Turn Your Classroom into a Workshop
The “workshop” model is different than the standard “classroom” model and works very well for after-school art classes. I have already written about the importance of collaboration but I would like to go a little more in depth into how I set up my lesson plans and manage my class. What do I mean by workshop? A workshop has an end goal. Every lesson and activity serves to build the skills needed for the end result. Not only that, but the class must work together from set up to clean up in order to achieve this goal. There are no grades, but the students analyze and critique their progress.
This way of working is best exemplified by my Mural Arts classes. First I show the students examples of murals from Lancaster City and other areas. Then I tell them that they have the opportunity to create a large painting that will send a message to their school and potentially the greater community. This is their main motivating factor. They need to work together and stay focused to achieve this, otherwise they will have missed a chance at beautifying and impacting their school. Why does a workshop model work best to achieve this? I use brainstorming, list making, poetry, image research (books and internet), drawing, tracing, painting, typography, stenciling, computer effects, charades, storytelling, and games in the process of creating a mural. It is not necessary for each student to master each of these activities. It is important that they are encouraged to try all of them, find the ones they excel in, and share the results of their work.
Also, it is not necessary to have every student working on the same task at the same time. Here is an example of the multi-tasking collaborative workshop. During my set design class at Price Elementary my group was charged with the assignment of creating backdrops for Alice in Wonderland. I had a 5th grade boy, the “Scribe,” organizing drawings into piles and making lists of what needed to be done. He communicated to the “Image Research Department,” a 3rd grade girl who was using an internet image search program to find and print examples. These examples were given to the “Sketchers” who were busy drawing their own versions of the printed material. I, the “Manager” was walking around to each group or student and checking on their progress, as well as offering encouragement and challenges. This more closely resembles the “real world” and what children may experience once they are old enough to hold a job.
It takes time and consistency for this type of class structure to flourish. I’ve been lucky enough to teach a Mural Arts class at Hamilton Elementary for an extended session of 16 weeks instead of the usual 8 weeks. The students in my class now know what is expected of them and are able to work in what sometimes seems to be a hectic environment. When they first meet up with before going to our room they know to ask about a warm up activity. They volunteer to carry the supplies. They know they need to get their smocks on if they are painting. When they complete a task or get bored with what they are doing they ask me what else they can help with. Last week I had two students who were cleaning the paint brushes and cups so thoroughly that they refused to stop when it was time to line up to leave. I had to walk out of the room with the other kids in order to convince them that I was serious. This effort to clean shows that they are taking responsibility for the process and are invested in the project.
As the Visual Arts Director for Heads Up it is my responsibility to make my classes fun and relevant. It is is also my responsibility to help the students find what they are passionate about and learn how they can fit into and add to a group. We have a unique opportunity in the after-school programs to build and explore alternative methods of instruction. It is often difficult to make the switch from the standard classroom to the workshop model but is well worth it.