Thursday, September 2, 2010

Create Your Own Art Lessons the SPARKLE way! Part II

If you are following my SPARKLE Method of developing art lessons (here's Part I), today will be all about the A & R: Assessment and Research.

K-Kid Appeal
E-Elements of Art

Assessment: Let's admit one thing right off the bat, developing an art lesson is time consuming. Sure you can pass out supplies and hope for the best, but winging it doesn't do anyone any favors. So set aside some time and really give yourself an opportunity to practice the lesson yourself.
Recently, I've been obsessed with totem poles. I've collected books, posters and downloaded photos from theInternet. I love them. The colors, the symbolism, the design, they're all good. But after many attempts at drawing the actual totem pole, my assessment came back rather dim. It was too hard. I'm trying not to sound whiny here, but it really was difficult. I couldn't come up with a fool-proof strategy for effectively guiding thirty children through a totem-pole drawing lesson. Maybe the medium wasn't working. Perhaps the project should be in 3-D instead of a flat drawing? Maybe clay? What about recycle-ables? Eventually, I scrapped the totem pole painting because if I couldn't teach it to myself, there would be no way a group of kids would be successful (some might, but not all).
So here's the trick: If I can't nail down a project in thirty minutes, I know it won't work for my students. It might be longer for you. But that's my standard. Figure out what your threshold is.

Assessment ends when I can verbally explain every step of the way.

Sometimes, I know a project will be fantastic without even trying it. Sometimes, I go through my assessment steps only to learn that an older or younger age group would have been more appropriate. I've been known to try a project with one grade level at one school, then use the same project with another grade level at another school. Sometimes it's easy to say that a particular lesson is adaptable for any age, but the truth is, when you're teaching thirty kids, all with individual needs, then this statement works too hard to be accurate. That's why I suggest grade levels in my art lessons. A classroom teacher has vastly different needs than a home-school educator.

Research: I'm not a big fan of lengthy research. This is for a number of reasons. One, since my time with the kids is short, I don't want facts and dates to take up too much time and two, unless you're a skilled orator, too many facts tend to bore kids. I know, I know. I can already hear the voices of protests!
But I do incorporate some facts of historical interest. Here's my strategy: I like to find an amusing, interesting or downright bizarre fact about the subject in which I'm teaching and then, make it age appropriate. For instance, when teaching my "Dancing Cow" art lesson (Fun with Animals PDF) I focused on the texture of the cow's nose; soft and velvety. I speak from experience here, telling them all about the snappy Holsteins that dot the countryside around my childhood home. The visualization helps my little first graders when drawing and painting the nose. I might be getting carried away here, but I feel as though the children are imagining themselves what the soft nose must feel like.

As for facts such as birth year, country of origin, parents occupation, etc. I ignore it all unless I can tie in a fact that the kids would find interesting. One of my favorite artists is Maud Lewis. She was born in Nova Scotia and because that's where I was born, I somehow feel entitled to share Maud's life. Like how she used the leftover paints from the fishing yard to use in her paintings. Or how she used to sit on the side of the road selling her paintings (and even cooler, how a lady who actually read this blog bought one of those paintings back in the late 60's).

Use research sparingly in your lessons. At most, spend 5 minutes and even better, accompany any facts with visuals. Basically, get to the painting or drawing as quickly as you can!

I hope these tips help. Of course, you'll have your own strategy's, but isn't it fun to try new things?
Next...Kid Appeal and Lingo!


  1. I love the SPARKLE method!! You have amazing ideas :)

  2. These posts have been very helpful! Thank you.

  3. Thanks for your advice! Now some for you regarding the totem poles...I did a project last year using recycled coffee cans, oatmeal containers, etc. We used colored papers, painted papers, etc. to model the faces. They turned out great. I was able to stack them and display them at our annual art show. You should try it!

  4. Thanks, Cassie! I've seen that done before and believe that a 3-D project will be perfect for the totem theme. Now, I just need to demo it myself!

  5. Yes, on that Totem Pole project... We did one too! We made ours out of coffee cans that we painted and added foam or plastic pieces to. The original idea I found came from Family Fun You can see ours here. I have a friend who used the same method but made an indoor totem. She made all kinds of face pieces out of magnets and the children were able to change the totem all the time! I have visions of completing something similar with felt! I'll let you know when I take the time to make it happen!

  6. Thanks for the links! The coffee can totem looks like a fun home project!

  7. I did a totem pole project with my fifth graders using pieces of driftwood I had collected at a lake. I cut them into 12-18" pieces. Students drew their designs onto tissue paper with sharpies and glued the tissue paper onto the wood. When lots of glue was used the tissue paper almost disappeared. Card board wings were glued on where needed. When it was dry students used markers to add color. They look great!

  8. Hi "F". These totem poles sound amazing. Glad it worked out for you!


Well, what do you think? I love hearing how you adapted the art projects. Did it work? Any pitfalls? Or, if you'd like, just share your thoughts.