The teaching philosophy in my art classroom is student-centered. The end goal is a class of students who has become empowered with confidence. Students practicing critical thinking, the quality of thinking that applies a higher standard to the process of thinking, create an education that is current and effective. Students become the owner of choice, of their objectives, goals, achievements, and in the art room, of theme, materials, and technique. Developing critical thinking is the purpose of education and developing critical thinking during the art making process is the reason I am an art teacher.

     Students learn best when they are active learners focused on goals, objectives, research, problem solving, motivation, and resilience. As a student-centered teacher, I act as a guide, asking questions about the students’ work that exemplifies the habit of constantly questioning choices. For instance, when a student is stuck in the process, instead of giving the student the answer, I will form the next step into a question. I may say, “What do you see happening next?” or “how do you create more contrast?’ or “What is the shape of that color?” When students ask me if their art is good, I ask them if they think their art is good. Whatever their answer is, I ask them why. I watch them form their thoughts and hear themselves talk about their art. The students become self-referential. Over the course of a student-centered curriculum, students begin to develop specific interests and style. Some students are at the stage in their development that they are primarily interested in materials and techniques. I found these students learn a lot about themselves through this process as well. For instance, one of my students began copying Kandinsky’s. I asked him to tell me why. Now he knows he is a colorist and is developing his love of color shapes, which he incorporates into all his art assignments.

     A teaching goal I hold for myself is to teach to students’ motivations such as their need to belong, to master, to understand purpose, and for autonomy. A goal I have for students is to realize the implications of what they are learning and how that knowledge can be used for future activities. I love to weave tidbits of art history into instructions and mention how art skills and art thinking are used in different careers. For instance, paying attention to the lighting on a still life is related to a career as a lighting engineer on Broadway or in Hollywood. Understanding the structure of form in a ceramic or sculpture lesson is something an architect needs as well as an orthopedic surgeon.

     Education is commonly thought of as a collection of data that is stored for later use. A student-centered education allows students to define informed opinions and an alternate way of seeing. One of my students made art about a problem. He broke the problem into pieces and turned the problem into a collage. After the project was completed, he saw the problem in a different way and felt the problem was solved. This student began to see a selection of choices in which to view a problem.

      One of my favorite aspects of student-centered philosophy is assessment. I make all types of wild accommodations for students’ abilities. When it’s time to grade, I reach far to acknowledge effort and growth. I love pointing out to students’ the evidence of their growth and seeing their successes lighten their attitudes, preparing them for the next learning opportunity. When students have successes, they gain self-confidence that can be extended into their academics and social lives.

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Barbara Bjerring

Art Educator

bbjerring@gmail.com