Teachers and Art Education

Teachers and Art Education

July 28th, 2013 by Karen Elzinga

Teaching and Art Educating

Babies are born with no knowledge, they turn into children who learn, and grow into adults with passion, knowledge and a supreme understanding of how things are, and how things work in the big world. How children learn and acquire knowledge, is becoming much clearer as studies into the capabilities of students, and the efficiency of teaching methods, become more developed. Researchers have studied and concluded that children learn via four alternate methods, and that teachers need to understand that children learn at different rates and individually, thus requiring a more varied approach to teaching. Children also adapt new information by adding it to old information already processed, allowing for a more defined understanding of topics. These are important break throughs in the process of educating tomorrows generation, and are essential to keeping up with the advancements of our ever changing world and technology.

By entertaining studies into the learning capabilities of students over the past 30 years, researchers began realising that it was not just a matter of the extent to which learning was given, but that the quality of the learning practices administered by teachers was also proving as an effective learning tool. These studies also concluded that learning is a far more individual process than first thought, and that most positive learning is done by a process of connection, where by new information is added to existing information, to form a new more extended knowledge base. These constructivist ideas lead to the redefinition of education and teaching of students effectively by allowing teachers to facilitate learning outcomes rather than direct the totality of student outcomes. The end results are that students build their own fundamental reasoning and knowledge of topics from the ground up, rather than from a regimental process of the teacher teaches, and the student memorises what has been taught (Killen, 2007). 

An example of a facilitated learning lesson maybe a year 7 class given the art task of sculpture building, they are provided with a recycled pile of cardboard materials, and are asked to build a man made structure based on the knowledge they were taught in a prior lesson about assembling materials using nails, tape, wire, glue or string. In the prior class students were taught how to create cubes, 3d triangles and rectangles using the recycled materials, along with the selected bonding agents for constructing them together. In the construction class students are required to draw on their prior knowledge, and extend upon it building individual structures/sculptures. By allowing students creative freedom they have the ability to cement what they have learnt about construction and to learn what works and what doesn't. If a student decides to go too big to soon without the correct use of supports, they may soon discover that their project may not stand up correctly, or will not atheistically meet their requirements. By challenging the student memory recall from the prior lesson where instructions and practice were achieved, the student will discover for themselves the correct joining materials by a process of elimination, this may in fact require several attempts, but because they are extending on their knowledge with every successful construction phase, they will understand better next time just how to build a far superior creation the first time around. 

Students will not only learn the process and the best bonding materials for constructing when using cardboard as the material, but it will also cement their bank of knowledge for future art projects that require any form of 3D construction, as it will provide students with an extended knowledge base that they have forged and built upon themselves, thus allowing for a more rounded and complete learning process that will be remembered. This is not a project about failure, but it is about learning that in art mistakes are made, and that art is about process, any artist will explain that for every 5 good works, there was one failed one. It's about building on their level of knowledge, brick by brick, not the teacher telling them brick by brick how to do it, and how the end project should look. 

For students to acquire new knowledge successfully they need to be able to integrate it into their understanding of how things work, it needs to peak their curiosity and challenge their logic, if they can see new knowledge as working knowledge it will be a fundamental acquirement, if they cannot see success they will challenge its worthiness and new knowledge may quickly be forgotten (Killen, 2007). 

In an art room setting classroom management is an important aspect of student creativity; it is paramount that all key elements to aide individual learning are in place, this means that teachers need to be well organized in advance, with the art room set up to foster and enhance student's ability to make creative decisions, at the peak of their practical lessons. An example of this maybe that the teacher gives instructions for students to do a picture using paint as the base material, then finish it off by using pastels and chalk to define, when students finish work quicker than expected they are left waiting for the arrival of pastels and chalk, which the teacher failed to put out before the lesson. As a result students may lose interest when their creativity is interrupted, may forget their course of action when waiting too long, or may become disruptive to others due to boredom with nothing to do, they may also become frustrated with the teacher if the lack of supples occurs on a regular basis (Brady, Laurie, Scully, Alan, 2005). 

The art room is a very busy place and students are often pushed for time, thus students need to know and understand that their educational needs are meet by the teacher, that they are organized and well planned in advance, and that all materials required for the lesson have been placed out easily accessible by all students. For the art room to be a calm and relaxed space rather than a hectic or frustrating one, organization is the overriding factor to a successful art lesson and thriving student creativity and learning (Brady, Laurie, Scully, Alan, 2005). Some students will not speak up when they do not have a necessary item required, and will opt to sit and do nothing, this scenario happened to me at my work earlier this year, in my first week of teaching a class of year 7 students. Two girls did not have a brush in front of them, and thus sat there until l asked them 10 minutes after they were instructed to start, why they had not painted anything yet, one girl said "we didn't have a brush", yet there were brushes 2 metres away from them, but because it was not in front of them, they were to inhibited to get up and search one out, or put up their hand to ask for one. 

