When I started teaching at my current school last year, I needed to design a curriculum from scratch. I pulled from my experience teaching K-5 from 2012-2019, and my experience teaching 6-8 from 2020-2022. I've used some of my favorite lessons from the past, and developed new ones to meet the needs and interests of my students.
For 8th grade, I really wanted to focus on giving students experience with a variety of art media. I structured the curriculum to introduce a new medium each month. At the beginning of the month, I would go over basic skills and techniques, followed by warm-up activities and traditional art projects. I gave clear objectives and directed the projects and students practiced new skills. By the end of the month, students were to demonstrate their understanding with independent projects. Students selected the subject matter, and were only required to apply the techniques and skills learned from earlier in the unit.
I enjoy this approach for my 8th graders. They are the oldest students in the building and I want their art class to have more independence and student choice.
The Curriculum Lineup
"There's always more to explore, but again, my goal is to introduce students to a variety of experiences."
"My goal is to start each month with low-stakes activities and projects where most students are able to be successful."
My mission for this type of curriculum is to build students' confidence. As middle school students, this may be the last time some of my students take an art class. I think of these assignments as warm-ups or calisthenics before the main event. I demonstrate a new skill or technique, students try it out with simple exercises before being asked to apply it to a full-on project.
For example, during my drawing unit we did warm-ups like:
- Creating a value scale
- Drawing 3D forms: cube, sphere, pyramid, cylinder, etc.
- Timed observational drawings - 1, 5, and 10 minute drawings of objects setup in front of students
- Kinetic drawings inspired by Heather Hansen
- Reductive drawings with charcoal
We did all of these warm-ups that reinforced the concept of creating a range of value, paying attention to the light source, working with actual drawing pencils (2H, H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, 6B) and charcoal.
My goal is to start each month with low-stakes activities and projects where most students are able to be successful. Once students had this practice and variety of experience, then they were asked to create a final drawing project on their own. They could choose the subject matter, but had to apply an understanding of value. I asked them to make sure they had at least 5 distinct values in their finished work.
"Teaching skills and techniques alone doesn't allow for much creativity. I want to see how my students can apply those skills as young artists."
Another reason I created this type of curriculum for 8th grade is because my students will be entering high school next year. My hope is that they find at least one medium they can be successful in and develop a passion for. Some of my students who are particularly interested in art, have the opportunity to apply/audition for a special program in our district called the CAPA Program.
The CAPA program benefits students who are "passionate and artistically talented in one or more of the arts: choir, band, orchestra, piano, dance, visual arts, media arts, theatre and technical theatre."
Last year, I had a student who applied at the beginning of the year, but was not accepted. She was extremely talented, but her portfolio was lacking work that demonstrated a full range of her capabilities. The school did not have an art program before I was hired, so much of her portfolio was work she did at home. When she told me she was trying to apply again, I wanted to make sure she had strong projects that reflected her abilities but also her creativity.
Teaching skills and techniques alone doesn't allow for much creativity. I want to see how my students can apply those skills as young artists. I could show the class how to draw an apple realistically, but if everyone copies my demonstration, I've missed an opportunity for individual expression. Instead, I use those demonstrations as necessary skill-building, but ask students to apply them to their own interests, values, and experiences. The result has been higher-level thinking, more creative artwork, and a variety of approaches that reflect how unique each student truly is.
Ending the Year Strong
My plan for the end of the year focuses on two things: student success and student engagement. During the month of May, I plan to allow students to take a look back at all they've learned throughout the year. "What medium was your favorite? Which project are you most proud of?" During this month, students will create new work in the medium of their choice. They will also be allowed/encouraged to mix media. At the end of the month, my school has a portfolio review for all classes. My 8th grade students will be able to select the work that best demonstrates what they've learned this year to discuss in their portfolio review.
June is our last month together before summer break, and before my 8th grade students leave for high school. I want this to be a time where students are still introduced to new skills and trying media/processes for the first time. This year, I plan to incorporate a lot of printmaking activities for my 8th graders. I've always loved printmaking and it's my favorite process to teach, especially when I get to witness students pull their first print. I can only describe it as magic. They're amazed at the process, and I feel overwhelmingly happy to share that with them.
Obviously the end of the school year is stressful and students and staff alike are ready for summer break. I hope that planning a printmaking unit during the month of June will give me something to look forward to, and make the art classroom a fun place to spend those last weeks together.
How do you organize your curriculum?
How do you balance skills/techniques with student choice?
Which media do you love teaching? Which do you struggle with most?
Mr. DeWilde's Blog