Art Connections



This week I observed a substitute teacher give an art lesson to third graders.  Besides learning that this is a great way for a substitute teacher to engage a classroom and for students to learn about concentric circles and abstract art, I witnessed how art reaches some of the students whom do not usually seem completely engaged.  It seems cliché, but after witnessing a student who is often withdrawn socially (and does have an IEP to help with this) reveal her creativity and be excited about other people’s appreciation of it, I, who was already a believer in the importance of arts education, saw first-hand how art can boost self-esteem, bring unknown attributes of a person to the forefront, and so much more that researchers have pointed out.
The art displayed above is an in-progress example of the aforementioned student’s work. Normally, when I say hi to this student, I just get a pleasant glance through her hair which is usually covering her face, because her head is down. She does not welcome help with her work and usually sits alone at lunch. When the students made their tree and branches using a loose tracing around an arm and hand, she had the brilliant idea to make the ends of the branches jagged when she cut them. None of the other students thought to do this. I genuinely praised her choice, because it looked really cool, and the student sitting next to her then noticed it and copied her. I could tell she was really proud, and it opened up a communication between her and the girl who copied her idea. I asked if I could take some pictures of her work, which she let me do, and then I was completely surprised when she approached me at the end of the work period and asked if I would like a photo of her completed art. It felt so good to finally have a connection with this student and a glimpse into her mind. Maybe she will welcome help, or at least conversation, from me in the future. Maybe she will be more receptive to guidance from or sharing with others as a result of this positive experience. Most importantly, she seemed proud enough of her work to be willing to share a part of herself.


3 thoughts on “Art Connections

  1. I’m so glad you got to have that interaction with her. Additionally it’s good to hear about the impact a well-prepared sub can have on kids. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it’s like for substitute teachers – I feel like maybe some of our experiences trying to teach in other people’s classrooms is somewhat analogous. Art seems like a solid medium through which to engage kids with whom you’re not necessarily familiar.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your account of this lesson. It sounds like it was a powerful one for not only you, but for the student as well. My cooperating teacher talks about finding ways for his students to feel successful, and I have been thinking of ways that we can provide those experiences for students. It sounds like this art lesson not only provided this student with an opportunity to feel successful but to also be a role model for her peers.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. That’s a wonderful story. I think there are so many ways to give positive feedback to kids. I also appreciate your mention that you genuinely felt the praise you gave her.

    Isn’t it amazing how hungry these kids are for connection? Even the ones who avoid eye contact. What I especially like about what you did was that you asked to take a picture of her work. Doing that with kids reframes whatever they are doing, I think. It acknowledges their effort and achievement, and signals our interest in it. It’s also a chance to give them some positive feedback without words (if you don’t actually say anything). Then I think it makes them reconsider whatever they are working on, looking at it to see what YOU might be seeing in it. I don’t always think we have to give a lot of feedback to kids, just considered feedback that lets them see their work in a new way through this kind of connection.

    Once I went to an event in a fourth grade classroom, a “Wax Museum” where the kids were dressed as various figures in history. The students wrote and memorized a summary of their characters’ lives, which they would recite if a visitor pushed a button. There was one student who was wearing his regular clothes, looking kind of ill at ease. I think no one was pushing the button where he was because it really wasn’t clear he was a part of the Wax Museum. I had volunteered in his class the day before, and when I asked him what he was going to wear as his character, he seemed a little upset, and said that his mom was supposed to make something for him to wear. He was upset because he didn’t think his mom would really make him anything. So at the event, I was taking pictures of the characters as I made the rounds. I pushed the button at the un-costumed boy’s spot, and he said his speech. I asked if I could take his picture, a little worried that he might not like that idea. What happened though was that he totally lit up. He stood up nice and straight, and I took the picture: a nine year-old boy in jeans and a t-shirt. This showed me how kids can be so trustful and resilient, and how they need us to attend to them. I will always remember his smile at that moment.

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