Effective Art Instruction & Assessment

Instructor: Alicia Taylor

Alicia has taught students of all ages and has a master's degree in Education

This lesson explains how effective art instruction depends on meeting children where they are. This means that teachers must understand the student's development and interests.

Cognitive, Physical, and Artistic Development

If you fill a short fat glass with one cup of water and then pour that water into a tall skinny glass, is there more water in the second glass? As adults, we know the answer is no. But if you asked a four-year old who had watched your pouring demonstration, she would say the tall glass had more water. Why would she say that? And what does that have to do with art instruction?

Students in elementary school are developing spatial awareness, the understanding of how objects relate to one another. This affects the way children create art. But, art also affects the way their spatial awareness develops. Children slowly learn, for instance, that they can't draw a stick directly on top of their drawing of a dog's snout. When an art teacher explains that this image makes it look like the stick is completely 'see-through,' the student gains an understanding of reality. With young students, an art teacher must remember that children just don't see reality as clearly as adults.

Artistic development comes from a combination of a student's spatial awareness and fine motor skills, the ability to use hands to perform tasks. Effective art instruction has to pay attention to both of these factors, helping students develop them through practice and positive feedback.

Student Engagement

Regardless of skills development, the most important feature of effective art instruction is student engagement, or interest in the activity. Some students are born with better spatial awareness and fine motor skills, but they are not the only students who can succeed in art. The art classroom must be a place where students are excited to build their skills and feel that they are moving toward a goal.

The best way to create engagement is through interesting subjects (drawing the child's favorite animals, copying the paintings of famous artists, or making patterns with tricks to their creation, such as Celtic knotwork).

Other factors in engagement are individual, age, and cultural appropriateness, as well as integrated instruction.

Individual, Age, and Cultural Appropriateness

Engagement will take different shapes based on your students' individual interests, cultural backgrounds, and ages. For instance, young children tend to be interested in animals. So, having a painting lesson that allows students to use painting techniques you teach them to create animals of their choice will have high engagement. At an early age, engagement really depends on fairly quick returns for effort. Students in 2nd grade and below should work on projects that take no more than a few weeks to complete.

As students age, their spatial awareness and motor skills develop through maturity and practice. So, older students are ready for challenges, such as charting vanishing points and painting with perspective. After 3rd or 4th grade, students are ready for a journey through the laws of perspective and for complicated processes that take time to yield results.

Art is so deeply connected with culture that it would be a shame to ignore the cultural heritage of students in an art class. Since students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, projects that integrate culture can be built around flexible lessons. For instance, sculpture is used in most cultures. So, in a lesson on sculpture, students could be encouraged to create sculptures that resemble those of their cultural heritage using techniques taught in class.

Integrated Instruction

As students build artistic abilities, they can apply them to a variety of subjects. An English teacher may wish to team up with an art teacher to have children create a scene from a book they read together. Math teachers may ask art teachers to discuss the Golden Ratio in art to older students. And science teachers can have children draw hierarchies of animal taxonomy (that is, kingdom, phylum, class, etc.).

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