Deirdre Moore | February 2017

Keep It Simple! Maximizing the Joy in Learning

Visual art is not my forte as I have stated many times in my articles here at EducationCloset.  However, I am tasked with teaching it for one trimester every year as I am the only art teacher at one school where I work and I cover both visual and performing arts.  What I love about teaching visual art is that I can empathize with those students who complain they have no visual art talent or feel uncomfortable with this art form and I get to learn so many things right along with my students and let them maximize even more the joy in learning.

“Keep It Simple!”

One lesson I seem to have to keep the joy in learning no matter how long I’ve been teaching is to “Keep It Simple!”  I get very excited and very ambitious which is not a bad thing but one must remember time constraints and the angst and stress that can cause.  It is good to keep things moving in any classroom but students and teachers need space to breathe and enjoy the process as well.  Keeping it simple can help that happen.

Last year, I tried weaving with my fourth graders using yarn, ribbon and cardboard loom.  The first problem, I didn’t give us enough time to tackle the project.  The second problem, I didn’t break down the project enough.  Lesson learned.  So, this year I wanted to start with the basics.  I did want to talk about complementary colors so I started this art trimester by doing one lesson on complementary colors.  Then I extended that lesson into weaving by having the students weave with complementary colored construction paper.

The Joy In Learning Process

I feared this would seem too babyish.  I feared that they had done this kind of “placemat” activity with some of their teachers when they were younger.  My fears were allayed as I watched the kids jump right into the process.  They cut the paper that would serve as loom and warp.  Then they began to cut and weave the strips of complementary colored paper.

They enjoyed seeing how the complementary colors “popped” when woven next to one another and no one suggested it was too easy or too young for them.  I was able to have them practice the over-and-under process and keeping each line of the weft tightly aligned as they will need to do with weaving with yarn without the complication of making the warp on the loom, threading the needle with yarn, getting tangled in the yarn, etc.

The students got to see how important it is to keep track of the pattern and how to correct a mistake when they see one.  It’s much easier with bold, broad strips of colored construction paper but it’s great practice for what they will be doing next week.  I’m excited to see if doing this activity first will help when weaving with yarn.  I feel confident that it will.  Keeping it simple?  Check.  Maximizing the joy in learning process, check!

Unfortunately, I started a new project with my third graders so this is my learning year with them.  I am introducing how to create depth in a 2D work by using foreground, middle ground, and background.  I started with a simple activity of just practicing this with trees.  I was shocked by how difficult the concept seemed to be for a number of students even though I felt I had broken it down sufficiently.  That should have been a warning sign for me but I forged ahead integrating a unit they are doing on landforms in their classrooms with creating landscapes using the different “grounds”.

Did I keep it simple?

No.  I let each 3rd grader decide what landform(s) s/he would use and let them loose on their papers.  After reviewing their initial sketches I can see this was way too much choice, too soon.  When will I ever learn?  Some say the universe keeps giving you situations until you learn your lesson.  And so I am reminded once again, “Keep It Simple”!  It may minimize frustration for both student and teacher and maximize the joy in learning process.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.