Saturday, September 25, 2010

I heart Colour Lovers

I noticed that I had waaay more visitors one day this week than usual. . .And, it is because Colour Lovers linked to me from their twitter account! Wowza!! Thanks Colour Lovers. I love you guys too! I've used the Colour Lovers website MANY times in my class to encourage students to think about the way color impacts their artwork. You should go visit!

Friday, September 24, 2010

When "No" Helps You Grow

Last week, I posted a picture of my "Artists Go Beyond What Is Easy. . .Expected. . .Ordinary," which is essentially a "No-No" board similar to one many other art-teacher-bloggers have been posting in recent months. I was extremely impressed to see Phyl from There's A Dragon in My Art Room respond to the "No-No" posters. I like that she took the time (and courage) to voice her concerns about the limitations a "N0-No" poster may present in the art classroom. Additionally, I liked her observations that sometimes birds do look like "V's" etc. etc. If you haven't already read her response, I deeply encourage you to do so! She has some great thoughts!

What startled me, was some of the comments the post received. A few of the responses stated things as: "don't pollute the art room", "don't censor kids art", "This is an idea from someone with completely NO imagination" and "it's lazy teaching."

Honestly, I am really hoping the people who posted the above comments simply don't fully understand the usefulness of a "No-No" board. I am going to spend this post discussing why "No" can help us all to grow. . . Even creatively.

I teach Pk-3 (3 year old students) through 12th grade. I see students from PK-3 through 5th grade twice a week for 30 minutes. I see students in 6th grade twice a week for 45 minutes. I see students in 7th and 8th grade for 1 semester, and in that semester I see them every other day for 50 minutes. Once in high school, students can opt to take art as a year-long course (the school offers Art I through AP Art) and if they take art they take it everyday for 50 minutes. This is my 6th year teaching and I have experience in at-risk public schools, Christian private schools, and non-religious private schools. I say all this simply to say, I have some level of experience with various age groups and backgrounds.

Earlier this week, I was teaching my PK-3 students. The regular classroom teaching stays with me during this class to help in "crowd control." The students had been given a brown marker and were encouraged to make different types of lines on brown paper to simulate wood grain (they were making paper baskets to hold their stamped apples). One student (who is very well behaved) -I'll call him Timmy- kept pushing the marker down and watching the ink flood out into a dot. I noticed this, and allowed him to do it. He is 3 years old, and he is experiencing his materials. I have no issue with that, and I want him to have the time to creatively play with his materials. The regular classroom teacher noticed it and immediately reprimanded the student and said: "This is the third time I've asked you to do what you were told in art today. If you do it again, you will be in trouble." I pulled the teacher aside and explained why it was okay for him to use his markers in this manner and she defended her stance saying: "He was able to repeat back the directions to me, and he is ignoring what he is supposed to be doing." I countered by calmly explaining, that art is a place were he should feel okay to explore, and that I am fine with him doing just that. And, I asked her to stop restricting him. The regular classroom teacher is concerned because her job is to teach these wee 3 year olds how to be in school, and part of that entails listening to the teacher. But, my job is to allow them room to explore.

So, telling a student who is 3 years old "No" just because he is playing with a new material would be wrong. It doesn't help him to grow at all; it only limits him. But, I am sure we can agree that telling him "No" if he put the marker in his mouth would be okay, as that is a safety issue. Had the student put the marker in his mouth, saying "No" would help him to grow by teaching him how to safely use art materials.

The "No-No" board works in a similar manner: The "No" rules should be those that help a student to grow. And, there should be some limitations for the usage of a "No-No" rule. Here are my limitations:

1. Students should be old enough that they already have pre-existing schemas for drawing basic items, and the "No-No" board is helping them to expand past the schemas. Old enough for me is 2nd grade. . .It could be different for you.

2. "No-No" boards shouldn't be used in special education classrooms wherein a wide variety of abilities are present. You'd hate to give rules to someone who hasn't had any exploration, right?

3. "No-No" boards should have fudge-room. Can a student defend why s/he made the choice? Can the student give an example wherein a "No" should be a "Yes?" There are tons of examples. For instance, a lot of Mexican art uses sunshines with smiles that are great!

4. Each "No-No" should be verbalized and reinforced by the teacher in a positive way. For instance, instead of telling a student: "No, you shouldn't put a sunshine in the corner!" You might say: "Hmm, is there another way to show the sunshine? Do all pictures have to have a sunshine in them for the viewer to know it is daytime?"

5. I would encourage you to rename your "No-No" board, so you can swing it into a more positive place!

If a "No-No" board is used in conjunction with the above limitations, then it actually uses "No" to help a student grow. A student is encouraged to expand their existing visual knowledge base, and forced to creatively expand their typical drawing style. And, a student is encouraged to think about what they know of art to defend a choice. That isn't lazy teaching, that is awesome teaching. A teacher is helping students to grow and s/he is reinforcing this knowledge in a written manner, aurally, and visually!

