Collaboration is mentioned at least seven times in the National Standards. It’s also one of the four Cs of 21st Century Skills needed by every student. Collaboration is a skill that students must practice regularly because it attaches them to their learning. I want to share a collaborative activity I facilitated with fourth-grade students, based on an activity in which I participated through the VAST Program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Collaboration is mentioned at least seven times in the National Standards. It’s also one of the four Cs of 21st Century Skills needed by every student. We know it’s a major aspect of the working world today and will continue to be in the future.
Collaboration is a skill that students must practice regularly because it attaches them to their learning. I want to share a collaborative activity I facilitated with fourth-grade students, based on an activity in which I participated through the VAST Program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I began by placing a 3 x 5' (1 x 1.5 m) sheet of brown craft paper on each of my art tables. Each table had four to six students. Next, I gave each student a 6 x 9" (15 x 23 cm) sheet of white drawing paper. Then I placed postcard-sized art exemplars in the middle of each table representing various genres, media, cultures, etc. I asked students to observe the lines within the works, noticing their direction, movement, thickness, etc.
I asked students to use three to four postcard-sized art exemplars and sketch on their drawing paper the many lines they noticed using a #2 pencil. Their lines could touch, overlap, repeat, and should fill the paper as much as possible.
Next, I gave students viewfinders to move around their compositions to locate the area that was most engaging. I asked them to look for interesting intersections or combinations of lines. Then they were asked to enlarge the selected area on a 6 x 6" (15 x 15 cm) square of brown craft paper.
Students used glue sticks to adhere their craft paper squares to the larger brown paper. I asked them to arrange their pieces around the sheet so plenty of space existed between each. Then I asked them to change their spot at the table to sit at another student’s piece. I placed a tray with black and white charcoal pencils and black charcoal sticks at each table. I asked students to notice what the previous student drew and to continue what they thought was interesting. I encouraged them to think about what they could repeat or extend, but to stay close to the piece from which they were drawing.
After ten minutes, I asked students to move again to another student’s piece. I instructed them to take some ideas they were drawing previously and incorporate them into the area in that they were now drawing; making sure to honor what the previous artist began. I shared that this would help create a sense of unity in the work. At this point, each table tray contained just a few charcoal sticks and pencils. This built in an aspect of sharing limited supplies, taking turns, and communication.
Reviewing and Reinforcing
After another ten minutes, the process repeated. This time, I asked students two questions: “What do you notice has been repeated in several areas, and where might you need to add more?” and “What areas seem neglected?” I encouraged them to think about how they could connect areas by drawing between the original squares. I reminded them about repeating and extending the elements they began at previous spots.
At this point, I asked each group to hang their craft paper on the wall and gave them a chance to take in the developing artwork. I asked them to describe what they saw, noticing areas that grabbed their attention or areas that needed more attention. Are interesting forms beginning to emerge? What could you do to make it feel more unified? What’s working? What isn’t?
The final step was to add color. I placed a few of the same color oil pastels at each table, but each table received a different color. I encouraged them to think about how color could be used to elevate the work.
I modeled each step of this activity for students. Since it was a collaborative work, it was essential for each participant to understand the expectations. Group success varied depending on the skill level and the developmental maturity level of participants. I also took time to travel around the room to encourage quality effort and ideas and to minimize the scribbling to which some students tend to revert.
This activity required learners to work collaboratively, share resources, reflect, react to surprise, generate new ideas, review progress, and celebrate group success. Practicing collaborative skills was the perfect way to start the school year.
Thom Knab is an art teacher at Dodge Elementary School in East Amherst, New York and the president of NAEA. TKVolley15@aol.com
Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
Art teachers celebrate student success through a variety of collaborative and group-focused assignments. Two educators forge a partnership to teach students about African arts and culture, while another educator creates an opportunity for students to paint with their feet. Students also work together in small groups to complete table-sized craft paper drawings; team up with a Chicago muralist to complete an outdoor mural; participate in a school library sculpture challenge; and more.