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What to do with Fast Finishers in your Art Classroom – Teaching Strategies for Art Educators

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Well my lovely friends, in case you don’t know or are just joining me for the first time, I am Kathleen McGiveron and I am both the founder and creator of all things Ms Artastic. I am a one woman show that creates everything from the art lessons and resources, my own websites including which is my blog, and the Artastic Collective which as you’ve just learned, is my membership site where you receive bundles of fully prepped art lessons each month that you can use immediately in your classroom. I also have my resources available in my TeachersPayTeachers store, Ms Artastic, and you can find it by searching Ms Artastic on TpT. I also run this podcast and I have a YouTube channel which produces new episodes each week. I am dedicated to YOU, Artastic Nation. I want to ensure that I can help you be productive, efficient, and fully planned, which will hopefully alleviate some of that art teaching stress as I help you plan your year.

In this article, we’re going to talk about what to do with those Fast Finishing students in your art classroom.

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Two kinds of Fast Finishers

Now, there are two reasons kids finish fast. First, they finish fast because they are focused and on task and don’t spend time getting distracted or procrastinating. The second reason is that they just rushed right through.

If you suspect some rushing, kindly ask the student to either add more detail to their work or slow down and take their time to do their best, or ask them to put it on the white board with a magnet and stand back to look at the work to see if they, themselves, can find any areas to improve on.

Either way, you’re always going to have students finish before the rest so let’s take a look at some ideas or routines that you can build into your classroom so that students know what to do when they’re done so they don’t have to ask you and so that you don’t have to instruct them on what to do EVERY time.

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Build this into your Classroom Routines

Now before I tell you suggestions or my ideas, please know that if you spend time at the beginning of the year building in these finishers as a routine, by the third month your kids will all most likely do it on their own. Maybe not if you have an exceptionally challenging class this year. Recently I’ve had a very challenging year and while most students were happy to follow the directions or routines, others did not. What I’m saying is, I get it and I know that not everything will work out. It’s always easier said than done in some circumstances.

So build routines. I always keep the same pattern in every lesson. We enter, we do a soft start until we’re all ready to begin the lesson (usually 5-10 minutes of choice draw or free art exploration or coloring, silently with calm music and dim lights). Once they’re calm and have transitioned their minds to art making, then I do a lesson, and then they do the work. After the work, students always do my “When you’re done” activity. I do centers in older grades. I have bins with pre-prepped activities that students can choose from to do when they’re done. Now I know that centers in primary is a social and play thing, but I’ve pulled that lovely concept up into older grades too. On my white board I have labels that state “First, Then, Next, After” which of course, is a visual schedule. As I generally have a lot of needs in my classroom, I decided to use that concept for ALL the students so that directions are clear to everyone and students can revisit the steps any time should they need to. This also stops kids asking me what they should do next or when they’re done. It is always visible. Under the “First, Then, Next, After” Labels, I write small instructions with my white board marker such as “Ceramics, pinch pot lesson”, then “Get clay”, then “Make pinch pot and set it to dry with a name and class label”, then “Art Centers” or “Sketchbook Assignment” when done.

I teach kids how to reference these instructions and I point to them as I tell kids what they are so they remember where to look when they forget a step. I do this every time.

When I first introduce the “When You’re Done” activities or Fast Finisher work, I always teach the expectations and how to use it for a few weeks and I make sure I reinforce what it looks like, the volume they should work at while their friends are focusing on their work, those kind of things. Once this has gone on for a while, you should start noticing the routine happening a bit more automatically. As I said, usually around the end of the 2nd month, or in the 3rd month.

Well my friends, let’s get to the good part… Let’s look at those Fast Finisher Ideas!

Directed Drawings

For grades 5 and under, I have a binder of Directed Drawing sheets that they can use to try and copy into drawings that will help them further build their confidence and fine motor skills. I keep the binder as my own master copy, and then I print them out as I need them and put one or two at a time in a basket that is labeled “Directed Drawing”. I have made Directed Drawing resources for all the seasons and holidays and these are available in my TpT store. You can even get the “Year Long Bundle” of my directed drawings so that you are set for the entire year! You can print out all the drawing steps and keep them in a binder as your own master copies, so you are ready to go, worry free, fully prepped.

Drawing or Sketchbook Prompts

Have a container of some unusual, not your average drawing prompts. These are also called task cards. Kids can pull out a drawing prompt or task card and can use it as an idea for what to draw. I like to photocopy my cards onto bright paper and laminate them for long time use and once-only prep. I’m not a fan of doing things twice, so for things like this I will usually laminate. It is a bit more work upfront but is Oh-So worth it. Kids can go to where you keep your drawing or sketchbook prompts and can pick one and then, depending on your preference, complete them in their sketchbooks, duo tangs, or on blank paper. If you’re looking for pre-made, fun and engaging sketchbook prompts, I have some created and they’re available in my TpT store or with your Artastic Collective membership. Find them under “Sketchbooks”.

Download Free Art Worksheets for Kids

Click here to download free art worksheets that you can print to allow kids to explore art at home!