Nicolas Hobbs (1982) stated that there is a trust that is required between an adult and a child, if that level of trust exists than a quality foundation has been built, and upon that foundation can education of the child be successful. Trust is the bonding agent holding a learning child and the teaching adult in a harmonious relationship (Jones, Jones, 1998). 

Trust is essential in an art room setting particularly because children are putting themselves in the vulnerable position of bringing out their inner creativity, their inner feelings, and their most inner imagination for others to judge. If a child does art that is considered by others to be weird or strange, they are opening themselves to ridicule or receiving bad comments from peers, which ultimately could impact on their artistic self concept by believing ill fated comments such as "Jon and Susan are always calling my art freaky and scary, maybe that's what they think l am" (Guay, Boivin, Hodges, 1999; Marsh, Hau, 2003). 

It is up to the teacher to validate the work and expose the child's fantastic use of imaginative skills to the class, this is as simple as stating to the class on a very regular basis from the first class, that the art room is a place of imagination, and the more students use every ounce of their imagination the more varied and interesting their work will become. Teachers could use recognized artists who work in the weird and creepy as examples that art is a very diverse and individual thing, thus educating students that what they may consider as "disturbing or disgusting" maybe actually quite normal in the world of art. This would also help to foster an environment based on trust, equality, and appreciation of individuality. 

Doctor and multiple child psychology books author Mary Ann Smialek talks about children's ability to learn via four tangible means, the visual learner who remembers best what is seen, for example if an art teacher was giving instruction on what was going to be the focus of the class, they could have pre made the finished product, or have it made in the stages of development, or made it in front of the students so they could visually see what they had to do. The second way of learning is the auditory style, these children remember most when they hear a teacher speak what is required, in this instance an art teacher as they demonstrated what needed to be done would also be telling students the step by step procedure. The third learning method is Kinaesthetic learning, in this method students require being able to experiment or get hands on, this process could be best delivered by a teach as you go method, where the art teacher visually shows learners what to do, whilst orally explaining the steps as you go along, as students also do it at the same time in stages. This way could also work effectively for the fourth way children learn which is to be tactile, whereby students would require the art teacher to allow them to feel and touch materials as they learnt about them (Smialek, n.d). 

In conclusion whatever the process teachers decide to teach in, teachers need to understand what is being taught, and how best to deliver it to the diversity of student needs, remembering that there are four defined ways that children learn. Teacher intellect requires constant stimulation on research issues pertaining to student learning, so they are able to stay fresh and current in a fast changing world. Teachers also need to foster trusting relationships with students to allow for high quality learning environments, which focus on how the teacher can help the students reach their goals. One way teachers can build trust is through work validation, it is important for students self concept and self esteem not only to be challenged in an art room environment where imagination and creativity are expected, but also when they have done a good job or thought outside the square, to feel appreciated and encouraged for their individuality and choices. Today many children are still falling through the educational cracks, so extensive research opportunities need to be ongoing so new and improved methods to correct student learning capabilities, can be established in the hope that all our children's educational futures maybe brighter and more for filled. 


Brady, L., & Scully, A. (2005). Engagement: Inclusive classroom management. Frenchs Forest: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Chapter 5 (pp. 103-139). 

Groundwater-Smith, S., Brennan, M., McFadden, M., & Mitchell, J. (2001). Secondary schooling in a changing world. Harcourt: Sydney & London. Chapter 3 (pp. 33-51). 

Killen, R. (2007). Effective teaching strategies: Lessons from research and practice (4th ed.). South Melbourne, Vic: Thomson Social Science Press. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-44). 

Guay, F., Boivin, M., Hodges, E.V.E. (1999). Social comparison processes and academic achievement: The dependence of the development of self evaluations on friends' performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 564-568. 

Jones, V. F., & Jones, L. S. (1998). Comprehensive classroom management (5th ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Chapter 3 (pp. 69-112). 

Smialek. M. n.d. How do children learn. http://maryannsmialek.com/reso... (accessed on March 13, 2013). 

Whilst the importance of a teacher knowing and understanding the subject matter being taught to students is paramount, they also require intimacy of the complexities of student learning. For teachers to assimilate knowledge from their own cognitive ability, into relaying information to students, they must first devise various methods and approaches that will enhance their own acquisition of knowledge, so they are better equipped to learn and teach it to others. Teachers who understand that a one size fits all approach is not fruitful or proactive in a class room of diverse learners, are far better equipped to stimulate and interact with students, by utilizing a flexible and more varied approach (Groundwater-Smith, S., Brennan, M., McFadden, M., & Mitchell, J. 2001) 


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