Tag Archives: instruction

What is your purpose here?

I hope when you read, “What is your purpose here?” You can fully envision the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. If not I think the image, below, is linked to a gif. (Hit me with a comment if you know the response to the question from the movie.)

I suppose it’s fair if you are wondering what this has to do with art education…

I met with art collaborative team leads recently and posed a question about the purpose of art CTs. Some quick answers included “to collaborate,” “to share ideas,” and “to share best practices.”  Yes, these are reasons we get together, but why do we do these things? Why do we collaborate? Why do we share ideas?


I am surrounded by this language all the time in the instructional services department. If a similar question were asked of a group of my central office colleagues we would probably all respond in unison. 

This interaction with my art instructional leaders helped me realize that this is a message that I should work harder to promote. It’s a mindset that can impact how we interact with our work. Everything we do should be with the goal of improving student learning. 

Embrace the Shake

So you decide to make an artwork. What materials will you use? How big will it be? What is your chosen subject? What style will you employ?

You haven’t even started, but already you have put a number of restrictions on yourself. Why is this such a natural part of artmaking?

In one of my Big Idea posts, Why Teach with Big Ideas, I mentioned Embrace the Shake, a TED talk by Phil Hansen that addresses the idea of working within limitations. Not all artists have something happen to them  (like severe nerve damage) that forces a particular limitation on their artmaking, but whether they know it or not, artists apply limitations to their ways of working all the time.

As educators we should embrace the shake for one very big reason: Working within limitations is the nature of problem solving. I mean, come on… describe a math problem you have ever seen that doesn’t provide parameters?

Consider how you could develop a learning sequence to help students understand that/how artists create restrictions for their artmaking and eventually prepare students for designing their own restrictions.

Realistic vs. Authentic

My school division is all abuzz about Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Performance-Based Assessment (PBA). In comparison with the No-Child-Left-Behind-years obsession with standardized testing, it is refreshing to see more emphasis on these approaches, but I believe we have a scalability problem. The problem is with authenticity.

PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist
PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist

PBL and PBA are both at their best when the work that student’s do is authentic. In a learning context, “authentic” is defined as “real-life” or “real-world.”

Take, as an example, a school that is about to begin a renovation. Students at this school could be asked to redesign the school library and the architects and designers could use the student projects to really-actually decide how to renovate the space.

That’s real world! But how often can you do this? My school system has more than 185,000 students. If we were to insist that PBL and PBA be truly authentic, like the example above, we would mathematically reduce the frequency of these real-world experiences to… well, to the frequency with which they are already happening.  (Although we might solve all the worlds problems… with kids’ solutions.)

If we want PBL and PBA to happen more often in our schools, we can’t have every student solving truly authentic problems all the time! Fortunately, we at least have some words from Christopher Gareis to take the pressure off:

Things we have students do are not [always] truly authentic, but we can design learning activities and assessments to be realistic.

In other words, we can design authentic-like experiences for our students. We can create scenarios of potential real world challenges, and through this approach be able to expose students to engaging problem solving experiences.

Make it realistic, and when you can, make it authentic.


Art making is a powerful way to understand the world around us. One of my criteria for quality art instruction, then, is that it must be designed – not just to allow – but to promote this process for our students. One way to understand our world is by creating another. Kate Messner’s Ted Ed video provides a quick introduction to the idea of building a fictional world. Check it out, and consider all of the ways you could help your students better understand our world by creating a fictional one.

Hostile Design

When I came across this on social media, I shared it immediately, but ever since I have felt like my comment belongs here, in a place I like to imagine to be a source of meaningful information for art educators. (What?! Let me have my delusions!)

Pay and Sit Bench
Pay and Sit Bench

Reading this article about unpleasant design, I was struck with what an excellent topic this is for the art & design classroom. Teenagers, especially, would surely have some strong feelings about the nature of unpleasant design and hostile architecture. These no doubt differing feelings and opinions open the door for critical discussion and artmaking. If an art teacher were to challenge students to create an artwork in response, the possibilities — if given this much freedom — could range from new ideas for hostile design (perhaps from a different perspective), “friendly” design, designs to counter hostile design, or works that speak out against or in favor of hostile design. (There are examples of most of these in the article.) What a great way to engage students with real-world issues and offer them the opportunity to express their own ideas!


NAEA: Writing and Art

There are dozens of presentations in the catalog addressing a relationship between art instruction and another discipline: Art and Writing, Art and Science, Art and Math, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). 

Bettyann Plisker’s presentation, Spark Creativity: Merge Writing and Art, included a message that I hope is being reiterated in each of these. 

Keep art instruction at the forefront. 

Bettyann did a great job illustrating how writing supports art instruction, not the other way around. Several specific examples were shared that showed how using writing in art instruction served to meet art standards and happened to, at the same time, meet writing standards. 

Writing in art supports and improves student learning. That’s why we do it — not to validate our curriculum by teaching a “more important” subject at the same time. 

I hope this is the message you are hearing at the other Art and… sessions.