Art Department Promotes More Choice in New Projects

By Adra Valentine, Jenny Rosenberg, and Shannon Brady - MCDS Art Teachers

This school year, the art department has made some changes to their curriculum and implemented some exciting new projects! Let’s take a glimpse into each of the art rooms.

In the Bay Art room, our K-2 classes are trying out some new ways of learning. While we will continue to work with classroom teachers and balance skill-building with creative exploration, we are also introducing elements of “teaching for artistic behavior.” What does that mean, you may ask? This year, we will be working toward allowing more choice for students. We will continue to introduce new skills and concepts, but will spend fewer classes on teacher-directed projects and more time allowing students to decide how they want to work (and what they want to work on). Our goal in rethinking our curriculum is to promote greater student autonomy and growth.

In practice, this means that, on any given day, while every class will begin with a mini-lesson demonstrating a skill or concept, there may be some students painting, while others may be building with blocks or experimenting with collage. We are asking students to routinely document and reflect on their learning, and every few months, students select an artwork to put on display. We have already seen thoughtful and careful work habits developing, as children are excited to prove that they are ready for the challenge.

Recently, we have also been re-introducing a variety of fiber art skills. The kindergarteners and second graders have been using yarn we dye with natural material to embroider and weave, and the first graders are sewing felt bean bags, pillows, or bags. This is how we can introduce a new skill and ask students to practice together while keeping in mind the goal of seeing this skill incorporated into their art practice in new ways in future weeks. Once materials have been introduced, they will remain available for independent exploration. 

In eighth grade Mixed Media art, students spend one quarter meeting in class twice a week to take a deep dive into creating idea-driven art while combining a wide variety of materials and modes of artmaking. Over the course of the quarter students explore collage, watercolor, ink drawing, calligraphy, embroidery, stencils, texture painting, gelli plate printing, hand-carved stamps, airbrush painting, and image transfers. 

As a culminating project this fall, Mixed Media students were given a 20 by 30 inch black illustration board and a penny. They were asked to brainstorm ideas for what meaning they could express inspired by the pennies and to use at least 8 different types of artistic media in their work. Their approaches were wonderfully and wildly varied. Concepts about luck, capitalism, money growing on trees, and pennies for thoughts were devised. 

[Photo Gallery: See more photos of student artwork!]

Some students embraced the formal qualities of the coins, seeing the shape and shine as reminiscent of planets, stars, and other round shapes from life. Still others chose to paint over and obscure the pennies, not seeing them as essential to what they wanted to communicate, which was absolutely fine. 

Then, the process of creative problem-solving began. Several students took on the challenge of devising a way to embroider through the thick illustration board by planning their designs and then punching holes through the boards with an awl. One meticulously layered materials to aesthetically invoke feelings about life and death. Another tried out symbolically representing her view that imagination becomes contained during adulthood. The classroom was filled with joy and excitement as students engaged with their work and ideas. Our eighth graders have developed strong creative voices, and they have much to say.

The depth of learning that comes from having time, space, materials, and curricula that value process and creative thinking over product is fostering MCDS students’ growth in confidence and curiosity that lead to genuine innovation.