The Hardest Unit (for me? or the students?)

Maybe it’s my own mindset about drawing, maybe it’s the amount of complaining kids do during the unit…but I dread teaching Drawing. I know it has something to do with the answer being consistently – “You just need to practice and you’ll get better” – that kids just hate too. They want the magical fairy to come and bestow realistic drawing skills on them (me too!).

I know that practice is important but so is relevancy and autonomy – check out Dan Pink discussing this. I showed my students this video to start out the unit. I wanted them to understand the WHY behind what I was going to try and do.

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Instead of focusing on the techniques or the results, I wanted to focus on practice. I wanted students to choose what they wanted to draw and then practice. So we rewatched Austin’s Butterfly to remind us on feedback and taking feedback. Then we chose something to draw. For some students this meant choosing an image I had, for others it meant finding something online, for others this meant taking some photos and sending them to me, for others still they used the objects in the room.

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And then… we started drawing. I met with kids each day as they drew, I gave them feedback in the moment. I also did demonstrations and found videos on specific skills like using graphite, charcoal, oil pastels, perspective, and figure drawing.

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Students knew each day would begin with a demo, they would then draw their image with a focus on practice, and then to end each class, they had to upload the image to Seesaw and answer a few questions. Each day I gave each student who uploaded to Seesaw specific written feedback.

Students definitely noticed their drawing ability improved but their language about their ability didn’t change, which was very aggravating.

Then we started the “assignment” part of the unit. I wanted the students to have loads of choice. So I opened things up – probably, possibly too much. Here’s the slideshow for the unit.

Students could choose what they wanted to draw and what they wanted to use to draw. And then they had the time to do it. I think I released too much – not enough scaffolds actually in place, not enough demos, not enough anything. I didn’t do enough I think. Actually I’m not sure. And this is where I am now. In this conundrum, the students each year have struggled and complained about the unit (which has looked different each time) but each time have improved a lot, but each time I feel like I have done a poor job of supporting students in this work.  Asking students hasn’t given me much help either – they said it was ok but they say most things are ok. I didn’t feel their engagement within the unit, so it was “ok”. But they improved..ugh. And here is the circular thinking.

But I’m done with the unit now and have loads of ideas whirling around for next year – some of which include making some major changes within the way I teach and within my curriculum in order to support kids as artists much better.

What do you do when students meet the goal but aren’t engaged? How do you adjust your teaching?

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