Author: Charlotte Lumae
Title: Art Specialist
Role: K-12 Classroom teacher
Location: Eugene, OR
Our Choice-Based Art Program
By Charlotte Lumae, Art Specialist, Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter School
At every Montessori elementary school, students enjoy the freedom to choose among many kinds of academic work in the classroom. Though Maria Montessori did not outline any specific art program herself, art is incorporated into the curriculum of many schools following her method, through technical illustration and model building. Basic art-making materials such as colored pencils, paper, glue, and scissors are usually available, and a teacher may even offer more extensive materials for watercolor, oil pastel, calligraphy, weaving or sewing. Beyond this, it can be difficult to accommodate extensive, messy artwork such as papier maché, large-scale tempera and acrylic painting, plaster casting, ceramics work, or other material-intensive projects in the classroom. There is seldom enough space or time to offer these kinds of choices more than once or twice a year. Many teachers have never had training in the expressive visual arts themselves, and may be unfamiliar with certain artistic media or tools. There are many ways to supplement art education, including hosting an artist in residence, and bringing in guest presenters or knowlegeable parents.
Here at Ridgeline Montessori, it was decided early on to employ an Art Specialist, who would work with each class once or twice a week, and give the students more opportunities for creative expression at school. Initially, these classes were taught as traditional, teacher-centered art lessons, but when I joined the staff last year, I decided to try something new. Why not create a choice-based art program to complement the method already being used in the regular classes?
This young program is now in its seventh month, and it has been quite successful. I would like to share our experiences here, so that we might inspire other schools to implement a choice-based program for art education.
Our choice-based art classroom is a place where students can walk their own paths.
In a traditional art program, the teacher is usually found directing the entire group of students (interested or not) in the use of a single medium. In our art program, each student chooses artistic media from many options, and the teacher can be found moving around the room giving individual guidance. The children have chosen the work they are doing, and are motivated to focus on it because they have ownership of the creative process.
In a traditional art program, the teacher often collects all the art pieces when they are completed, and displays them on a wall or keeps them in student portfolios. In a choice-based art program, students choose whether to keep work in a folder, throw it away, take it home, or submit it for the gallery. The student is the artist, and gets to choose what happens to the art.
Our choice-based art classroom is a rich learning environment.
Teaching comes in many forms: direct and indirect, in whole-group demonstrations and discussions, in small groups of students who choose a particular exploration, and one-to-one teacher to student interaction. This is possible because student independence is encouraged. The teacher's roles include observing, record-keeping, demonstrating, modeling, facilitating, and encouraging. Whole-group demonstrations are frequent, but very brief. Often the art session begins with a full-group ?circle time? including a warm-up drawing exercise or a presentation of new materials, continues into a generous work period, and ends with an organized clean-up and gallery viewing.
Students themselves provide much of the instruction. Student "experts" who work in one medium over time serve as coaches and peer tutors, enjoying further learning in the process. Student discoveries are shared with classmates and teachers. Students form cooperative groups in an organic manner. In this way, a great deal of information is transmitted from student to student.
The four rules that serve as a guide to self discipline hang framed on the wall, and we review them periodically during circle time. ?Be Responsible ? Be Respectful ? Be Resourceful ? Be Real? seems to cover all the bases, from keeping the caps on the markers and the light-bright pegs off the floor, to keeping the criticism constructive and the courage to experiment strong.
Our choice?based art classroom is a true studio space for young artists.
The students work in a creative atmosphere that welcomes experimentation. Because the students are not all expected to work on the same project or with the same medium, competition is minimized, and our young artists are more willing to take artistic risks. An attractive environment is an inspiration to art makers, so we take care to keep the room beautiful and in good order. We share the room with several other programs, so we cover the art shelves with curtains when art is not happening.
As in any Montessori classroom, organized arrangements of materials allow students to find and return what they need; this added responsibility is a learning opportunity. Because the students are responsible for keeping the room clean and orderly, they have as much ownership of the space as the teacher, and the community pride they feel translates into great care for the space.
Students are exposed to many art materials and concepts, and may choose to try something new every week, or simply continue working on one piece for an extended period. The permanent arrangement of many art materials on shelves allows students to plan art works in advance of the weekly class, since they know the tools will be there when they need them. Storage shelves and hanging files are used for keeping track of works-in-progress, and periodically we bag up all the creations in storage and send them home.
Our Choice-Based Art Classroom serves to inspire.
We invite you to observe our art program here at Ridgeline Montessori. Please contact us to arrange the visit in advance. Be prepared to get messy and join in the fun!
Visit http://knowledgeloom.org to get more information about choice-based art education and other great teaching ideas. Thanks to the editors of the Knowledge Loom website for much inspiration.
Charlotte Lumae, Art Specialist: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter School
2855 Lincoln St., Eugene, OR 97405
(541) 681-9662 fax: (541) 681-4394