Setting the Foundation

I’ve been working on the first 2 weeks of school – thinking about them, planning them, working on the kinks, rolling new ideas in my brain. And I’m also hearing all of my friends and colleagues – WHAT?! it’s not even August, wait, wait, hold on to summer a little bit longer. But once it’s August, it’s almost too late to begin to think of those super important first two weeks. They are the foundation to the rest of the year. They are also the hardest to plan. I’m not sure what your school looks like the first two weeks – but my schedule is disorganized, student schedules change, my classes grow and shrink daily – AND it’s also so important to get started. Losing two weeks to this kind of stuff or ignoring it and pretending it’s not happening or waiting till the chaos ends – aren’t options. I have to do a bit of everything in order to have some success later on. Basically I have to lay a foundation that can be flexible and have options in order for students who aren’t actually in class can pick up easily but also challenge students to think and create initially.

I’ve shared what the first 5 weeks will look like in Where do I even start?!  but I’ll share the planning image so everyone will know what I’m starting with.


So what does all this even mean? And how will I create an order that works? Luckily, I’ve now done some of these things a few times – so I have some idea of what works well and what bombs. And I’ve altered the ones that bomb and the ones that work well.

My thought on the first 2 weeks is to create the atmosphere of rigor while also demonstrating success and exploration. Students come in with all sorts of preconceived ideas of art and I want to address them and know what they are immediately.

The first day I show a slideshow of “Art” and we discuss What Art is and isn’t. They leave their ideas of what art is on sticky notes which are added to throughout the day.

This begins the basic structure of the class – I ask loads of questions and students share publicly their thought process. We also do a scavenger hunt looking for and finding different supplies. My room is large and everything is labelled but that doesn’t mean students will always find or know where things are. The scavenger hunt is fun because they start to help each other out.

The following day we will go through the Question Formulation Technique (this has all the resources) – which is an incredibly simple yet powerful way to get students to learn HOW to ask questions. Because really, how often have you told students to ask as many questions as possible and they just don’t – not because they are shy or unwilling, but because they don’t really know how. The first time you do the QFT it’s really contrived and step by step – but I used the course titles as the Question Focus last year and students asked some really powerful questions – some that could be considered Essential Questions. It was incredibly cool. I typed all the questions up and had them posted in the room. I went back and looked at them often to make sure I was structuring the class so that the questions were answered, but looking back and planning for the future, I will revisit the questions with the students in order to actually make sure we are moving towards answering these important questions.

After these two days of questioning and interactions, we will have a getting to know you day – where students will create a facebook page or a pointed pentagon foldable that will go into their binder as the first page – and  we will have a Circle to begin the process of creating communication expectations as a community. The students always sort of groan at the mention of a circle AND they also love that their voices are all heard in this structured way. I’ve had some really incredible experiences with students in the circle and am planning on utilizing them even more this year. The getting to know you work will be something that gets revisited because it certainly won’t be able to be completed in the time period with a circle.

So it’s now the 4th day of school, the classes will of course have grown to over 50 and some will have shrunk to under 10 – this will all balance out. So I have this fun compositional tricks game I play with them to begin to set up that foundation of “art stuff” – this is the stuff that doesn’t really get me excited but it’s so important. And I’m restructuring how the next few things will be captured and kept for students. But back to the compositional tricks game – I play something called “I have, Who Has?” with the kids. I put out a bunch of photographs of artwork – each have different compositional tricks within them, some of them can be for different types of compositional tricks. I also have cards with the compositional tricks on them and some that have the definition. Students are given one of these. Once they match up on definition and word – they have to find their image(s). [Sometimes if a group is really large, I’ll give out the photos too.] The groups have to talk to each other because the images are somewhat ambiguous and some have multiple images. They also have to deconstruct their definition from words into what an image might be. Once they have matched up – they have to create a poster or something that can be put up in the room with the word, definition and some sort of image representing or a how to create that compositional trick. It’s not that deep of thinking or complicated in creating – but it gets students using some of the materials and working together. They also see that they have some say in what is up in the room.

This year I’m adding to this  because students are experts in ONE compositional trick – not all of them. So I’m going to have students present alongside me and a powerpoint their compositional trick – while the rest of the class takes notes using a flap book. They will have to have the compositional trick, the definition and a small visual. This will also be added to their notebook.

It’s finally Friday of the first week. Students’ schedules are beginning to settle and the culture is definitely beginning to be set. It’s also the time to really specifically teach the Growth Mindset  . I have, of course, used this language for years in my classroom (and life). But I went to NAEA-New York and went to this amazing presentation by Tobey Eugenio and she deliberately teaches students about their brains and how they can grow. I think this deliberate teaching and showing of brain growing is powerful. It means that it’s not just me being annoyingly Pollyanna for kids – but it’s research based. Students will have to do something, I haven’t gotten that far in my planning on specificity. Maybe some sort of questions or creative response. This isn’t something I want loads of time spent on because I want them to be presented the research and then students begin to see it in action with their own work and abilities.

Whew. We have hit the ground running. It’s really the only way to start the year.

It’s now Monday of week 2. This is where I continue my laying of the foundation. This week is a bit different – I will show some powerpoints about the elements, then the principles, then the contemporary principles of art and design. Students will create one page zines with information about these. Again I don’t find this stuff mindblowingly exciting – AND – I know it’s vital and students have requested more of this. So we will create these mini books – using a variety of methods. I’m going to have handouts and videos and magazines and textbooks available for students to create these. I want them to deconstruct and figure out what the word and the best way to demonstrate that word is.  These will take the entire week to create.

Along the way, we will begin to get into the habit of a Warm-Up or Do Now. Monday’s will be Artists, Tuesdays are Tedtalk responses, Wednesdays are quote responses, Thursdays are Growth Mindset, and Friday is feedback requests/responses. These I haven’t completely planned, but once I do, I’ll share them! This is something that I will plan for the entire year, because if I have to think about this too much, it’ll definitely be something that will go by the wayside.

So that’s the first two weeks. Nothing super earth shattering or mind blowing – but super important nonetheless. AND, all this deliberate thoughtful planning with options, with materials, with questions, with intention will help in the long run.

Here are the printables for the all the graphic organizers and zines. I figure having some pre-made might help students who need it.

Weekly Graphic Organizer


One Page Zine Principles

One Page Zine Elements

One Page Zine Contemporary Elements

One Page Zine Blank

flapbook compositional tricks 5 flaps

flapbook blank 5 flaps

Next post will be about students’ notebooks (which is a first year thing for me!) and executive functioning supports in the artroom!

4 thoughts on “Setting the Foundation

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all of your ideas here!!!

    I needed a jumpstart 🙃😉

  2. I will enjoy reading your posts

  3. Thank you for sharing such details. I am really interested in the QFT program, I will look deeper into that.

    You might check out the Conversation Game designed by Marvin Bartel. It is his way of helping students learn how to ask questions. It could be another fun activity to help the kids get to know each other too.

    1. Thanks! QFT is such an incredibly simple and effective way to get at what kids want to know. I’m excited to look into the Conversation Game! Thanks!

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