Exploration, collaboration, discussion and experimentation are the keys to how I teach art.
I have been influenced mainly by Reggio Emilia, an educational philosophy focused on preschool and early primary education. The program emphasizes the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment that flows from the interests of the children. The belief is that during early years of development children possess a multitude of ways to express themselves, such as painting, sculpting, drama, and dance, through which they can portray their ideas and learn through a somewhat self-guided curriculum. This approach aims to use these symbolic languages in a learning environment to teach all subjects. This philosophy puts the process of discovery by the children over product, and seeks to lead them to a deeper understanding of materials and helps them to examine their ideas more fully.
I believe that the principles of Reggio Emilia can also be applied in a more advanced manner to older students, and, as an art educator, I have adapted them to how I teach and inspire my students. When the students start an art project, we as a group discuss the topic at length before we start to work on it. This gives everyone a chance to voice his or her ideas and exchange view points and knowledge about the topic with the class.
When we start working, different ways of approaching the project are available to all the students. Some might work together on a large painting or sculpture. Others might choose to work on their own or with one partner. There is often a large painting in the studio that at some point all the students in the class will have a chance to work on. This give the students the opportunity to learn from each other as they work collaboratively.
The students will also have the opportunity to work in many different mediums during the course of the project. Some students might use printmaking while others might use their iPads to create stop-action movies or work in Photoshop to create posters.
Creating cross curricular projects with other teachers is another important part of how I develop ideas for my classes. Over the years I have developed projects with the History and Social Studies teacher, English teacher, Science teacher, and the Math teacher. When student are able to approach a project from two or three different disciplines it allows them to see the subject matter from different perspectives and deepen their understanding of the topic. This in turns helps develop their analytical thinking.
One example of a cross curricular project is an abstract painting project I developed with the music teacher. Working with the terms usually used to describe music, the boys made abstract paintings based on motif, repetition, sequence, imitation, inversion, retrograde, and inverted retrograde to develop patterns and compositions in their artworks. Discovery and exploration are an important part of the process.
The students first made preliminary drawing which we put the up in the studio and as a group we discussed how the drawings reflect the music terms we used. We then looked at famous abstract paintings and the students were able to identify how the music terms existed in these artworks.
The next phase of the project was for the students to create finished and polished drawings and paintings. As the students worked, they started to understand the close relationship between the terms used in making music and art. The Students made their own individual paintings as well as larger collaborative paintings to develop their ideas more fully.
In the music room, the boys were learning about minimalist composers and music and creating their own minimalist compositions.
Teaching is an interaction meant to stimulate minds and achieve an exchange of ideas. I want to empower my students to participate, engage and eventually envelope the information, integrating it into their own ideas and work. I see the teacher’s role as establishing a safe and welcoming place for learning to happen. If the teacher owns and understands the material, they are a capable catalyst in empowering the students development of skills and their own original voice.