Matt and Laura Grundler | November 2016

Making Powerful Connections through Collaboration

K12ArtChat was lucky to have another amazing collaborator host recently, Don Masse. If you missed it, here are some highlights about the importance of collaboration in the classroom.  Many students feel very comfortable working on their own, however sometimes fall short by not having enough time to problem solve or miss a fine detail. Recently education has been shifting gears from a singular task driven projects to a more group-oriented learning model. Working in collaborative groups, students learn soft skills such as communication, teamwork, flexibility, and problem-solving while working within the parameters of the expectations and on a timeline.  

In an effort to include more of these opportunities in my own classroom, I found myself looking for collaborative art lesson plans that connect to contemporary artists for student relatability.  So I reached out to our amazing PLN, and Don suggested his website for some ideas.  I was blown away by the number of resources and we had to ask him to share further.  Not only did Don host a chat that you can review here, he kindly agreed to this interview.

Thank you, Don, for taking the time to give us some insight into this concept of collaboration in the classroom.  First, tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have been teaching art at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy, a very large, very diverse public elementary school in the SD Unified school district, for 15 years. I love to draw and get outdoors with my family whenever I can. We own 2 vintage trailers- Ethel serves as a backyard art studio, while Cecil keeps us sheltered on our regular camping trips.


Ethel serves as a backyard art studio



Cecil keeps us sheltered on our regular camping trips

We’d love you to expand a bit more about your instructional beliefs, what’s at the core of your philosophy?

The primary focus of my curriculum for the past 10 years has been to introduce students to the work of living artists. I want kids to be able to see how the content and skills they are experimenting with in the classroom are being applied by current artists from a variety of backgrounds and career paths. I have found that there are numerous benefits to doing so- stronger student engagement, opportunities for authentic writing activities, and behavior incentives are a few of these.

While the projects are inspired by living artists, it is not my aim for students to copy from them. I encourage choice in the use of the art elements, composition, and content, so that creative and critical thinking skills are developed as well. Within the scope of these contemporary art driven projects, I also encourage student-led discussions and collaborations to further strengthen their understanding of the concepts being explored.

Please share, what you feel are the key points of collaboration in the classroom?

For me, the key parts of collaboration are respecting different viewpoints, developing the skills to share your own viewpoints, learning to compromise, and learning how to share the load and work together with others towards a common goal.

Making Powerful Connections through Collaboration, Education Closet

Why do you feel collaboration in the classroom is such an important part of the Art Studio?

Collaboration is a life skill. Effectively collaborating with others is a skill that our students need to develop for whatever career path they choose. Collaboration and teamwork are necessary not only in professional careers but also in family and home life. Because of this, it is part of our job as art educators to foster and develop the key points of collaboration in our classrooms. The types of collaboration ought to be varied and there should be consistent opportunities for our students to do so.

Examples of different types of collab- partner discussions during the ideation/brainstorming stage of a project, sharing creative choices during preliminary sketching and revising based on shared discussion, reflecting together on a project’s main points to develop a better understanding, and collab throughout the full duration of a project.

Making Powerful Connections through Collaboration, Education Closet

What are your steps to ensure a successful collaboration in the classroom?

My tips for successful collaborations- When doing a full collaborative project like a stop-motion movie- I arrange seats to heterogeneously grouped students. I try to place a “leader” in each group and ELLs have speaking/listening role models in each group. I’m always active with the groups- checking in on progress and discussions. I do my best to make sure the discussions are on a point as possible, so groups can develop time management skills and meet deadlines in class. I use a timer for mini-deadlines in class- one for a brainstorming period, one for preliminary work, one for a midpoint on progress check on their final work, and one to wrap things up.

If groups need more time beyond a deadline, then that is okay, but that group will see an uptick in teacher visitation to make sure they do not get too far off the mark. As I check in on groups, I often have a listener summarize what the speaker said and encourage them to give feedback to one another using “because” statements. I want them to be able to justify their opinions to each other with evidence. No matter what type of collaboration is occurring, you must model, model, model. As a teacher, you need to do your thinking out loud and model each of the collaborative elements you want them to develop.

Collaboration in the Classroom, Education Closet

Thank you, Don!  You’ve offered our network of learners a lot to consider and explore.  As teachers inspire students of the 21st century we hope educators give their students opportunities to learn from and be more open to the ideas and perspective of their peers.  

Thanks for having me on and allowing me to share my thoughts with other educators. It’s important that we practice what we preach and I love the how social media networking and discussions have led to collaborative opportunities of growth for myself, and then in turn, my students.  Shine bright!

About the Author

Laura and Matt Grundler are art educators from Plano, Texas. They are also proud parents, bloggers and founders of the popular Twitter Chat #K12ArtChat. After teaching middle school art, high school art and working as an assistant principal, Laura has moved into the role of district Visual Arts Coordinator. Matt started out as a graphic designer; however after finding the commercial side of design to be unsatisfying, he soon found his niche as a K-5 Art teacher. Both Laura and Matt are passionate about raising their three creative kids, sharing their love of art education with their professional learning network and continuing to grow everyday.