Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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September 01, 2012

Who Owns the Learning?

When my school district sent out their annual “welcome back to school” letter in early August I read that the theme for the school year would be Who Owns the Learning? This question was first posed to our district from our Keynote speaker last year, Alan November. Listen to his message here.  He focuses on students becoming independent, taking ownership in their learning, and ultimately be the ones working the hardest in our classrooms to achieve success.

What does this mean for me as an elementary art teacher? Sure, I want my students to be invested in the learning, to get enthusiastic about art, and take pride in their work. But, even if I see evidence of this already, I’m sure there is plenty more I can do to help my students Own Their Learning

Here are some strategies I want to implement in my classroom this year to help move towards these outcomes:

Creativity Challenges: I want to give groups of students open-ended creative challenges without directed instruction where they are expected to collaboratively figure out solutions. I tried this with some second graders during lunch recess last year when I asked them to make an inflatable spooky ghost sculpture out of some garbage bags, markers, tape and a box fan.  Here is what it looked like: (They even filmed this video).

I have 3 voice recorder devices attached to images in my classroom. When students push the button the recorded message gives them advice, tips, or reminders. When I say these things it sounds like a nag, but when the Nag-O-Matic says it, they laugh and listen. I have one, for example, that reminds students to use Light Sketchy Lines while drawing instead of pressing so hard that you can't erase and change mistakes. The voice recorder features the actual voice of Mr. Pencil, the star of Interview with Mr. Pencil and spokespencil for sketching. See it in action here.  My hope is that my gimmicky devices will translate into more ownership in learning now that I don’t have to offer advice (nag) since they are seeking it out on their own.

Problem-Based Learning: I love asking my students to make songs or videos that help solve classroom problems. This gives them a chance to own the solution to the problem and teach it to their classmates. I know that they tune me out when I say the same thing over and over, but they listen when it’s an entertaining video by kids. Last year I asked a group to make a song about the proper way to enter the art room. Their song turned out so cute that I asked them to make it a video. I plan on using it often. Here it is: Push up Your Sleeves.


The question of who owns the learning leads to a shift in pedagogy in the classroom that I hope to work incrementally towards. Teachers love to control the learning environment. They’ve been taught that it’s part of good classroom management. Teachers plan, prepare, and deliver content all day. They work very hard.  Now, let’s see if we can get kids to work even harder than the teacher. Please share your ideas and strategies for helping students own the learning.

-Tricia Fuglestad


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Taking ownership of their learning - I've thinking about this quite a bit lately-as a parent and as a teacher. There is such a difference in children (and adults) who want to learn something for themselves vs. 'learning' because someone told them to. I want to cultivate this mindset in my children!

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