One of the comment posts from Phyl's posting said: "What if Picasso had a 'No-No' board in his life." Well, in a way, Picasso did. . .Just like a lot of artists do. Picasso limited himself in new and different ways to create new and different artwork. As artists, we all give ourselves voluntary restrictions in the hopes of growth.

Truthfully, "No-No" boards are helpful as all-get-out, and while people comment they've never heard of this practice, this is untrue. We all create "limitations" for our students in the form of "expectations." We assess student artwork, we give students steps to follow, we give them criteria etc. etc. In doing this, we are often telling our student's "no." This voicing of a "no" however, is carefully balanced within a structure that (I hope) allows as much creativity as possible. The "No-No" board is another method of reinforcing this structure.

So, I counter, that when used correctly, positively, and with respect to the ages, a "No-No" board can actually help students to grow creatively.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mr. Seahorses Again

Remember last year when my 2nd graders made Mr. Seahorses? Well, we did it again this year. Honestly, Eric Carle is my hero. And, these are so cute!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scenes From My Classroom

I'm always taking pictures. Some make it here, but a lot don't. Here are some fun pics of my classroom that I've never posted here before.

Our mascot is the eagle. This is a large 36 in x 48 in poster that hangs outside my classroom.

The door to my classroom. That person is made out of packing tape only. The sculptural thing is from a Chihuly unit we did a few years ago. . . And, there is a wire mobile kinda obscuring things hanging from the ceiling. Oh! And, that hilarious birdhouse looks like our school, is made entirely from cardboard, and was made by some very funny senior boys four years ago.

Mona Lisa lives in-between my sinks. She gives the students reminders on how to keep clean. And, hanging around her are "Mona Spoofs." The kiddos get extra credit if they bring me a Mona I don't have.

I teach two 6th grade classes and one high school class all at the same time. It's crowded -as you can see in this pic- but the kids still work hard!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Motivational Words

My parents just returned from mission work in Africa. This is one of the schools they visited. The crest of the school reads: "Education is fruitful." On one side of the crest is a picture of a graduating student thinking about future jobs. Above the graduating student reads: "I refused to have sex in school." On the other side of the crest is a picture of a starving person thinking about a grave. Above the starving person reads: "I had sex in school."

Can you imagine if that was above the entrance to your school?!

Darkly humorous, no?

Eric Carle Butterflies

My Pre-K 4 students (4 year olds) made these. I will be sending them off for "Original Artworks" which is an art fundraiser wherein a company takes the art and turns it into magnets etc. etc. The size MUST be 8 in x 10.5 in and have no sculptural elements (yarn etc.), no glitter, no sequins and/or googly eyes. All that can be a tall order for 4 year olds. . .Especially when it needs to be super cute so parents want to purchase it and so my school can earn $$$.

Basically, what I've learned is that anything Eric Carle themed looks awesome when finished. Here is what we did.

1. I precut black butterfly outlines, black heads, green bodies, and made eyes
2. students worked on drawing straight lines on yellow paper
3. students discovered orange by fingerpainting with yellow and red paint
4. students glued on outlines, bodies, heads, and eyes
5. students made stripes on the bodies
6. students worked on scissor skills by cutting pieces of the dried orange paper for the colorful parts of the butterfly. . . some tore (if they got too frustrated).
7. I gave them white oil pastel to make a mouth (some made noses)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why Thank You!

I've been given the "Versatile Blogger Award" by Phyl over at "There's a Dragon in my Art" Room and Susan over at "Art on the Move." Thank you both so much! Your blogs are both a huge inspiration to me. I often feel very isolated as the only art teacher at my private school. . .And, having a large group like y'all to share with is simply awesome!

Rule #1: Thank the person who gave you your award.
Thank you again Phyl and Susan!

Rule #2: Share 7 things about yourself
1. I am the oldest of 4 kids.
2. I turn 30 this year.
3. My parents are missionaries and just returned from Africa.
4. My brother is a biomedical engineer and studies never-before-studied proteins (I think -his work is pretty complicated).
5. My sister is the director of a pre-school.
6. My youngest brother has a passion for nature conservation and preservation. He is currently studying at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and wants to save the planet.
7. I love anything that sparkles, even rain in dark blacktop when light hits it.

Rule #3: Pass the award on to 15 bloggers whom you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic.
Guys! Omigosh!! Soo many you have already received this award! I'm going to list some of my favorite blogs of any genre. . . And, some of them are really popular. So popular that they probably won't care about this award. But, I figured if you read here, you might be interested in these other SUPER AWESOME blogs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Classroom Posters Part II

Look, I'm not gonna lie: most information-based art posters suck. They seem to either have text that is too small, images that are too small, information that is over-simplified, information that is too detailed etc. etc. etc.

So, I decided a long time ago to start making my own. Here are some of my favorites.

All posters are 36 in x 48 in on heavy matboard.

