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.
COLLABORATION IN THE ART CLASS
by Heidi O’Hanley
Some of the best opportunities we can use in art classes are collaborations. A collaboration occurs when your students actively work with another student or set of students to produce or create something. This can be done to complete individual projects, group murals, develop ideas, or share art experiences.
There are many ways to have a successful collaboration without worrying about the students who do all the hard work while other sit back.
1. Choosing partners to work together. While in class, you can pair up students to work together on drawings, paintings, sculptures or prints. I pair students up to share materials, and I find that with the students working closer together, they bounce ideas off of each other. The ideas shared help in many ways to enhance the products because they are self-critiquing each other’s artworks.
2. Group Projects. Group projects work when there are big ideas to be made into reality. Take care in working with groups to make sure that one student doesn’t take on the entire load. It is also in the group setting where you’ll find students developing their teamwork abilities. I enjoy walking down the school halls watching groups work together to design posters, create stories and research facts needed for reports and presentations. If well organized, students can create amazing larger than average projects that can awe and inspire others.
3. Classroom “Buddies.” This collaboration happens when you combine two grade levels to achieve a goal (for example, kindergarten students with sixth-graders). Buddies can be used throughout the school year or with specific projects you assign. Our school promotes this because younger students look up to the older students, and the older students take pride in handling the responsibility. I like to use this system to not only assist with craftsmanship practice, but to encourage ideas and inspiration.
4. Art Pen Pals. Writing buddies have been a popular collaboration since I was in elementary school. It was always exciting on the day our letters from our pen pals would arrive and we were able to write back. With having art class pen pals, you can create ways for students to combine their efforts in creating artworks for students to enjoy sending back and forth! If you’re attempting to work with pen pals and you’re worried about which student would be able to keep their projects, try to have students create two artworks that can be shared and added to, which will alleviate the challenge of which student keeps the artwork.
5. Cross-school project collaborations. This year, the junior-high art teacher and I worked together to plan a joint project between my third graders and her students. My students created a drawing of an alien creature inspired by the surreal artworks of Joan Miró. They had to create the alien, give it a name and special abilities, and create an environment for it. When the students were finished, the drawings were sent to the junior high.
From there, the older kids create sculpture prototypes of the aliens in a box, as if they were making an actual toy. The purpose was to learn how to market the aliens with the specifications given. The completed sculptures were sent back to my students as gifts. Our students were in love with the overall results! If you have multiple schools within your district, or already have art pen pals, this would be a great way to combine artistic efforts to create amazing artworks.
6. All-School Collaboration. There have been some amazing murals created at our school. Once you have a theme, every one of your classes can work together to create visual masterpieces. My favorite collaboration is for International Dot Day. Each student creates their own “dot” project that can decorate the walls of your school.
Another successful mural was using self-portraits to promote our diverse community. There was also a year where each of my classes created a large-scale artwork representing Earth Day. We had over 25-five six-foot artworks hanging around the school for students to view during an all-school exhibit.
7. Working with the Community. There are many ways to work with your local community to create amazing artworks. One popular idea is the Dale Chihuly–inspired plastic bottle sculptures that can decorate gardens and parks near the school. Students and local residents can work together to build pubic artworks that share pride in their neighborhoods! Students can also work together with the community to create interactive murals at their local village halls, public libraries, or local businesses and galleries!
Consider having your students collaborate to bounce ideas, share input, and grow in their imagination. Opportunities like this help students develop their team building skills and provide experiences the students will never forget when they grow up!
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT) teaches elementary art for Indian Springs School District #109, in the Greater Chicago Area. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.