Validating Humanness: Why the Brave Art Teacher Allows for Reflection

After your high school art students have spent time working on a meaningful piece of art, it is important to acknowledge their efforts through dialog. Often, this comes in the form of a group reflection (sometimes called critiques) and it can offer students an invaluable opportunity for learning and insight.Conversations solicited between groups of people provides more insight than any one teacher or person can give, as they are more three-dimensional in feedback and grant differing perceptions, perspectives, responses and suggestions. Their sounds, which come in the forms of responding, sharing, and listening to (and about) a classmate’s work of art, is of the utmost importance to the high school art student. Such reflections expand the life experiences of the student that exist beyond his or her “one story,” while at the same time exposing similarities and differences shared by other students.Imagine spending large amounts of time on an “assignment” that you care about and then receiving no acknowledgment (or validation) for your efforts. I have witnessed art teachers do this more often than not when they collect the “lesson” after a week or two of studio work and either grade it with little to no student input or post it on a wall for a quick, one-dimensional critique from one voice: the teacher’s. Such lack of compassion does not validate the human component of the art: the value of the student’s voice.As an art education professor, I advocate the necessity and joy of “slowing down” the curriculum-not dumbing it down (and provide ways and means to do so). This involves taking steps to ensure time is being spent talking, sharing and supporting the art’s content – most notably during reflection time. Devote as much time as needed to discussing EVERY student’s art while linking past knowledge with new knowledge. This may take one or more entire class days, but because reflection is so foundational to a high school art class, time does not matter. Furthermore, students know their work will be shared, and this makes them want to present work they are proud of. Given this, it is important to dignify their attempts and provide them with a sense that what they made has value and what they have to say matters.Teachers must therefore learn how to build cohesive and encouraging listening groups that fosters dialog beyond mere visual interpretation (which is fine for professional artists being shown in museums and galleries) in order to be of significance for a teenager. A teenager needs to feel “heard” and learn how to listen. Group reflections within the safe walls of your high school art room offers you a way to help hone such skills… it also validates their humanness.

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