Tuesday, September 27, 2011

never had art before

For the third time in my teaching life I have class after class of students who have never had art before. Mostly 6th graders, but also some 7th graders, who did not take art last year. I have nice, enthusiastic kids who are happy to try new things but each day I am reminded again that we are starting from scratch. Our biggest issues has been learning how to use paint. Upon giving my classes watercolor sets and paintbrushes for the first time I realized we needed a serious crash course in painting. I had to walk around and gently show about half the kids how to hold the brush like a pencil not like a javelin. Then we spent time with skills I try to teach to my kindergarten students. How to correctly rinse a brush, how to mix watercolor paint to the correct thickness, how to have our brush sweep across the page without smashing the bristles. I have little songs and saying to teach these things to kinder and first and I'm having to think fast on how to change my explanations to sound more "adult" but still get the same message across.

I guess I wasn't too surprised when I brought out the tempera paint for my color wheel star and the kids flipped out. Some kids lost control completely and I had to pull hands out of water bowls and lecture on why we do not paint on our own skin! I quickly removed their projects from them and backed the lesson train up. I took 15min to demo on how to correctly use tempera (we don't add water to it!), how to rinse, and dry our brush between colors, how to put a dime to nickle sized amount of paint into our paint try. How to mix our colors on wax paper without ruining all of our paint. THEN I put some large chart paper on each table and told them to just paint. You would think I gave those kids each a puppy, unlimited accesses to a candy store and permission to stay up all night long. They were so happy to just mix random colors and paint blobby blobs....kind of like 1st graders. When the splatter painting started I called it quits and taught them how I want everything cleaned. EVERYTHING. Nice thing about teaching kids who have never had art is you get to teach them what clean looks like. With four sinks in my new room each student has to wash all of their own painting supplies and wipe down their table. I no longer have to do the clean up for them.

The next day I had groups of three mix colors to make a large group color wheel. So interesting to listen to them try to figure out how to mix secondary and intermediate colors. They had great debates over what is orange and what is orange red. We decided a true orange is the color of a perfect pumpkin, a great green is the color of Kermit the frog and that a good purple is hard to make! Then I told them they needed to figure out how to make brown. You could see their brains working. I told them it was like a science experiment. They needed to hypothesize, test and then report back their findings. In situations like this I much rather the kids discover how to make the colors then have me tell them.

After three straight days of practicing with paint enough of the kids had gotten over the initial novelty and were ready to start working on their color star lesson. I constantly have to remind them to slow down...it is not a race, to mix on the wax paper, to change their water and to try to paint in the lines...nag nag nag. But we have already come so far from a week ago and there were no tears and I have great hope that if I can get the kids trained that we can do amazing things in the future. Even at middle school level sometimes its is a process first and then a product.


  1. never had art before??? oh my - that makes me so sad. I thought it was crazy when I pulled out the water colors this year with my 8th graders (history) and they said they hadn't painted since the 2nd grade! Really people - come on - get your art on!

    good luck with the baby steps with your not so little kids :)

    love your blog by the way!

  2. I love the saying "backed the lesson train up." Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!
    Curious, do you see all your students everyday? I am panicking because I know I will inevitably have the "back the lesson train up" moment, but I only see my students once every four or five days. It will take us about 3-4 weeks to finish the kaleidoscope name designs! I want the kids to get the most out of the short time we have.