Classroom Posters Part I

Look, I'm not gonna lie: most information-based art posters suck. They seem to either have text that is too small, images that are too small, information that is over-simplified, information that is too detailed etc. etc. etc.

So, I decided a long time ago to start making my own. Here are some of my favorites.

All posters are 36 in x 48 in on heavy matboard.

p.s. I can't take credit for the wording of the modern art poster. That comes from artist Craig Damrauer over at

Super Talented Student

The above works are by one of my high school students, a sophomore in fact. I wish I could take some credit for these incredible creations, but in reality the student is an artistic genius. One of these works is from a unit we completed on Georgia O'Keefe in colored pencil; its size is 24 in x 36 in. The other is inspired by the abstract portraits of Pablo Picasso. It was created in acrylics on a sheet of 36 in x 48 in heavy matboard.


I adore creating big displays of artwork at my school. It is fun to incorporate the artwork of many grades together and to see different works of different age levels alongside one another. The "cars" in this scene are created by the PK-3 students (3 year olds). They used their thumbprints to show their families in a car. The houses by are by the 3rd graders. We studies Victorian architecture, and these are their inspired creations. The 1st graders completed a unit on Van Gogh and created the beautiful tall sunflowers.

Color Theory

This is a great review project for color theory and line weight. My 6th graders had to choose a complementary, analogous, or triadic color scheme, design an abstract design using thick and thin lines, and color using markers.

Inspired by Art Ed Bloggers: Owls

I loved seeing these wee little owl projects over on "There's A Dragon in My Classroom" (I think at least. I went to find the link to the original post and I can't find it. So, if was you, please let me know, so I can put in a good link) so much! A few weeks ago my tiny little 1st graders made these owls. They make me smile. I get so much inspiration from all of you art bloggers!

Inspired by Art Ed Bloggers: Shading

At the end of last year, I was **really** inspired by the line shading projects Mr. E's students completed. I chewed on the project idea all summer and decided that it would work as a great "intro to shading" alternative to the usual shading scales. I hate teaching shading scales because it is boring, the kids aren't really interested, and there is little room for creativity. So, with a little tweaking, Mr. E.'s project became a really awesome way to teach my high school art students about "lightest lights," and "darkest darks."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pre-Kindergarten Self-Portraits

Do you need to laugh? Check out these Pre-K Self Portraits my four-year-olds made this week.

I asked this student if he had a beard. He looked at me as if I were nuts and said: "no."

Oddly enough, this portrait represents the nature of this child. You know the student who is loud and almost fury-like in her attention to OTHER's business. Yup. It's her.

Haha. No she is not a vampire, just really into scissors.

This student is laid-back and has a southern drawl. Don't you think this portrait kinda says that?

You know the happy-go-lucky student who is willing to try anything? This is her.

On day one we used yarn, blue and red paint to create our backgrounds. Students were excited to discover and make purple with the red and blue paint. On the second day, we worked together to make our faces. I provided the students with pre-cut faces and necks in a variety of "people colors," open mouths, and eyes. The rest of the work is entirely their own. Every time I walk down the hallway these portraits give me the worst case of the giggles!

Total time: 1 hour

Classroom Management

I had to write this out for grad school and thought it would be fun to share. What is your classroom management style like?

Classroom Management Plan: Elementary Grades

In my classroom, classroom management is the key to a positive learning environment. My educational philosophy relies heavily upon playful creative exploration; as such, I want my students to have the independent freedom in my classroom to create and reflect upon their work and their selves. Such an open atmosphere requires strong classroom management in order for quality learning to occur.

Additionally, I would rather avoid negative behavioral situations and prefer prevention to redirection. In order to prevent negative behavior, strong classroom management must be in place and utilized at all times. I strive to maintain a positive caring environment wherein my students are excited to visit and find it easy to learn.

Room Arrangement


It is important to me that my students are excited to be in art class. My art classroom is decorated with lively colors and lots of handmade posters. My experience has shown that the types of information I actively desire to share with my students (basic color concepts, types of texture, line types, and shapes) are rarely on pre-made and/or purchased posters. Since many of my projects require knowledge of past skills as well as new skills, it is important that such information is constantly displayed. My collection of information-based posters is almost entirely handmade. My students respond well to these posters and are always excited to learn that I made them.

In addition to information-based posters, I display a great number of fine-art based posters. I try to present as many different styles from craft, to traditional to post-modern art within the learning environment. Equitable representation, in terms of the persons displayed and artists represented within the classroom is vital. In an attempt to present equity, my classroom displays works ranging from Leonardo DaVinci, batiks from Africa, Chinese porcelains, Indian miniatures, artwork from the Harlem Renaissance, to Frida Kahlo.

Finally, I like to treat my students to the thoughts of other artists, philosophers, historians, and great thinkers of the world. My classroom is heavily decorated with small to large posters featuring quotes about art, artwork, the nature of talent, the ethics of work, and how failure can lead to discovery. My whiteboard features a weekly quote that I try to tie-in to all of the different projects I teach. Usually, this quote is from one of the artists students are currently studying.


