Student-Centered Art Instruction

Jacqueline S. McElhany has a nice article in the January 2017 edition of Art Education. In Awakening Student Ownership: Transitioning to a Student-Centered Environment, she describes taking some very important steps toward improving the art experience for her students.


This transition included the very important step of switching from teacher solved art making assignments, to designing instruction around big ideas — turning over the problem solving to the students.


For this lesson, she told the students they would be “creating their own unique mask sculptures that represented their identity.” The article goes on to describe the delivery of this student-centered lesson in a fair amount of detail. Students were encouraged to explore and experiment, and the teacher served as a “guide on the side.” Again, all good, but I fear there is something missing: INSTRUCTION!

One of the challenges of facilitating student-centered instruction is not going too far. Art instruction can be too restrictive, and it can be too loose (In fact, how tight and how loose can be adjusted in response to the abilities of the students). In every case though, we must balance the open-ended aspects of our lesson with some structure that will result in expected learning outcomes. Turning over every aspect of choice to the students discards the opportunity to teach the students specific content.

As one example, a specific media technique could have be taught (and assessed) through this lesson and it would have been significantly stronger. This would take away the full range of choice of materials from the students, but they could still have a lot of flexibility in the choices they make in addition to using the specific material and technique that is taught and assessed.


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