Art teachers, we know encouraging students to make art can sometimes happen easily and other times, it’s a challenge. You bring out, act out, or show your “hook” and BAM! They’re engaged and are wanting to do their best. Depending on the age or the student’s own personal experience with creating art, this is sometimes a challenge and you might even get a complete refusal. As a teacher, it is our job to encourage a student to create. After many years of experience teaching, and having taught art to students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, I have a few tricks up my sleeve in terms of getting ALL your students to create art, even if they really don’t want to. Let’s look at ideas for how to inspire the reluctant artists and art makers in your classroom.
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Before we begin…
Before we dive in on looking at different approaches, it is important to know that building a relationship and earning your student’s trust is key for success, not only for the art project you’re working on, but to create an environment where the student always feel safe when making art. A lot of the time, the barriers for not wanting to create are: self-judgement, fear of peer judgment, fear of failure, and lack of exposure to creating art. Remember, that creating art can make a lot of people feel vulnerable. Creative thinking and using new mediums or materials can make people (including students) feel uncomfortable. All of these prevent individuals from wanting to do their best. A lot of times kids act out or are reluctant to try because they fear what their peers might think. And isn’t this true for us as well?
Let’s take a look at some strategies you can try out in your classroom! Make sure you stick to one for a while to ensure that the new habit or pattern makes a difference (1 day is not sufficient).
Teach Growth Mindset
Teach Growth Mindset to overcome fear of failure and encourage a mistake driven classroom. Growth Mindset is essential in creating an environment where students are not afraid to make mistakes or fail. Teaching Growth Mindset in your art classroom is essential if you want students to believe that THEY can GROW! Teaching “Growth Mindset” thinking to your students in your classroom can teach them to change the way they think: to allow them to believe they can create art if they practice and try, to know that mistakes help them learn, and that learning takes time and determination and that we are not expected to create the BEST art piece from the start, instead knowing that (like anything) learning the creative process is a journey and an adventure where you create, experiment, make mistakes, and encounter failures. They will know that it’s okay to go through this journey because we are all life long learners. You can teach Growth Mindset through YouTube, Powerpoints, or worksheets and discussions. You can even teach students Growth Mindset through MAKING ART!
Have a Calming Space
Have a calming space for students who are easily frustrated. Sometimes we have students in our classroom who show their frustration in unexpected ways. We know what that looks like: breaking pencils, shredding paper, or even up-turned chairs. Have a safe, calming space in your classroom where the student can go to for 5 minutes (use a timer) to calm down before they’ve already turned into the red beast. This way they know you’re there to support them, and that they can take a short break to get back into the “ready-to-learn” mindset before they continue working and try again. Otherwise, they might just completely shut down and refuse to work at all.
Encourage a Safe Classroom
Encourage a safe classroom where everyone understands that we all have different levels of experience or practice in art making. You need to make it clear at the beginning of your year, term, or semester (and revisit the conversation more than often) that your classroom is a safe space where students are allow to feel safe to experiment, learn, make mistakes, and even failure (because, if you’ve taught Growth Mindset, the kids already know that failing is an opportunity for growth and learning). Celebrate mistakes and point out when you’ve made a boo-boo. Laugh and make it something! Everyone makes mistakes, even teachers. Keep it safe, it all starts with you as the leader.
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!
All Art Should be Unique
All art SHOULD be unique! Explain your expectations. You are here to help students do THEIR best, not have them compare themselves to others. You just want them to try. You should state this at the start of your class/term/year/semester, but also reinforce it through the year. You need to be consistent and you need to encourage them always. Remind them that they are doing THEIR PERSONAL BEST. Art SHOULD be unique. If you wanted all the art to be the exact same as your example, then you should have instead ordered a photocopier instead of kids. Encourage them to do their best (which is your expectation of everyone), and encourage them to add their own artist flavor.
Build Confidence: Start with projects where students will be successful to build confidence. If you start off with projects that not EVERYONE can achieve, then you will have students immediately loosing confidence in their abilities. Start with mini art challenges where the focus is on the experimentation and creative process instead of the end product. Focus on building skills with directed drawings for the first project or as a when-you’re-done. Make them play-based and fun. Pick projects that you know everyone will be able to achieve.
Work with Student Interests
Work with student interests. Start with projects that are on topics of current student interests. If kids are interest in Llamas, unicorns, or sharks for example and that is the current trend, then why not create art projects during the start of your year/term/semester that will hook their interests and draw them into your class? This is an easy way to earn their trust and build confidence.
Allow Student Choice.
Allow student choice and allow them to add their “artist flavor”. While teaching, it will be essential to allow them to show THEMSELVES in their work. They should be able to relate to the work, to see themselves in it, and have it be meaningful to their style and interests. Let your kids change something and do it in their style when making art. For example, if you’re leading a directed art project and you draw a dog’s face in a specific style but a student likes Great Danes instead of Golden Retrievers, let them change the dog and draw that style instead! They will of course, copy parts of what your doing and will still be learning the other art making techniques (like pencil crayon or oil pastel). Or it could be smaller details like eyes. I do a lot of cartoon eyes, but if a kid wants to draw Kawaii eyes or realistic eyes, they SHOULD be allowed to do it. We’re not robots and how boring would it be if every art piece was the same.
Make an effort to earn their trust.
Make an effort to earn the trust of and build a relationship with your students who are resistant to art making. Sit with them at their tables, chill with them. Make art beside them as they create. You can also try doing small group instruction where you pull some students who are reluctant to a table and work with them where they don’t have to feel pressured by their peers and know that you have their backs. I call my rainbow table “Party Island” because having a party is way cooler than “getting help from the teacher”. Everyone likes to work with me at Party Island. They know I have their backs and that there is no judgment. I can talk to them and get to know them as they work, earn their trust, and build a relationship much easier than if I sent them out into the wilderness. Yes, my desk/rainbow table IS Party Island, so I did have to turn my filing cabinet into a locker of my old desk supplies. But students feel more comfortable to be themselves and while I talk them up, they completely forget that they were unwilling to create art 5 minutes ago. They forget and just do and chill with me and their peers. Of course, do leave and float and check on your other friends. All the while, you’re challenging students know that they’re safe and they trust you.
Show YOUR true colors!
Make sure that you show your TRUE colours and who YOU are. Let them know who you are as a person beyond the teacher. I’m not saying tell them every detail, but let them know some of your likes, or if you like video games or marvel movies. They can connect to that! Be fun! Don’t feel afraid to have fun and show YOUR TRUE colors. Be silly! Why? Kids need to know your human. You are not a robot talking in front of a room. Just be your TRUE SELF. Share your faves! Show YOUR artist flavor as you create your examples or do demonstrations and tell them to do the same on their own works. People relate to HUMANS, not robots. Therefore, you will have a much easier time connecting with students through this approach as well (and this does not mean throw classroom management out the door, still do that, but have your fun edge too).
Try out these ideas and see how they work for you! Make sure you try a strategy for a while.
HERE IS YOUR ACTION ITEM!
I recommend doing 2-3 of these strategies and see if it makes a difference. You can always add more of these strategies to your tool belt as time goes on. Remember, building relationships and earning a student’s trust takes time. I had 1 student who wouldn’t let me talk to him or teach him for 3 months. It took 3 months of hard work and of him yelling “I’M BORED” on repeat while I was instructing before I found my way in to creating a connection with him. After that, I sealed the deal and earned his trust and he instead wanted to engage with the lessons rather than sabotage them. It just required me finding that one little key that would open the door.
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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Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)
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