Students are seated four to a table in a staggered design with the tables facing the white board horizontally. This arrangement allows students the maximum amount of room to work, and it prevents them from hitting the back of another student when they get out of their chair. Additionally, the arrangement permits me to see every student from any vantage point in the classroom. Utilizing this seating arrangement, I am always able to identify students.

Each table is numbered from one to six. Students are assigned to tables, but are not assigned to a specific seat at a table unless any issues arise. Students are informed of this policy on the first day of school and are reminded of it frequently. I like to allow students to choose their own seat at their table because I have found this gives them just enough independence within my classroom, and it gives them some ownership over their place within the classroom environment.

Should a student, or set of students, have trouble staying on task during class, I typically will move them to the table under the window at the back of the classroom. Students who sit at this table face this window, and this placement helps keep students who are otherwise easily distracted, or spend time distracting others, on-task. Students like to sit at this table because of the window, so moving students to this location doesn’t marginalize them overmuch. I very much prefer to redirect behavior as opposed to single students out for punishment, so this arrangement suits my management style. Additionally, if I have a class with few behavioral issues, then I will use the table underneath the window as a reward.

Rule Display

Classroom rules are prominently displayed on a large poster-board on the bulletin board immediately to the left of the entrance to the classroom. Incidentally, this bulletin board is above the countertop that holds the 2 classroom sinks. This display allows for maximum exposure of rules. The rules poster is visible from any seat within the classroom, and this placement allows me to easily remind students of rules.

In addition to the rules display, there is a large “reminder” display above the remaining wall space above the sinks. This display has a large collage-style Mona Lisa I created and is called: “Mona Lisa Says.” Around Mona Lisa several speech-bubbles are displayed. These speech-bubbles are used to put “reminder” messages to students and often reflect whatever small art-related classroom management issue isn’t specifically covered under the rules. For instance, at certain points during the school year the “Mona Lisa Says” display has reminders such as: “Please don’t leave materials in the sinks (it’s gross)” and “Do no splash at the sinks. It gets water on the floor and others.” Surrounding the “Mona Lisa Says” is a large collection of artwork influenced by the Mona Lisa. Students are encouraged to bring in a version of the Mona Lisa I do not yet have for extra credit. The installation grows yearly.

Classroom Rules and Consequences

While I enjoy an open, playful atmosphere in my classroom, I find rules to be an essential part of my learning environment. Rules allow my students to know that not only do limits exist; it also allows them to know exactly what these limits are. My rules are a result of my cumulative time inside the art classroom. Some of them are derived from students, and some are based on my personal observations. I try to keep the language of my rules simplistic so they are clear and easy for students to understand.


1. Be on time.

2. Enter the classroom and find your seat silently.

3. Keep your stuff to yourself.

4. If it isn’t yours, don’t touch it.

5. Do not wander the room.

6. Follow Ms. J’s directions.

7. Use time wisely and with purpose.

8. No food, gum, or drink (even water)

9. Respect others: No put-downs, no talking about others, no bullying, no pushing, no shoving, no rude talking.

10. Have Fun!


Students in younger elementary grades often have a difficult time finding the boundaries of “myself” and “others.” This can lead to the compulsion for some students to repeatedly “tattle” or “report.” This compulsion can be a huge time-waster inside the classroom. Reporting causes the reporter and the student being reported upon to enter into a conflict, and it causes me to use valuable classroom time determining the circumstance of the conflict, resolving the conflict, and (sometimes) redirecting behavior. I try to avoid reporting situations if at all possible, and have developed a method of dealing with reporters that works for me.

During the first day of class, I explain to students what reporting is, and I explain I do not want students to report to me about others unless it is about the “4 Bs.” The “4 Bs” are: blood, barf, bullies, or being hurt. As a class we discuss why it is important for me to know about blood, barf, bullies, or being hurt. The class also discusses that “being hurt” can be physical or mental and talk about possible circumstances where “being hurt” might occur.

I respect for some students the compulsion to report will not be quelled by the “4 Bs,” and I also respect there could be a circumstance which I would want to know about that may not fall under the “4 Bs.” In the front of my classroom, next to the pencil sharpener, I keep a “reporting box.” Should students find they need to tell me about something that does not fall under the “4 Bs” they can write down this information on slips of paper next to the pencil sharpener, and then place these notes in the “reporting box.” I assure students I check the “reporting box” daily. The “reporting box” allows me to avoid reporting conflicts with students, and also works as a failsafe for information that I need to know about that does not fall under the “4 Bs.”

During the first day of class, I invite a student to the front of the classroom to role-play a reporting situation. I ask the student to pretend to report to me, and while he or she is in the act of reporting, I interrupt and ask if the report is about the “4 Bs.” If the student answers “No,” I then ask him or her to either keep it to him or herself, or to put the information in the “reporting box.” After this role-playing exercise, I tell students this is how I will behave when they attempt to report to me. Through the usage of the “4 Bs” and the “reporting box” I avoid losing valuable class time dealing with reporting conflicts, and redirect reporting compulsions.


