Saturday, April 14, 2012

Let Your Students Draw

Art teachers are almost universally cool and often laid back. Depending on the setting, some can exult as Bohemian models while others focus, at least in more formal educational settings, on encouraging their students. From my experience, there's every reason to let students draw or muse in non-art-specific classes, too.

For me, it started in church when a little kid. My mother would let me sneak sketching in (on small scraps of paper) during what otherwise felt like interminably dry Methodist Sunday sessions. Drawing and doodling kept me more attentive. No harm done; in fact, a lot of good done there. Thanks, Mom!

In later years, math classes tended to be the same as the Methodist Church on any given Sunday. The same dryness, over and over again, made more palatable by considerations of shading and palette. "Chig" Shuster, a kind geometry instructor, knew I was drawing in her class and sometimes even remarked on certain sketches -- "Nice work," she'd say, without a trace of sarcasm or disappointment that I was probably not following every nearly identical "problem solved" on the chalk board by an endless parade of other students. In exchange, I finished her class in reasonably good shape -- and I retain in mind the basics of geometry.  

Compare Chig's approach to that of "Miss Evelyn K" of Kinston, North Carolina. The only thing I remember about Miss K's class (I think she was a neophyte): her losing her cool about student behavior and making the whole class alternate writing on the chalkboard:

"I will not be ugly in class today."

I remember her chiding us in an Eastern Tar Heel accent, showing a general lack of any sense of (intentional) humor. "I will not be ugly . . ."  Sadly, I don't even remember what level of math it was, except that this class was well after I'd completed geometry.

In any case, when subsequently it came time for me to teach (mostly history, English and writing), I aimed to incorporate drawing, sketching and other types of expression into each class. Not everyone likes to draw or sketch, but there's usually something other than plain note-taking or "problem solving" that students can do to help fire up their synapses. This can be done at any level of education, and can include theatre (Andrew Jackson skits work particularly well in bringing that controversial US president to life), short film projects, interviews, photography, music, food, and anything else someone might dream up.

The results can be stunning. In a Great War & the 1920s class, a student named Andrew Blake (also a musician) drew a breautiful picture of a battlefield landscape on the Western Front, with all its attendant horrors. In another class, a student did a hip hop reading from Homer's Iliad, bringing out the epic's rhythms in a stellar way and cleverly connecting its themes to the present. 

Finally, my favorite aspect of teaching writing classes have come at two cyclical moments: 1) mini-readings and informal takes following "impromptu writing" sessions; and 2) final "presentations" on just about any topic a student can think of choosing, usually augmented with something extra to make things more interesting for an audience of fifteen to thirty people. Keep it real, folks.

Today's Rune: Fertility.         

1 comment:

Erik Donald France said...

Small world: just found Mrs. Shuster's comments on a grade report: "Erik has a positive attitude, is well prepared [Ha!], alert and eager to participate. He is listening well and preparing his new work regularly each day as he should." O, such sweet fairy tales . . .