Art As Teacher

I chose the “I Am an Artist” theme this week in my public school Full Day Pre-K class. My students are from income-eligible (qualify for free and reduced lunch) homes.

I am under the proverbial gun to provide daily reading group and daily math group instructional rotations. The planning and preparation is staggering. But this is not an article about that; it is about the transformational process of art, both for the teacher and for the students.

Each day, I introduced an artist and her/his style and or technique. I will list the artists I chose,  at the end of this article.

I am an intuitive, reflective teacher and soul, and believe I know my students and what I need to tailor instruction to their individual and group needs. Their art, and witnessing their process taught me even more.

I witnessed who was a big idea thinker, who was a detail thinker, and who was a big to small or small to big thinker.

I witnessed the emotional state of a child so tight with self-doubt expressed with a blob of cake icing (as our paint) comprised of layer upon layer of color, while all her peers splattered the paint happily about (a la’ Jackson Pollack).

I saw another child putting only paint in one corner, only tissue paper squares halfway across his paper, and concentric circles empty of color. He is struggling with working through anger. Is he feeling “cornered” in life?

Another student’s pieces  were all blurred-no clear lines/no borders. He has been diagnosed with ADHD. Is he simply an individual who needs to “whirl” through life?

I set up art projects to allow my students to “struggle” and then as needed, coached them through their frustration. They learned about brush management (stroking rather than scrubbing the paintbrush), and how to load the brush with paint. Watching their resistance/difficulty with these new methods gave me window into their resistance/difficulty with learning new reading/math content.

I watched a child carry the expressive art to an Art Center he had NEVER visited (in all 6 months of Pre-K) previously. He had a plan and carried it through with row upon row of “cookies” that he then “iced,” talking as he worked explaining the process to himself and anyone who would listen.

The power of process/expressive oriented art with no predetermined outcome. Simply allowing to happen what each child needs to have happen. To the casual observer, it just looked like “fun,” and perhaps a waste of time. To the informed observer, we were processing emotion, using both sides of our brain, expanding our notions of art and hence life, broadening our understanding of self and of others and in the end, growing socially, emotionally and academically.

ARTISTS: Wayne Thiebaud (“Cakes”), Melanie Yazzi (“Jackalope”), Horace Pippin (“Interiors”), Jackson Pollack (splatter painting), Alma Woodsy Thomas (squares), Andy Warhol (“Twiggy”), Georgia O’Keefe (“Poppies”), Wassily Kandinski (“Squares With Concentric Circles”)







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