Reflection: The Choreographer of Instruction

As someone with an abundance of ideas, I begin every lesson with a process of paring down and simplifying something that in my excitement has shot into a tangle of paths that loop and circle around every possibility the content holds. Somewhere in the jumble of things a single spark illuminates, and from it I then begin to expand with clearer direction. Sometimes it all begins by with a learning standard, a skill I want to teach, or a medium I want my students to work in. Other times I remember something from my own education that I want to pass onto my students, I see or read something that inspires me, or I look at a class and see a need for something. My favorite is when I know about something that already interests my students and I want to map a path that allows them to use that interest to guide an art exploration. However, where it really starts is in imagining my students feeling successful, and no matter the content or materials I begin to devise a plan of how to get them there.

As I have now had the opportunity to bring my lessons into practice I always want my students to feel confident and comfortable as creators and thinkers. When I began working with students at Nicholas Senn High School during my student teaching apprenticeship, art was a class they were taking because they had to. While I can’t claim that any of them would have gone back and taken the class required or not, I strongly believe that more than a few began to think about the class with a different perspective. I was designing lessons that appealed to a teenage demographic and caught their attention through the use of multimedia presentations using Prezi, and videos. I was continually archiving interesting images to share with them on Pinterest, and they wanted to learn how to make art like that. I had gotten to know my students, so I knew how to plan for them.

As a choreographer of instruction, my strongest abilities are in creating interesting and engaging lessons, and in arts integration. My first graders had completed a residency with the Hubbard Street Dance Company, so I helped them carry their new knowledge into the art room as we looked at the body in action and moved on to talking about Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. They made a series of drawings that looked at how the lines and shapes of the body change with movement. Then they traced each other in action poses and filled the shapes with mixed media as a nod to Cave’s work. Along the way we watched a silhouetted performance from an Olympic opening ceremony, and students wrote diamante poems about the actions they posed in for their artwork. Second grade studied constellations and their myths from cultures around the world. Each student invented their own constellation creature which they sculpted out of foil and tape. They wrote the stories of how their creatures ended up in the sky. With a background in writing many of my lessons offer meaningful opportunities for students to build literacy skills in conjunction with the arts.

Having recently taken up playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) as a hobby, I’ve been interested in the potential of role playing games (RPGs) as an educational structure. For an assignment in our Secondary Methods class, my classmate Carolina Arroyave and I designed a high school level art history RPG. I was eager to test out the concept and found an opportunity with my 4th and 5th grade students. Bell School, where I was student teaching has a D&D club. Thirty-seven students meet every Friday to break into groups and play. I immediately hooked students as we began lessons on Cubism and Visual Music by having each student design a character whose identity they would assume in solving a mystery of stolen art. Students worked in groups to devise strategies as I released clues, showed videos and gave presentations that better informed them about the art styles we were investigating. There were many layers to the planning process, accounting for students working at different paces and accommodating students struggling with the written requirements of each stage. Unfortunately due to schedule interruptions and time constraints I had to bring the campaign to a close much more abruptly than I would have liked. However, I was able to successfully introduce students to new material through a gaming structure, and work out some problems with the concept if I were to try it again.

The general public has a very narrow view of the scope of work done by teachers. More than once I’ve scrolled through pages and pages of planning to really emphasize to others the work that goes into orchestrating an art lesson. Thorough planning helps to ensure that beyond engagement with the content, students are learning and retaining art content. Within a unit students gain experience in creating art, as well as learning the language and history of the arts. Along the way the teacher must check for understanding, assessing student learning before moving on. There are often considerable gaps in ability within each class of thirty students. A lesson must be written in a way that gives each individual student the best possible learning experience.

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