By Brenda Major, Art Teacher
Success in the visual arts is often judged solely by the artist’s finished product, using a variety of criteria such as composition, color, form, and balance. Teaching Art at High Meadows, however, allows me to see each student’s progression as artists and as individuals. One way to help students recognize their work as steps along a continuum of learning is to work in sketchbooks. As they progress from kindergarten through fifth grade, students create a visible record of ideas, skills, and failures that blossomed into successes.
Recently, I had my fourth and fifth grade students use sketchbooks for a series of drawing mini-lessons as one means to hone their artistic decision-making skills. For our first lesson, students worked in small groups to arrange a variety of objects to provide a good view from multiple perspectives. Student reflections about what worked and what didn’t work led to the creation of a shared “strategy bank” that made their thinking tangible. In the second mini-lesson, students analyzed still-life paintings of accomplished artists and identified a pattern of arranging objects. Students again worked collaboratively to arrange the objects similarly and then drew the objects, incorporating methods from the “strategy bank.” For the final mini-lesson, my co-teacher and I modeled the thinking process by arranging a still life with commentary about the decision making. Students also received individual coaching at their level.
The latest drawings in their sketchbooks illustrate the results of incremental adjustments within the cycle of doing, reflecting, revising and doing again. Most importantly, they show that success is not about a single finished work. It’s about the string of little victories in the life-long effort to grow a little bit every day.