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...Rubrics are more than GREAT JOB! | Main | Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Moving from Testing to Talking »

April 21, 2020

Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Reverse Engineering, the Journey

By Matt Young

I think most of us go into a project with the thought of what the end product is supposed to look like.  “I would like the students to create a bowl with an illustration of their favorite poem on it.” Sound familiar?  But is our role as art educators to have students produce works that are a copy of what we have in mind or is our job to teach skills and design thinking that allow for students to create works with meaning and personal choice?

Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but this is why we have National Standards. If you look at the highest level of those standards it will say something along the lines of generating plans, solving problems, choosing materials...you get the idea. We want the students to have a voice and to make their own choice.

So, I propose what I consider a radical change of thought; reverse engineer your projects.  Think about the techniques, tools, materials, and terms you would like your students to understand as they move forward.  Then begin to build your projects around these goals. 

Let's revisit the bowl assignment from above. I used to do this assignment as part of my beginning ceramics unit. Afterward, I would have many of them left in class or found in the trash.  Not every kid wants a poem bowl.  So, I looked at what I wanted them to learn: pinch, slab, and coil techniques.  Learn ceramic terms. Some art history involving ceramic artists. I first teach all the techniques, terms, and history to the students.  Then we talk about how we can use this knowledge to design ceramic projects that have meaning to them.  Then they build...(drum roll) what they have designed with their new knowledge!

Now, instead of poem bowls, I have basketball mugs, dragon teapots, and hello kitty vases (Probably not MY first choice, right?). The amount of work for me is just a little bit more regarding time and materials.  But now the majority of my projects go home.  Students are more focused on their work as it has more meaning to them. Most importantly, it is moving my students forward to my end goal of having them be self sustained artists fueled by personal motivation.  They are starting to develop confidence in their ability to make choices, which I fear we are losing in our youth. (How many times have you heard, “Just tell me what to make to get an A”.) My students know it is not about making a particular thing, but about completing a journey.

My challenge to you this week is to take a look at your projects. Start with one or two and begin to reverse engineer them. Don’t just settle for the students to ‘Create a street with buildings.’ using perspective. Teach the students perspective and design within the context of historical works.  Then have the students design a project that has meaning to them.  Not only will this start your students on the path of design thinking, but your hallways will look way cooler with the diversity of projects on the walls :)

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-MY

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