Implementing a Choice Based Art Education in My Elementary Art Classroom
By Amber Lemser
University of Florida Master's in Art Education Graduate
The purpose of the project presented here was to explore how a choice-based art classroom can be structured, does inquiry happen in choice-based setting, and does this structure build independent thinking and self-expression. This research has taken place during the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year in two of my fifth grade classes in a rural location in southwest Arkansas. Observations have been noted through this study with collections of student work, assessments of student’s activities, and teacher’s reflections with a podcast assistance. The information gathered from this project has been both informative, and inspiring.
I created a choice based art classroom with goals of creating inquiry for my students, engaging them to become independent thinkers, and becoming more expressive as individual artist. The important questions I ask were; how can I best structure a choice-based art classroom in my own art room, how will my choice-based art classroom create inquiry for my students, and how will my choice-based art classroom promote independent thinking and self-expression among my art students. In this study, I was pleasantly surprised about how my choice-based art classroom was formed. I the study I worked with a modified version of choice-based art education. With this modification, I gave my students a theme for an assignment, and they had the choice of media they used. I began by creating centers in my classroom for my students. I setup four centers within my classroom to use like a professional artist in their studios. I then designed a collection of images for my students to be inspired by, demonstrations such as a drop test to show students at the beginning of each class, a pre-discussion worksheet for students to test their art knowledge and ideas about essential questions relating to the project, and an exit slip for my students to self-assess with at the end of each project Then we started on our new journey in a choice-based art classroom. We started by exploring the theme “Culture”. Then looked and discussed images relating to different types of cultures. Then students broke into centers they had chosen to complete their pre-discussion sheet, and start on their rough drafts for their project idea.
The second day, I did a short artwork drop test demonstration with students, and had them work in their centers on their projects. During this time, I observed and looked for elements of inquiry, independent thinking, and self-expression about the student’s and their artwork. I noted quite a few findings on these topics. One good finding was a small group of fifth grade girls, in the sculpture center, who worked together as a team in creating an Aztec temple based on the history of their ancestors. The girls discussed their plan of attack for the project together in a group. They explored their materials first, one girl asked, “How high they were going to build their temple, and how it was going to stand up”? The group of girls tested out crafts sticks first, but then quickly decided they did not have enough materials to create the temple. Another group member suggested “Maybe a frame out of craft sticks and build around it,” but this idea was disagreed upon. They settled on using recycled paper towel tubes to create rolls of paper to stack on top of each other to create their temple. They delegated jobs out to each team member. The captain of the team used a ruler to measure how tall they wanted their temple to be, and how wide. I ask the other ladies as she worked “How are you guys going to decorate this temple?” The girls quickly went over to our Art History time line and looked at the Pre-Columbian era of art and pointed to it. I ask another question, “Do you think those are the same kinds of temples as the Aztecs?” The girls then suggested we do a little research on the internet to see. As they explored images of the Aztec temples they saw many similarities to the temples on the time line. They settled on the idea that these cultures are similar in their architecture. They noted there are stairs and torches on the temples and two of the girls quickly went over and started bending and folding papers in different ways to see how to make steps and torches out of paper. Another girl began using the paper towel tubes to fold paper over to create the structure of the temple, and handed them to the captain of the group who started building the floor plan for the temple. By the end of the project the girls had created as they said “A more modern idea on how to make a temple out of paper”. While the artwork does not necessarily look like an Aztec temple. The research into creating and exploring images of the Aztec temples had given the student’s inquiring knowledge about paper folding, architecture, similarities in cultures, and how to plan as a group.
By the end of our choice-based unit of study, my students were coming up with more and more ideas about our theme. They were opening up about their artwork with other students, and exploring materials to make art with for projects. I was very happy with the results in my classroom. My students created beautiful unique artworks that embodied inquiry, independent thinking, and expression. I was also very shocked at how structured I had to become to create this environment, how it has helped me as an educator become more organized, and engaged with my students. If an educator is looking for a way to awaken the artist in their students, and in themselves this may very well be the classroom curriculum to explore.
Take a listen to my podcast on my choice based art education experience!
Podcast 1: https://youtu.be/Qj8U-3MuQ1k
Podcast 2: https://youtu.be/U8nk9Mv3SZY
Podcast 3: https://youtu.be/cMvGMGhAvLY
Podcast 4: https://youtu.be/9KAtQUHVK0Y
Podcast 5: https://youtu.be/YXVQG8Qc_Q4