Monday, June 6, 2011

Students Want Excellent Results


       Students love to see excellent results! Sometimes this is more important to them than anyone else. They are their own worst critics. Frustration and impatience are the constant companions of young artists. I often find myself lecturing and correcting bad attitudes in my classrooms. It takes time for students to mature in the arts and it is important for their caregivers, peers and teachers to nurture and protect them from low self-esteem. I often try to choose lessons that I know my students will achieve some measure of success in the process of doing them. This builds the confidence they will need in the future to attempt harder assignments. Students must learn to see results in their own work even though they are working in a classroom full of their peers who are all progressing on different levels. How does this happen?
      I’ve included below a sample of a reflection I wrote during my art internship. This observation is typical of young student behaviors inside of an art classroom. One of the chief characteristics of immature art students is that they adopt their comprehensive views of their progress from their teacher. As students age, this changes radically; results must happen in accordance to their own estimations after eighteen or nineteen years of age. This student is no longer as trusting of opinions they cannot justify for themselves. In order to teach older students you must appeal to their own individualistic views of how they formulate success.

Seventh Journal Entry
      Ray Armstead and I are partnered teaching 4th and 5th graders art at Union Elementary, Belleville Illinois. Our lessons are based upon how community shapes the art that people make. We have completed four lessons thus far.
      During week four, I decided to focus on the various levels of performance skills among the fifth and fourth graders at the school. I needed to analyze what their individual needs were while working on the drawing assignment and I also needed to determine if some of the students shared particular performance skills in common. If I could draw these kinds of conclusions accurately, then perhaps I could conduct my instructions more efficiently overall throughout the day.
      The high performing students in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms shared many common attributes. They appeared enthusiastic about their successes, determined to correct their mistakes and they asked for more help than I anticipated. Sometimes these performers started their drawings over or asked for new sheets of paper. They often engaged in conversation with me deliberately, while making good eye contact with me.
      At first, I was enthusiastic about their behavior. Then, I became worried about having enough time to work with other students in the room. I began to listen to their stories about progress and nodded recognizing quickly their accomplishments in order to give other students time to speak with me as well. I found that giving them more ideas about what they could put into their drawings, was helpful to them and it allowed me to move on to other student’s needs in the classroom.
      There were many low performers in the fifth and fourth grade classrooms at Union Elementary. These students whined about the project being too difficult, were very verbal about their inability to accomplish simple tasks and they gave up quickly on the drawing projects. They frequently kept asking me to do the work for them.
      My first reaction was to feel concerned that I might have chosen an art project that was too demanding for these students. I made a couple of immediate adaptations to the lessons as I progressed through the day with these students. After the first hour I lectured the students briefly about how they should battle their fear of drawing. Then I began to illustrate steps for constructing a drawing onto the blackboard for students that did not seem to know how to begin their drawings.
      I observed also, that many students in my fourth and fifth grade classes were cooperative and undemanding. These kids raised their hands to speak, seemed to conduct themselves according to ‘unwritten’ class rules and hesitated a little before doing the work. They took time to think about the project and then warmed up to it after starting slowly.
      In the beginning, I had a tendency to pay more attention to the high and low performers in the room and let the average performers be. I seemed to take their behavior for granted. However, as the day progressed I began to express their opinions openly after speaking with them one on one. I gave them credit for sensible questions and observations in a loud audible voice to the rest of the classroom. This kind of recognition for their opinions seemed to generate between the students a kind of special regard, an affirmation of their discoveries and concerns.
      I believe that if I can successfully determine patterns of behavior among different groups of performers in my future classrooms, I will become a better teacher and disciplinarian. It is not my intent to ‘stereo-type’ these students, but to provide accurate analysis of human behaviors.  When opportunities present themselves, I want to be able to teach to the particular needs of many students, not just a few.

all articles, photographs and lesson plans are copyrighted 2011 by Grimm