Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT MY STUDENTS
by Heidi O’Hanley
As an elementary art teacher, I’ve seen my students grow up over the time they’re in my classroom. I see my students once a week all school year, and each year I get to see them thrive. The best part is watching their creative growth over time. Through our art room social media sites and Artsonia, I look back on previous artworks and activities, then see how much their creativity has evolved.
With seeing my students every week over time, I’ve also learned many things about them in and out of my classroom. As educators, we always work to understand what students know, how they think, what they value, who they are as individuals, and what motivates them. We gain these understandings by observing and listening to students as they work and learn in various settings, and in our case, while creating their projects.
Here are a few things I have noticed about my students that help shape them and our school setting.
1. MY STUDENTS CARE. Even if they do not act as if they do, my students respond to positive encouragement and support. The best feeling in the world is having students from previous years come back and tell me how much they enjoyed my art class, because they had a chance to create and try new things.
I love encouraging all my students to try new methods and create artwork that is relevant and interesting to them. In doing so, we help students understand themselves during their transition from childhood to adolescence.
2. MY STUDENTS HAVE MANY DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES. There’s a variety of students that need visual, or additional assistance with projects, and we’re there to assist them with the way they learn and grow. Art is an exploratory class that gives students an opportunity to exercise their creativity and express their feelings through visual form. They progress in different ways and at different rates, and we do our best to adapt to their learning styles.
3. MY STUDENTS COME FROM MANY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS. One of the things I absolutely love about my school district is how diverse it is. We have Polish, Arabic, Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian, and more that make up our student body. The economic status varies as well, but all of our students are open-minded and genuinely work together. Through different projects created, I’ve been able to learn more about my students’ backgrounds through visual imagery and symbols familiar to them, which has helped me to learn more about the areas my students have come from.
4. MY STUDENTS ARE VERY CREATIVE. Their imaginations are vast and it’s exciting to see what they can design with each project. It’s interesting seeing how they can take an idea and develop their own product from the objectives given. Plus, the older they get, the more personal the projects become. With creating meaningful art experiences, we help students understand themselves as they grow.
5. MY STUDENTS NEED ENCOURAGEMENT. There are some days where students lose grasp on their confidence and struggle with ideas, especially when the process doesn’t turn out the way they want it. I like to refer to the book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg to my younger students, which encourages looking at a mistake and seeing it an “opportunity to make something new.” We all have bad days too, and when we do, encouragement can help us to overcome those stumbling moments.
6. MY STUDENTS ARE ALL THEIR OWN UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS. A majority of students may be into the same video games, or sports, or music, but each are their own individual personalities. Over time, students move from the dependent years of early childhood development to the social area of adolescence, and as educators, we see the full range of development and address the individual needs of our students.
7. MY STUDENTS LOVE FORTNIGHT. And flossing. And dabbing. And any other trend that is popular. These trends can be repetitively worn out, but it’s important to know your students. As maddening as “Baby Shark” may seem after the 200th time singing, it’s important to recognize what they like, which can help in giving meaningful art experiences. We do our best to encourage original design and concepts, but sometimes our students need that extra inspiration to help them in designing their artworks.
8. MY STUDENTS ARE AWESOME. No matter whether they are good days or bad days, I will still nurture my students’ creative development and give them a welcoming environment. I love how diverse my students are and encourage celebrating their differences, so I will continue encouraging tolerance and respect for everyone in our student body. As an adult role model, I encourage kindness in different ways, like saying hello in the hallways, or greeting them at the door. No matter what the situation, I will still support my students.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.