Mini Art Challenges

,You can create some mini art challenges that should take approximately 2 classes to finish. You can have them laminated and they can describe challenges that give a target and mediums they need to use in the art piece. Each challenge could be different and present the student with a problem to solve or will force them to experiment with other mediums. They should really be mini explorations… Something like “Using crayons, newspaper, bubble wrap, and oil pastel, create a collage that explores blah blah blah” or “Use cardboard and tin foil to create a miniature sculpture inspired by the works of Donald Judd”… You can easily integrate multiple art types and art history into this. To add more fun and mystery, you can hide them around the room (for added movement break built into the day) OR put them in envelopes and number them in order so they have to go through each one and if they get to the very end, they can get a small prize or like… something fun. Like “make art upside down under a table” or “sit on a sweet chair (like a bean bag) for an entire class”.

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Sketchbook Assignments

. You can always put your sketchbook assignments as your assignment between projects. One of the most meaningful activities that I can bring into a classroom is the sketchbook. Sketchbooks are one of those things that can be extremely meaningful for students, or if not structured with rules and expectations, can discourage students, or it can become neglected.

Sketchbooks should be a source of creativity and joy for students. They should engage them on a deep level and provide a space for them to discover who they are, allow them to take risksexperiment with a range of mediums and materials, and explore their identity. It is important to provide your students with engaging sketchbook assignments that they can connect to, and through it, discover their identity and passions in life. Sketchbooks can make or break your art classroom depending on how you implement them. If you are able to set a time and routine for working on your sketchbook assignments, set up expectations of experimentation and quality by using examples of completed sketchbook prompts, and have a unit plan with an aim of what you will cover, then you should be able to implement your sketchbooks into your classroom in a meaningful way while covering many areas of the curriculum. You can create your own sketchbook prompts with examples to save you time so students can see the expectations and help themselves get started on their on. Or, for a quick time saver, you can get one of my completely planned Sketchbook units that have both a full page example for each prompt AND a smaller, glue-in one that you can cut up and they can glue onto their sketchbook page. I’ve created fully planned sketchbook resources for Elementary, Middle, and High School levels with prompts that are unique and encourage creativity and experimentation and best of all… ENGAGE the students. Find these in my TpT Store or with your Artastic Collective Membership in the Sketchbook Categories.

Smaller, Student Choice Art

Students can design their OWN smaller art piece based on the concepts and mediums they learned in the previous art project. For example, if they learned how to make pinch pots and they finish fast, they can design their own version of a pinch pot with more student exploration and choice as “Bonus” work.

Explore Technology

For older students and if you are fortunate to work in a school that gives you technology (I don’t but some do) then you can let them explore art videos and experiment with YouTube. (I’d give them a pre-determined list of Channels or playlists they may watch). This can allow them to continue working on their skills and even see professional artists creating! There are so many amazing art tutorials created by professional artists on YouTube now… you can find anything from sketchbooks showings or visual journal demonstrations. You can find how to create illusionist drawings or surrealist paintings. Museums now put on videos that explore artists or art shows. The world is changing and this, for me, is a HUGE positive. There are dark parts in the web, but this is a little candlelight that I do cherish as I love watching them myself. I can be in anyone’s studio, watching with an invitation from the artist! Just imagine if Andy Warhol were alive with this…

Mindful Art Space

Create a Zen Corner or Calming Corner. A mindful art space. A small corner with a rug, or comfy chairs or cushions. Put in some clip boards or boards to draw on and some mediums that DON”T cause chaos to carpet and let them explore in a zen way. You can even put a cheap or old radio with a CD of some meditation music or rain sounds. Let them turn it on and explore drawing on their backs, bellies, in comfort. No more than 5 to the carpet or zen area (because it will quickly loose that zen vibe). I’m pretty firm on the zen environment there and reinforce the fact that it needs to be silent, calm, and working. If I do not see that, I kindly remind them of the expectations and the next time I come to the carpet, it will be to ask them to return to their seats. And I follow through with that. After a while, maybe a couple months, the kids have made the expectation a positive working habit in that area. Now if you don’t have a carpet, or have no space for one, no worry. You can have a corner or a space with some different seating like a bench or old rocking chair or stools or bean bags. Be creative! Or you could just have a designated “Zen Table” and you deck it out to be different than the rest of the tables with maybe some plants or lighting… You got this! This can be how you can integrate in social emotional learning into your art classroom. It can also help students who struggle to self-regulation ease into your classroom as well (5 min timer at start of class for students who have no self-regulation or high anxiety can really help. Reduce time as year progresses).

Art Choice Boards

Art Choice Boards are another lovely option. You can create some art-themed choice boards to put at your tables. Photocopy them onto bright paper and laminate them and then you can keep them in your “When You’re Done” area or bin, or keep one at each table. These grid styled boards can have 9 “when you’re done” art activities on them to choose from and the kids can pick one to do when they’re done their assignments.

Well my friends, that is the end of this post. Here is your action item before I leave you! Pick one of these things to try in your classroom and see if it makes a difference and frees you up from explaining what to do when you’re done. Remember to be clear about your expectations and reinforce them. Routines don’t happen over night, so be patient as your students learn it well.

Thank you for reading my blog post! I am grateful that you did and I appreciate you having took the time to read to the end. Thank you so much. Please write any questions you have in the comments section of this post.

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Yours Truly,
Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)

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