Process Over Product in Art Education: A Student Centered Approach to Making Art

Living in the 21st century is living in a time when change is rapid and insistent.  It can be difficult to keep up with  constant change, much less embrace and incorporate it into our teaching practices.  My experience as an art teacher has always been at the high school level in a public school setting.  My school is highly diverse in every way – racially, culturally, economically, religiously, and with a high percentage of students with special needs.  It is challenging teaching so many kinds of children while striving to target their individual needs!  More than challenging, it can lead to a high level of frustration for both teacher and student!  I know my experience is not unique – this is the common landscape of art classrooms across the country.  When teachers get together, they talk about these common problems and wonder how we can reach our students when we feel like art can be at the heart of their individual expression.

Art education, just like education in general, is also in a state of flux.  Decades of teaching centered on a teacher driven, studio techniques curriculum does not engage the majority of students taking beginning art classes.  The teacher is faced with apathy, defiance and push back as the students query their teacher about why they should do it.  It’s not that what we’ve been doing for the last 20 or 30 years is wrong, it’s just that we need to think about what we’re doing with a new lens, adapting our pedagogy to incorporate not only technology, but the mindset of the digital natives that we are teaching.

My presentation reflects my own journey as an art educator over the last 10 years.  I have been exposed to many ideas, techniques, strategies and approaches to teaching art.  When new ideas come my way, I have taken them immediately into the classroom and played with them with my students, and I have been very transparent with them about why we try these new methods or vocabularies – I want them to care about the art they make!

The lesson plan format I present here is the culmination of my own teaching experience.  I have created an outline that put teaching studio techniques not at the front of the lesson, but is woven throughout the art making process.  What comes at the beginning of my students’ experience is investigation, exploration, questioning and journaling to connect to their own discoveries and their personal lives.  The art that results from this approach is more authentic and not formulaic like many “art projects” can turn out to be.  They have more motivation and excitement in their creating.  And, they are more involved in the assessment of their project because I have shifted my grading to assessing their effort and persistence instead of how skilled their end product is.  My students like being graded this way and I do to.  We are slowly changing from an art classroom to an art community, where their voice, ideas and creations are celebrated and valued as unique expressions.

After viewing the presentation above, here are some questions to consider about your own experience teaching, or how you think you will incorporate some of these ideas when you begin teaching:

  1. Have you ever been a part of a class in which the instructor used a questioning strategy –like QFT or artful thinking?  If so, did it deepen your understanding or connection to what you were learning?  Tell us about your experience and how you would incorporate questioning strategies into your own teaching.
  1. Do you think students can produce high quality artwork if they are focused on the process instead of the product?  This lesson plan emphasizes discovery and investigation instead of teacher driven instruction about processes and techniques.  How would you fold in studio technique instruction into a lesson plan that emphasizes students driving their own learning?
  1. In many art experiences, reflection and assessment come at the completion of the art project instead of throughout the process. Identify at least three types of assessment tools you would use with your students and how you might weave them into a process over product lesson plan format.

I welcome your thoughts and would love to hear your comments!