Why Teach with Big Ideas?

So what have we covered so far?

There’s this great concept called a big idea, but the words “big idea” can be interpreted in different ways. At least one of those ways lends itself so well to art instruction that one of the ten largest school systems in the country uses big ideas as a conceptual foundation for their art courses, from kindergarten through grade twelve. These themes are the basis for making meaning in art and are built into every artmaking challenge.

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Learning to Talk

A baby grows up in a house with a dog. Quite early the child learns the word “dog” and can reliably use the word to refer to them when she sees, not only her own, but other neighborhood dogs as well. One day she goes to visit her aunt who doesn’t own a dog, but has a cat. When the child sees the cat, what does she say?

From A Story Told In Parts by Deirdre Forgione

From A Story Told in Parts by Deirdre Forgione, art teacher

“Dog!” Why? Because she has an idea in her mind of what a dog is, perhaps something like “a dog is a furry animal that walks on four legs and has a tail.” This is the paradigm, the previous knowledge, she uses to name the new animal.

This is also the paradigm that allows the parents and aunt to teach a new word, “cat,” and with practice, the child will be able to distinguish a dog from a cat, goat, squirrel, and other animals. All of this learning happens through connections — links to something the child already understands.

Some concepts we teach are difficult to understand, abstract, or foreign. For students to learn them, we must make connections to something the students already understand.

Big Ideas for Instruction

Now that we’re clear on what I mean when I say “Big Idea” (See Big Idea 1 and Big Idea 2) let’s discuss how they are used for instruction. I won’t pretend that this is done consistently across my district, but there is a model promoted to the teachers through curriculum, resources, and professional development.

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Feeding the Soul

I’d like to plead guilty. I am guilty of declaring that the arts feed the soul. I am guilty of reminding other educators that, for some students, arts classes are the only thing that gets them to school. But this week, as I heard another arts educator say these same things to a large audience, I found myself feeling embarrassed. What are we doing?!

Around the Moon by Nancy Hannans

Around the Moon by Nancy Hannans, artist and educator

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Teaching Experimentation

I bet your students don’t draw like this! And I’m sure you don’t teach them to, and that’s good. You shouldn’t… Not because it’s not great drawing. It is… I’ll explain what I mean below. Besides, this isn’t really about drawing like this. I want to talk about experimentation.

Disperse1 by John Adams

Disperse 1 by John M. Adams, artist and educator

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Bridging the gap between Art and Education