Generally speaking, I prefer to gently remind and redirect my students when their behavior is other than I expect. However, there are instances when a behavior has been repeated several times within one class, and/or a behavior merits more attention because it is more serious. In such situations, I like to give my students an opportunity to reflect upon their actions, describe what they would or should do differently next time, and to reflect upon what they think their consequence should be.

I prefer to not use concrete consequences because I find each and every situation to be unique, and I think it is more meaningful if a student has an active role in deciding his or her consequence. I do not like to use the word “punishment” as school is a place of learning and one of my jobs is to guide students towards proper behavior. It is not my place to punish students, but rather to educate them about correct and acceptable behavior.

When students enter into a more serious behavioral situation, I provide them with a Reflection Form. The Reflection Form is a two-page worksheet featuring writing prompts that encourage the student to reflect on their actions, their decisions, and their consequences. On the back of the Reflection form is a section wherein I can fill out my observations, my actions, my reflections, what the student consequences are to be, and how student’s behavior will effect (if at all) their behavior grade. At the bottom of my portion of the Reflection Form is a space for my signature, the student’s signature, and the parent’s signature.

I deeply respect students in younger grades can find reading and writing challenging. So, for these students, I have pictorial representations of poor behavior and positive behavior. The student is instructed to circle his or her poor decision and to circle the positive action they will take next time.

After the student and I complete the form, we discuss the situation, the student’s reflections, my reflections, and the consequences together. Through this conference, it is my aim to find positive resolution to the situation. The form goes home to the student’s parents, they sign the form, and it is returned to me. I keep the form on file and I keep track of how many times a Reflection Form goes home with a student. Should a form go home repeatedly, I contact the parent and request a time wherein together, we can find methods and/or practices that will help the student to succeed.

The Reflection Form enables me to avoid “punishing” a student and instead turns a poor behavioral situation into a valuable learning experience for both me and the student. The student’s reflection is empowering because it has him or her take an active role in both acknowledging control over his or her own behavior and his or her consequence. The student reflection also ensures I know what information about the situation is related to the parent. The Reflection Form allows the parents to know exactly how the behavior effects their student’s behavior grade, and what occurred from both my and the student’s perspective.

Classroom Procedures

Consistency is something I find integral to good classroom management. When students know what is expected of them daily, their actions and behaviors reflect this in a positive manner. While my projects and presentations change frequently, the essential procedural workings of my classroom do not. Overall, this makes my class a very efficient and orderly place.

Entrance to the Classroom

Homeroom teachers escort their students to Art class. I meet students at the door of my classroom. The students must wait patiently and silently in a neat line and the line leader must request permission to enter my room. Once I grant entry, students are to enter my room and silently go to their assigned table. I always remind students to go silently to their tables, and if a student forgets, I have him or her walk back to the classroom door and re-enter the correct way. If a majority of the class forgets to do this correctly, we all go back outside the classroom and line-up and begin the entire process again. I gently remind everyone during this process that this is time they could be enjoying class, but instead are having to line up and re-enter the classroom.

Beginning the Class

Since all of my students are silently seated at their tables, beginning the class is a simple task. To begin class, I ask the class how they are doing and welcome a group response. Depending on the answer, we may briefly discuss our feelings and/or discuss an event to occur later in the school day. This practice allows me to take an emotional temperature of the class, and it also allows me to mentally tweak my lesson based on the class’s response.

Next, I outline the class activities of the day. For instance, if the class was going to do a study about patterns I might say: “Today we are going to learn what patterns are, what different types of patterns look like, and we are going to learn about a few artists who use patterns. We are going to look at some patterns on my projector and then you will get to do a fun activity with patterns. If we have enough time after that, you will get to begin your art project about patterns today.” I try to make this outline as lively and interesting as possible so as to engage students in the class. I find that if I seem excited to teach the students about a subject, they are excited to learn about it.

Following my outline, I ask leading question about the day’s current lesson. These questions are designed to gauge what students already know about a subject and/or to determine how much material the students have retained from a previous class. This practice also allows for students to scaffold more information onto a lesson, and to add their own knowledge to a lesson. I have found it to be a very positive practice, and as such, utilize it daily.

General Dispensation of Materials

Student responsibility is crucial in my classroom. As I wish for my students to be independent, and like to give them as much creative rein as possible, they need to be able to obtain their own materials from time to time. From as early as Pre-Kindergarten, I begin to teach students where items can be found in my classroom, and which items are always open for their use. This saves a lot of time about material questions in my class, and it also gives the students the empowering responsibility to obtain materials on their own.

