Choice-Based Art classrooms are working studios where students learn through authentic art making. Control shifts from teacher to learner as students explore ideas and interests in art media of their choice. This concept supports multiple modes of learning to meet the diverse needs of our students. Learn more at teachingforartisticbehavior.org
by Nan E. Hathaway
You notice that interest in the painting center, in your Choice-based classroom has evaporated. Or maybe you observe that no one has chosen the collage center in days (or is it weeks?) Why isn’t anyone using clay lately?
IT’S TIME FOR AN ART TRAP. To spark interest in a new material, nudge students out of their comfort zone, add an element of surprise, or reawaken the charm of a familiar medium, I set a trap. It is so simple, yet surprisingly effective.
HERE’S WHAT I DO: Problem: Kids at the Drawing Center have fallen into a routine of copying logos or favorite cartoon characters.
Art Trap: Students arrive to find one table set up with an attractive arrangement of drawing tools and templates. Stencils, triangles, rulers, compasses, protractors and rubbing plates are invitingly placed down the middle of the table. Colored pencils and gel pens are set within easy reach.
Result: Students tumble into the trap and start using the available materials in ways they never thought of before. Success! You caught some artists!
Problem: The Collage Center is the least used space in the studio.
Art Trap: Four copy box lids are arranged down the middle of a long table, one each for warm colors, cool colors, neutral colors and tissue paper scraps. Glue, silly-edge scissors, hole punches, staplers, and tape dispensers are arranged neatly at one end of the table, magazines and wallpaper books at the other. A pile of tagboard is available nearby.
Result: Two groups of friends settle in and start making collages. You join them and model how a collage artist might layer, arrange, rearrange to develop an idea.
Problem: At the clay center, students really love making small slab bowls but once they have made one or two, the learning stalls.
Art Trap: Students arrive to find a big container of clay stamps and a box of rubber letter stamps.
Result: Still many slab bowls result, but now decorated with stamped designs, customized for gift-giving, declaring: “Love Ya Mom!” “Dad’s Popcorn Bowl.” “I you,” “Today will be a great day!”
Tomorrow maybe some lace, texture mats and maple leaves will appear here, to keep the creative juices flowing.
An Art Trap is simply a passive invitation to try things out. Sometimes it is as simple as setting up three or four painting stations instead of waiting for students to get the paints out, or even just putting up a couple of easels (bait with colored paper?).
I have set art traps by cutting giant circles and leaving these provocatively on the painting table. Once I put a pile of small black construction paper squares next to a container of new white gel pens. I have warped some looms and put one at each place, with a box of yarn as a centerpiece.
… spark interest in a new material, nudge students
out of their comfort zone, add an element of surprise,
or reawaken the charm of a familiar medium …
I secretly make my own rules: an art trap is a success if students come in and just start using it, less so if they first ask: “Can we use this?” An art trap should surprise, inspire, provoke or entice its intended prey. It can help set new direction, expand possibility or use up that box of whatchamacallits you have been hoarding. Art traps can give students a break from the routine of your expected “5-minute demo” that usually starts each class.
Students often arrive to the studio and beg “can we just get right to work?” Art Traps help make “getting right to work” a success and function as a safety net for students who come in without an idea or plan for the day or who need a nudge. Sometimes students get stuck but refuse every single suggestion I offer—so frustrating! But if they stumble into one of my art traps, I’ve got them! They are caught, on the hook, and we have side-stepped the usual power struggle.
So, if you notice that your students could use a little shaking up, bait a trap and see who falls in.
Nan Hathaway teaches art at the middle school level and was named 2015 Vermont Art Educator. She is a member of Teaching for Artistic Behavior Leadership Team, is co-editor, with Diane Jaquith, of The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills through Art and Contributing Editor to Arts & Activities. Visit her blog: studio-learning.blogspot.com and the Teaching for Artistic Behavior webpage: teachingforartisticbehavior.org/