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Five Tips For Teaching With Works Of Art
Teaching with works of art can be a powerful means of engaging students, including those with diverse learning needs. It can help them to improve their critical thinking and allow for improvements in social and emotional skills. It can help to make learning feel relevant to the students' own lives and experiences, offering an empowering way to share opinions and interpretations.
Teaching with - and learning from - works of art can be transformative, offering opportunities for novelty within a classroom or other educational setting while stimulating minds and offering a different way to think and learn. It doesn’t even necessarily need specialist artistic knowledge, but it does need some simple strategies to ensure that you can truly harness the power that art can offer, both for teachers and their students.
1. Choose the right piece of art
There is no subject that could not be taught with the help of a piece of art, but choosing the right piece is important. When picking the artwork, consider whether the piece sparks your own interest as this will enable you to convey genuine enthusiasm, and whether your students will be able to relate to it and put it into context within their own lives.
You also need to consider how it can relate to your curriculum and what purpose you want it to play in your lesson. If you only have a spark of an idea about using art as a study tool, do some research online. Some great places to start looking for resources are The Metropolitan Museum of Art website, moma.org and Brooklynmuseum.com.
2. Make connections
Use your chosen piece of art, such as this Butterfly Painting on Wood, to make connections with your students and their lives. This ultimately leads to more engagement and more learning. The more a connection is made, the more engaged a student will be and the more they will learn. Connections with information and ideas can awaken students' minds and make them want to go off and learn even more on their own. Personal connections can support engagement with more challenging content and can make learning feel relevant to students and their lives.
3. Make use of open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are the best way to make students slow down and really consider the subject matter in question. Questions such as "What else did you notice?", "How does it make you feel?" and "Can you tell me more about that?" lead students to make their own observations and interpretations. These sorts of questions are essential for creating a lively debate with no need for prior knowledge of the subject matter.
These questions will allow you to affirm your students’ unique viewpoints while also teaching them the importance of accepting and discussing alternative opinions. Think of questions that have at least three possible responses in order to make sure that they are truly open-ended and are most likely to generate worthwhile discussions. You should also be encouraging your students to really look at the piece by asking them to use visual elements of the piece to act as evidence to back up their opinions.
4. Make use of the Pyramid of Inquiry
This is a flexible framework designed to allow for inquiry experiences and to develop critical thinking skills. The idea is that students are prompted to look closely at the piece with the help of an open-ended question such as "What can you notice?". You then move on to encouraging them to discuss what they think about what they see and what evidence there is that leads them to this point. This leads to the interpretation and synthesization when you look at what everything you have all thought about means. Throughout this process, make sure that you validate your students' responses and restate them to the wider group. Don’t give them too much information, either. Instead, allow your students to add their own layers and form and mold their own interpretations and opinions
5. Think of the bigger picture
Excuse the pun, but it is important to look at the bigger picture when teaching with works of art. Consider that not all students will feel comfortable talking in a large group and may engage better with other learning styles. Consider including drawing and writing in your lessons. You could even use physical activities, such as getting students to adopt the poses from the artwork. This can all spark conversations that might not necessarily arise from just verbal discussions. It is also important to encourage reflection by asking students to complete an activity or do further research after the lesson has ended.