Next to the whiteboard, at the front of my classroom I have a large cubby unit full of individually labeled cubbies. The labels obviously relate to the contents of the cubby. Students are instructed that any label that begins with “Free” means that the items within that cubby are always free to their usage. These materials most often get used during free-time activities and/or as finishing touches to art works.

2nd through 5th Grade Dispensation of Materials

The cubby unit also provides my class with a strong tool for material dispensation for the entire group. In the center of my classroom is a medium-sized round table. During a project, I place all the cubbies with the necessary materials to complete a project on the center table. As students work, they are able to go to and from their seat to the center table to get necessary items. This system works especially well for situations wherein there is not enough of an item for everyone to have their own, such as certain colored markers for instance. Instead of a shortage item sitting unused at a student table, the item waits for usage at the center table.

Obviously, when the class initially begins to work, there could be some issues with everyone visiting the center table at the same time. I avoid this by calling out table numbers and instructing that table to get their needed materials while I pass out artwork and/or take attendance. This ensures four or fewer students are visiting the center table for their initial (and usually longest) center table visit.

My students enjoy being able to stand up and get what they need for their artworks. I often observe them making calculated choices about their material selections, and it isn’t unusual for them to ask to use a material not at the center table. Whenever I am met with such a request, I ask the student to explain, and based on their reply I will allow them to go to the cubby unit and remove another material cubby for usage. This practice has provided me with some unique insights into the student thinking process and it has also led to stronger student work.

Pre-Kindergarten through 1st Grade Dispensation of Materials

Students in younger elementary grades need more structure than the cubby unit system for the dispensation of their materials. I do not like to have materials waiting for students on their tables when they enter the classroom, because I find they are often too distracted by these materials to listen. So, instead, I prepare small plastic organizational bins for them before their class begins. In these bins I place everything they will need for class and hand out these bins once the students are ready to begin working. This bin system is very handy, and the bins provide for easy organization and easy clean-up. I color coordinate the bins to the numbered stickers on student tables, so that when students cannot recognize numbers, they can recognize colors. Since students in younger grades are accustomed to having everything they do placed directly in front of them, they greatly enjoy finding their own materials within the organizational bins. Additionally, the bins provide a unique opportunity for students to learn about sharing.

One material I do not place in the bins is markers. My observations have shown younger students have a difficult time removing and replacing marker caps. Instead of wasting time opening markers, closing markers and/or looking for marker caps, I developed a quick solution. Before the school year begins, I place the marker caps upside-down into Plaster of Paris. Once the plaster sets, I place the marker back into the cap. When the process is completed, the marker sits upside-down in the plaster and when students grab a marker, the cap stays in place. Students are able to replace the marker instead of the cap, and they are able to use a sharp downward motion to recap the markers. I make enough upside-down markers groups so that each table has their own set. My younger students love these sets and get very excited about them.

Dispensation of Sharps and Other Potentially Harmful Materials

Using sharp and/or potential dangerous materials is a common practice in the art room. These sharps can range from such common tools as scissors, to more uncommon materials such as lino-cutters, etching needles, sewing needles, and sharp clay carving tools. In today’s modern world wherein school-based sharps could be used to harm the self and/or others the dispensation of such materials cannot be taken lightly for safety, protection and ethical purposes.

I use scissors with handles that match the color of the number of student tables in order to quickly assess how many scissors are used, and how many are returned. Scissors are dispensed to students in small cups in groups of four. I have a red scissor cup, an orange scissor cup, a yellow scissor cup, a green scissor cup, a blue scissor cup, and a purple scissor cup. At the end of class if all four scissors aren’t in a cup, I am able to quickly determine this and take the next steps necessary for recovery.

When using sewing needles, which my classes do during some sculpture projects, I use a similar method. I made six bottle-cap sized cupcake pincushions a few years ago. Each table has their own cupcake pincushion, and each pincushion contains four needles. At the end of class, one student is assigned to return the cupcake pincushion to me; if there are any needles missing, I am again able to quickly ascertain this and follow the necessary steps to recovery.

When using other sharp or potentially harmful materials, I use a different approach. When the sharp item is dispensed, I hand the item out individually to each student and count the total number of items out. If an item is lost or broken during class I add it to my total tally. At the end of class I assign one student at each table to collect the sharps, and to hold on to them until I tell them otherwise. At the end of clean-up I ask the four students to come to me at the front of the class, and as a group, we count the items. This encourages class participation in safety practice and gives me time to make sure that all sharps are accounted for and if some are missing, to take the next steps necessary for recovery.

Procedures During Work-Time

It is essential to me that my students have as much working time during class as possible. However, many students find it difficult to stay on-task for any length of time and this can lead to their need for redirection. I prefer prevention to redirection, so I try to organize the working time in such a way that students are as wholly absorbed in an activity as possible.

