Monday, March 7, 2011

Relax a little 5th grade!

I really like teaching 5th graders. As some drunk man told me said this weekend, "They are old enough to know better but young enough to want your love." How true drunk dude, how true.

My current 5th graders are intense little perfectionists. They always have been. It used to be when something did not turn out perfect, this was the first group to tear up the paper and break down in tears. They don't do that anymore (thank goodness!) but they still want everything just so. They constantly are asking, "Is this right? Is this line right, is this shape right, is this the right color, is this the right placement....on and on?" They burn through paper and erasers and have a strange fixation on using rulers for everything. They do beautiful work but it takes forever and I fear their fixation on the technicalities is keeping them from feeling the joy of creating art.

So this year I have been working hard to break them of this need for perfection so they can simply ENJOY creating art. I want them to like what they are doing, not just care if it is "right" or not. We have talked a lot about there not being a "right," answer in art. I spent most of October, November and December yelling...."whatever you have, it's ok!! stop asking." and happily they are getting much better. I feel so confident in their progress that I have decided to push my luck on our next two lessons. I just let them spend 5 classes on very technical Paul Klee geometric cities with tiny tinny shapes and tiny tinny brushes and all the rulers and protractors they wanted.

But now it is time to loosen up. We are going to look at Matisse (that good old wild beast) and the master of wonky art himself, Picasso.

Today we started doing a version of Matisse's goldfish. I gave them LARGE paper, I took away the pencils, confiscated the erasers and forced them to draw with big chunky oil pastels. There were no do overs and I went fast so their was not time to analyze every line. Then before they could think or complain we added our goldfish and I pulled the oil pastels from their clammy hands, replaced them with large brushes, a swirl of green paints and yelled, "5 min to make leaves and vines...GO!" One girl lamented..."mine looks like a kindergartner did it!" "Excellent," I cackled as I trotted around the room rubbing my hands. I heard the word loco being muttered a lot. But wouldn't you know it, when I collected their work it looked great! They are not the most sophisticated artworks ever, but for once I feel like their work has movement and life and JOY it it. We are going to keep working fast, and with lots of colors and at one point I am taking away the brushes and make them finger paint! Even if this lesson ends up being more process then product I'm excited to see the kids break out of their box and give into the simple act of creating art. I realized my goal IS to have them work as Kindergartners. Not judging, not analyzing, not perfecting, but simply experiencing and enjoying!!!


  1. Have you read the book "Beautiful Oops?" I have been thinking about taking a class to explore making art out of mistakes (as illustrated in the book).
    I look forward to seeing your students results. I am going to be teaching Matisse and Picasso with 4th grade soon.

  2. i enjoy this technique too... and Matisse is the best way to teach it i think. i do a similar "room with a view" painting (no pencils, just paint and brushes) with 2nd grade and they all love it. we look at several of his window paintings and i let them sketch a few ideas in sketchbooks first to get the ideas rolling, then when it's time to paint we just go for it. thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this! Maybe I'll have to get my students to start working with permanent marker in their essays. That'd really shake things up!

    One technique I use with my perfectionist students is sounding off like a buzzer whenever they say something bad about themselves.

    "My handwriting is just so bad..."
    "Ehhhhh! Ehhhh ehh ehhhhhh!"

    If that doesn't work, I go, "Zzzzzzt! Zzzzzt zzzt zzzzzzt!"

    Eventually, they start doing themselves. Really cracks 'em up. The gameshow technique really works!

  4. LOVE it! I used to think this with my 9th graders but I do find that 5th graders are the same! Although mine this year are FULL of Joy and silliness! They will try anything and make a HUGE mess doing it! It's fabulous and I love everything they do... so far they are my FAVORITE group this year!

  5. so true - unless they create perfect work, they believe they are useless as artists. not true