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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« Looking to Next Year and Beyond….Building Climate | Main | Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Rubrics are more than GREAT JOB! »

April 09, 2020

Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Planning, Planning, Personal Choice

By Matt Young

So you spent your first week or two building a positive climate in your class, correct?  Now your students will be chomping at the bit to start work on their first project so do not let them down with some cookie cutter project.  What do I mean by that?  Any project where you are going to get a 100 of the same thing.  I am not talking about teaching multiple projects so kids can have total choice. (That is up to the TAB teachers to blog about) I am talking about teaching the techniques you want your students to learn while allowing them to choose their own outcomes using those techniques. 

Here is an example:  The first sculpture project I teach is a Graffiti sculpture. I talk to the students about Graffiti as an art form, elements and principles of design, clay techniques and terms, and of course the minimum requirements for the project. Sound familiar?  From there, the students get to choose their word, their style of lettering, their finishes (glaze, paint, etc), how it is displayed, etc. The kids are engaged and feel as if they have total choice in their project.  But, I still have met my goal of teaching them techniques, elements, history and, of course, a project. So, everyone wins! Remember to start with your fundamental goals of skills, vocabulary, etc., but to always allow students as much personal choice as possible.

Of course, there needs to be planning.  We spend at least a week or two planning out assignments with our students.  This may be homeworks spread out over those weeks while they are working in class on other projects.  Sometimes we meet with them one on one or in group settings to discuss their ideas.  But you have to give them some sort of feedback.  FEEDBACK is the key! Show them that their planning process is working or not working.  Help them along in their journey and show them how it is supposed to be done.

As your students move from a beginning class to intermediate, advanced, AP, and so on you need to build upon these choice and planning skills as you prepare them to become self sufficient artists that use big ideas to create personal works of art...independently!  Here is a breakdown of how we build our kids up to total autonomy by the time they hit AP.  This includes 2D, 3D, Computer Graphics, and Photography :

  1. Foundations Classes - Have at least 2 planning checks with the kids per project.  For example one homework where students gather many images of a ceramic project they like and why they like them.  Then another homework where they design their own ceramic piece in the style of one of their gathered images and how they have put their own spin on it.
  2. Intermediate Level Classes - Teach multiple techniques with multiple outcomes and multiple media over a series of a week or two. Over that time students are bringing in their own subject matter to draw. Spend a couple days sketching views of their own still life.Then you talk with them about how to light it and what media they are going to draw it in.
  3. Advanced Level Classes - The discussion of the Big Idea or Enduring Understandings the move toward autonomy.  Students begin planning out their own projects and begin to focus on art that has meaning to them while exploring media options. They present their plans to the class and accept peer feedback before finalizing their projects with the teacher.


Now I am lucky enough to teach with a department that has embraced this process.  I think the hardest thing to overcome is getting everyone to get on board so that students in all of the art classes have the same expectations.  We all get a smile when a student moves from one level to another and gets another teacher and that teacher has the same high expectations of planning and personal choice in project creation.  The kids know that we are unified in having high expectations for their work.

The best part we have seen in all of really want to take their work home because they are invested in it.

Example 1  Example 2

Example 3



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