One way I do this is by designed consistently challenging projects that not only engage the student but also require a lot of thinking. When students are thinking it doesn’t leave much time or room for them to be off-task. My projects are always just at the top edge of student abilities and typically take two to three classes to complete. Another method I use to keep students on-task is story-telling. I love to tell stories, and I’ve noticed my students like to hear my stories. So, often, while I am circulating the classroom, I will tell the students either an appropriate story from my own life, a fairy story, a tall tale, a story from my childhood, or a great story that happened to someone else. When possible, I tie these stories to the in-class work.

Most often during working time, I play music for my students. I need time to circulate the help students and to observe their process. So, for my most engaging projects I do not tell stories and instead play music to allow myself more time for my students. This music ranges anywhere from golden oldies, classical music, electronica, pop, and bluegrass. All of my music is pre-approved by me as appropriate for the classroom and devoid of crass language and sexual and/or criminal innuendo. Much of current pop and rap music contain inappropriate language and/or innuendo, and as such, I do not play much of those genres in class. Additionally, I have found that when I play current music it encourages students to argue amongst themselves about their own tastes in music and leads to redirection. Since I prefer prevention to redirection, this arguing is easily avoided by playing older genres of music in class.

Gaining Class Attention Quickly

There are often moments wherein I need to gain the attention of the entire class very quickly. When the class is quiet and I need to get their attention I say: “Red Yellow Blue!” and the students respond with the appropriate response of “We Hear You.” Students are instructed and practice this method during the first day of class and are told that when they say “We Hear You,” they need to turn their eyes so they can see me.

Sometimes the class is too busy and/or too noisy for the “Red Yellow Blue!” method to work quickly. I do not like to shout over my students to garner their attention. This only leads to the loss of my voice both physically and metaphorically. Physically, I am not capable of shouting for long without losing my voice. Metaphorically, when I have to shout and make loud noises to get my student’s attention, it lets them know that it is okay to not pay attention until I do something that merits their attention. I am their teacher; when I request their attention it should be granted to me no questions asked. So, when my class is too noisy and/or too busy for “Red Yellow Blue!” to work, I use the Talk-Clap method. In a very quiet voice I say: “If you can hear the sound of my voice clap once.” Then, I repeat this phrase, removing one for two and so on and so on until the entire class is clapping. Usually, this takes only three to four claps. When I use the Talk-Clap method, I am able to quiet a class quickly and gain their attention without the loss of my voice.

Free-Time Activities

My students don’t often participate in free-time activities. I try very hard to keep them constantly engaged throughout the duration of class. Also, I often offer extending activities at the end of a project in the form of a worksheet and/or mini-assignment that the students enjoy. There are times, however, when students work quickly and there are no extending activities for them to do. In these instances, I allow the students to free-draw.

There is a poster at the front of my room that reads: “Artists go beyond what is easy, expected, and ordinary.” And, underneath this quote are small pictures of what I do not want students to draw on artwork or on free-time creations. These items read: “No bubble-flowers. No blue clouds. No straight line hair. No sunshine in the corners. No stick figures. No triangle and square houses. No name designs. No word bubbles.” I don’t like to engender bad habits in my students. When I encourage them to expand their minds by finding new ways to depict familiar images I help them to grow artistically and creatively. This process is not just limited to in-class artwork. It extends into free-drawing time. I explain this to my students, and am always impressed at how discreetly they police these rules among themselves.

Next to the pencil sharpener, I keep a stack of scratch white paper in a bin labeled: “Free-Draw Paper.” I tell students on the first day of class that when they find themselves with free time, they are always welcomed to use any paper in the “Free-Draw Paper” bin and any material in any of the cubbies that begins with “Free.” I have “Free Draw Markers,” “Free Draw Pencils,” and “General Free Draw Stuff.” Whenever a student tells me he or she is finished and asks what they can do I am able to quickly respond by saying “Free Draw!” This system keeps the students constantly engaged and prevents me from taking time away from helping others to explain and/or invent a free-time activity.

Bathroom and Water-Fountain

As someone who has always had to use the bathroom facilities more frequently than others, I am very in-tune with student needs concerning these issues. I can clearly remember many instances in elementary school wherein I was made to wait to use the bathroom much longer should be expected. I do not want my students to ever be in that position, and as such, have a very warm and welcoming approach to bathroom and water-fountain use.

My classroom is fortunate in that there is a water-fountain located within it. However, I discourage my students from using this water-fountain as it is attached to the sinks where we clean up paint and other art materials. I explain to my students during the first day of class, that there are a lot of germs on this water-fountain due to its close proximity to the sink. Instead, I ask that students ask to use the water-fountain in the hall.

Both the girls and boys bathrooms and the water-fountains are located immediately outside my classroom door; this makes bathroom and water-fountain procedures easy. I explain to students they are not to ask me to use the bathroom and/or the water-fountain when I am addressing the class unless it is an emergency. Otherwise, students are welcomed to ask me to use the water-fountain and/or the bathroom whenever they need those facilities. Depending on the age of the student, the process for visiting the facilities varies.

