is crucial. Break down projects into manageable chunks, allowing them to see the progress over shorter intervals. Here is a strategy that works wonders, and I use it every day. 

First, at the beginning of the unit, lesson, project, etc. go to the board and write every class period available for the completion of the task. I write them in a column at the side of the board…but not by “day” – Monday, Tuesday, etc.  I write the time in terms of minutes. In our case, it was 88 minute block periods.  If I was giving them a week for an art project, I would write it on the board like this: “11/12/2023 – 88 minutes.” And then beneath that would be 11/13 – 88 minutes, and so on…don’t write the word “Monday” – as the days of the week conjure up all kinds of preconceived notions. Focus on the date and the amount of minutes. Total the number of minutes at the bottom of the column and write the number BIG.

At the end of every class, I go to the board right before my locker room wrap-up speech and I erase the date and time of that day …slowly…dramatically. Time. Is. Gone. Then I re-calculate the number of minutes left and put the new total at the bottom of the column.

This has a two-fold positive effect. First, you’ll see students have a “light bulb” moment about how long they really have to complete the assignment. Second, you’ll see students work with more focused intention. Sometimes we just have to explain what time actually is and how a “day” is not 24 hours, it’s 88 minutes.

Celebrating Progress: From Chaos to Community: Embracing Progress in the Art Classroom Beyond the Folder Model

Remember that chaos I was talking about in the beginning of this post? You can rid yourself of all of it in one single procedure change. 

Instead of students having portfolios, folders, drawers for their work, have students pin all in-progress work to the board (or wall) at the end of each class period. This will take some creativity and rearranging of wall space, but it can be done. This simple change will allow your students to use their space as a communal celebration of artistic progress, instead of the chaos and anxiety of scattered folders and messy cubbies.

Students who know their work will go on the board at the end of each class (for the whole world to see) are more likely to try harder, as they know everyone will see their progress – or lack thereof. 

This also helps to bring your class together as a community. At the end of class, after your closing locker room wrap up speech, kids can see what everyone has been up to during class, and admire and encourage their peers and their work. I saw this on a daily basis, and I had a teacher tell me once that one of her middle school boys was admiring the wall at the end of class and said, “Wow, Ms. Douglas, we are getting better every day!” She nearly fell over. Kids are very observant and they really do enjoy encouraging one another, despite popular opinion to the contrary.

If you have cinder block walls, options for display are a “clothesline” approach, with twine strung from one corner to the other and kids using clothespins to attach work. Another idea is peel and stick ½” bulletin board squares. I use these in my office and they are very dense and the pins never fall out – check them out here:

I hear from art educators all the time that this is their number one game changing strategy for leveling up the quality of artwork in their classroom. As a side bonus, it’s super easy to take attendance, as once everyone has retrieved their work from the wall, whoever’s work is still up there, is either late or absent.

Expressing Daily Gratitude: Cultivating Thankfulness: A Daily Dose of Gratitude in the Art Atmosphere 

I call this one the daily dose of thanksgiving. It’s really simple, free and easy to implement. With a few minutes till the end of class, I call for clean-up – which is a piece of cake because no one is crowding around the folders, stashing untouched work in a cubby, or climbing over each other to get to one drawer for the whole class. Everyone goes to their class’s area of the room – pins up their work and sits down. 

I then tell them two things. Thank you again for coming to school and giving your very best during our 88 minutes. I appreciate your presence and your efforts. As you can see, we now have 352 minutes remaining on our assignment. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow and watching you create even more fabulous artwork.

Expressing gratitude becomes a daily ritual, infusing positivity into your art class. Implement a seamless clean-up routine, acknowledging students’ efforts and appreciating their presence. Discover how this daily dose of thanksgiving contributes to a positive learning environment.

Closing Each Class with Intention: Artful Motivation in Every Locker Room Wrap-Up

This is the locker room wrap up speech where I either go all Vince Lombardi on them or simply explain what the next class will bring. It may be me saying, “As you can see, we now have 352 minutes remaining on our assignment. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow and watching you create even more fabulous artwork.” 

Or it may be, “Tomorrow we begin examining the next concept in our learning scaffold. Be prepared to take the skills you learned in this unit and apply them to your next chapter and be amazingly confident  in the process.”

Whatever it is, the closing helps them know that you notice the work from today and you look forward to the work they will produce tomorrow. There is no graduate level classroom management sorcery here. It’s simple. Everyone likes to be noticed. Students are no exception.For more in depth Classroom Management strategies and accompanying community-building classroom resources, please check out my flagship Art Educator Workshop – FoolProof Fabulousness Classroom Management Strategies for Success

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