Friday, June 19, 2009

Using demonstration lessons to pique student interest

My gourd post generated encouraging remarks from my readers while also eliciting helpful suggestions for presenting information for my students. For those of you who don't know, I am a high school art teacher in an urban school district. Generally speaking, most of my students did not ask to be in my class. They were put there out of necessity, namely to fill a slot in their schedule. As such, engaging them can be a challenge.

The consensus seems to be that demonstrations are the way to give students a sense of my expectations and visually illustrate how to go about using the media at hand. Well, no argument here.

Painting exercises

I plan on modifying my assignments for my painting (and, probably, drawing) class to allow for some of the suggestions given by some online friends: Cyndy Carstens, Susan Martin Spar, Liz Holm, Lee Claughton Taylor and Gary Keimig. I normally use white, gray and black geometric shapes. I plan to continue that practice but add other exercises preceding those as suggested from these fine contributors. Eggs, eggs in a bowl on a white cloth and a crumpled up piece of paper will probably make an appearance in some form. I plan to exploit the whole white-on-white composition to drive home the importance of value. It's the most important concept to get across to my students; more important than line or color in my mind.

I'll then move to my normal exposure of black and gray, using cubes and spheres. I next progress to small groupings using colored building blocks. So, while the concept of simple shape is there, the introduction of color with the irregular shape changes things up some. Eventually, I progress to flowers and the other detritus associated with still life compositions.

Demonstration difficulties

My struggle to reach the demographic I am working with poses the following problems:
  1. My students see my class as not something meaningful to their future. Despite my efforts to let them know that this could, if nothing else, become a hobby that will provide great satisfaction if they would only give themselves over to the process and practice, they remain fixated on narrowly looking at art as non-essential. I think this will remain a point of tension for them and I'll need to find ways to simply cope with their discomfort and a certain level of frustration on my part.

  2. Many of my students do not have the attention span to sit through a 15 demonstration. Even though I had read about this before I started teaching, I still found it disturbing when it actually manifested itself. Ironically, even though many students comment on the end product of the demo, they still talk to one another instead of paying attention (and then ask me for help leaving me little recourse accept to give them a one-on-one demonstration).

    I am hoping to work on streamlining my demos but that poses problems simply because if I go too fast they will miss the application I address while I dialogue during the demo. I coming back to the reality I keep hearing from others--demos are essential to most learners. As such, my students need the exposure and I, in turn, need to press them to pay attention and find a consequence for when they choose not to listen. However, is that going to mean I tell those students I can't help them because the made a choice not to participate in the learning process as I've laid it out? I may need to speak with my administration to get their feedback since I will need their support should more students choose to fail because of their stubborness.

    Then again, I have to give these students credit when they draw such a hard line in the sand and then stick to it. It's sad they don't apply that stick-to-it'iveness to actually learning what I'm trying to teach them.

  3. Need to be tested on the bare essentials of the painting process so I know they get certain foundational principles. Presently, I don't test them at all except to verbally check for understanding during class time when I walk from student to student.

    I know such a thought will sound sacrilegious to some art educators. Having been to both regional and national art education conferences, I know I'm on the outs on the concept of testing. For the classes I've sat in at those conferences, I've found the concept of testing in art classes--specifically for application-related knowledge--to be frowned upon.

    Generally, I haven't tested much at all. My classes consist of project grades and in-class assignments. However, moving into my third year I believe more strongly on the importance of testing certain information. My students need to have some concepts committed to memory so they can begin building bridges with each painting project. I see now how so many remain ignorant as to why they are doing what they are doing. Sadly, they do not see the importance of linking together what they've learned. It's something I'm going to have to attend to.
Thanks go out again, to those who've provided me with feedback on the whole demonstration process. Any additional suggestions is always appreciated.