When students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten need to use the bathroom, they are taken by a para-professional. When students in 1st grade need to use the bathroom, they simply ask and then I ask if they can tell me the location of the bathroom. Once they correctly tell me the location of the bathroom, I permit them to go. I have discovered students in older grades often will use a visit to the bathroom to engage in “bathroom hijinks” which can range from splashing water to less sanitary actions. In an attempt to prevent this behavior, I have my students sign a “Bathroom Sign-Out Sheet” that is located on a clip-board on my desk. This sign-out sheet asks for the student’s name, the date, and the time he or she went to the bathroom. Since I have a date display and a digital clock, this is easy for students in grades 2nd through 5th grade. Should any “bathroom hijinks” occur, this allows me, and other teachers, to discover who was visiting the bathroom when, and to track down the proper students.

When students need to use the water-fountain all they need to do is simply ask and I permit them to go. The only time this varies is when a student is in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 1st grade. In the event a student of this younger age needs to use the water-fountain, I stand near the doorway to my classroom so I can keep an eye on them while they use the facility. This practice makes sure younger students don’t get distracted and wander off.

Clean Up Procedures

Clean up is critical in my classroom, and it is the one time during my class that I am extremely strict. This is primarily due to the fact that this is when the most classroom movement occurs and as such, is the time when anything unfortunate that is going to happen will happen. I take safety seriously, and I expect my students to do the same. For this reason, on the first day of class, I talk very sternly to my students about my expectations during clean-up.

Clean-Up begins with my gaining the entire class’s attention through either “Red Yellow Blue!” or the Talk-Clap method. Once I gain the class’s attention, I ask they either place both hands in the air or on their heads. This request allows me to ensure that everyone has stopped working and is listening. I assign students to specific clean-up activities using a number system. For instance, I count off students in fours at their tables, and then might say: “All the threes must collect and put away the permanent markers.” By giving students independent jobs I can keep an even traffic flow during this high-movement time of class. While student’s hands are still on their heads, I will tell them they can let me know they are ready to leave by being seated at their clean table. By requesting students sit at the end of clean up, I am able to gain a quiet, student-led resolution to the clean-up process.

Whenever, tables must be wiped down and/or cleaned, I assign certain students to grab paper towels and I spray down the tables with cleaner which they wipe away. I have found that if you give students a sprayer they will spray each other, and if you allow them to use sponges they will over-saturate the tables. When I control the spray, I am able to ensure only enough product is used.

I have discovered when using the sink some students need more supervision than others. As I can’t stand by the sink for safety reasons for the duration of clean-up, I assign sink monitors in each class. Sink monitors are usually selected from the bossiest students in a group, and their job is to make sure everyone cleans up at the sink properly. Students love having this job, and I change it out frequently to give everyone who wants this job a chance.

Since students in younger grades have all of their necessary materials in an organizational bin, their clean-up is different. I gain their attention in the same manner, but instead will ask they return all their materials to their bin and place all of their artwork (unless wet, in which case I ask they leave it where it is) in a pile. Sometimes, if we used an unusual material, I will ask for a volunteer and will ask that volunteer to collect that item. Younger students love to help.

Magic Trash

The art room floor gets dirty. Whenever I notice the floor is especially dirty my students and I play a game called “Magic Trash.” “Magic Trash” is played by my picking a small piece of garbage and the students picking up garbage to see if it is the magic trash. If the magic trash is found before the floor is cleaned, I simply don’t say anything and select another piece of magic trash until the floor is cleaned. This game is played with great joy by my students on a regular basis. Students are reminded that in order to play “Magic Trash” again they must sit back in their seat as quickly as possible once the magic trash is discovered.


I don’t like to give my students candy or rewards because I find they think doing what is expected merits an award. Instead, I try to find times when I observe a student doing especially well and/or is on-task and announce his or her positive behavior to the group. I do this often, and I work hard to make sure everyone is recognized from the students who consistently behave well to the students who struggle to behave well.

At the end of class I give everyone a “Smelly.” A “Smelly” is a quick swipe of any particularly good-smelling chap stick upon the top of a student’s hand. Obviously, the chap stick must be devoted to this purpose. I do not give a “Smelly” to my students as a reward, but rather as a “Ms Johnson loves you” sort of gift at the end of class. I truly love my students, and I enjoy sharing with them.

Lining Up

Students sit quietly at their assigned table at the end of clean-up. I stand at my door and ask the quietest table to line up first and continue until everyone is lined up. Once everyone is lined-up I ask that they place their hand upon their head if they would like a “Smelly.” I walk down the line, administer swipes of “Smelly”, address the entire group, and either praise them for their good work during class and/or use this time to discuss what I expect them to do differently during the next class.

Waiting for the Homeroom Teacher

It isn’t unusual for the homeroom teacher to be a few minutes late picking up his or her class and it is hard for elementary students to wait patiently. So rather than redirect behavior, I prevent such behavior from occurring by either reading a book to students or playing quiet games such as “Quiet Mouse” or “Telephone.”