The start of a new school year always seems to offer a fresh beginning. For new teachers especially, meeting students for the first time may offer a challenge. Personally, I always had students making art in the very first class, keeping them immediately busy. With this in mind, I asked teachers on social media, “What do you consider to be a favorite lesson to begin the school year?”
Nancy on the threshold of a new school year at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan was instrumental in introducing Georgia O’Keeffe to New Mexico.
Here in Poland, our school year starts the first week of September. The school’s gardens, the wooded stream that runs between our two buildings, and the sunny days all compel us to get outside for as many lessons as possible. So, I am doing lots of projects with all my classes inspired by the nature and sunlight that surrounds us—from observational plant studies and drawings of light and shade with the older children, to pure color expression and celebrating the feelings we experience being outside with the younger ones.
I like to start the year off with a collaborative mural, painting on day one, instead of me talking and establishing rules. I pick a new theme or artist every year. Rolled paper covers the tables, and we paint all day. We hang the mural at the end of the day.
I start by teaching visual journaling techniques. Students are asked to design a page or two about their goals for the class, who they are as artists and people, and a few other questions. I then individually conference to discuss what they made. It helps me get to know them, and they get to know me and the materials available to them to make art.
I start with something my teacher did when I was in high school. Without any explanation, he asked us to draw two eggs in a box. Not knowing him (and being new to high school), we assumed he wanted to measure our technical ability, so we all got out our rulers and pencils and carefully drew our boxes in perspective and tried to get the right shape of the egg. At the end of class, he looked around approvingly and then without a word, posted his own picture—a crayon drawing of two sunny-side up eggs dripping out of a mailbox. It was one of the most memorable lessons for me. Today I don’t make my own samples, but students seem to innately come up with their own approaches anyway, and it’s great for them to see how they all respond to an ambiguous prompt in very different ways.
In This Issue
Our studio lessons this month, all suitable for the first day of class, include “Personal Pigeon Portraits” from Julia L. Hovanec, which guides early childhood students through a drawing that expresses how they are feeling about the first day of school.
At the elementary level, art teacher Leigh Drake’s “Exquisite Corpse Self-Portraits,” details a surrealism-inspired drawing game that features chance and collaboration.
In “Masked Self-Portraits,” middle-school teacher Janis Nunnally shares how her students illustrated their identities with masks that include symbolic representations.
In “Design with the Cell Phone in Mind,” Eric Gibbons describes an engaging lesson for high-school students in which they create an artwork to use as wallpaper for their cell phones.
How will you and your students begin the school year?
Art teachers guide students through activities that help them to learn about their peers and encourage self-expression. Young students create playful self-portraits that share how they are feeling about the first day of school, elementary students collaborate in a surrealism-inspired game of chance, middle-school students assemble name tags for every teacher in their school, and high-school students express their personal interests through colorful cell phone wallpaper artworks.