Practicum Students Experience Innovation in Art Education
Maryellen Picker has a passion for what she does. Visitors to her classroom immediately feel her enthusiasm and eagerness to explain what her students are experiencing and creating.
Picker, mother of three and grandmother of two, has spent the last 13 years teaching art at R.M. Captain Elementary School in the Clayton School District. Her entire approach to art education was transformed four years ago when she attended a presentation by Katherine Douglas on her book, Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom. Choice-based art education regards students as artists and offers them real choices for responding to their own ideas and interests through the making of art.
Picker is one of the cooperating teachers for the College of Education and each year she works with two of our Art Education candidates sharing what she has learned about teaching and her passion for choice-based instruction. She takes a team teaching approach with her practicum students.
Once she learned about choice-based art education, the changeover to the new teaching approach came quickly for Picker. “I was beginning to look at my kids’ art and see it as product rather than process, and that didn’t feel right to me,” Picker said. “I was teaching them how to have a lovely looking portfolio, but what I really wanted to do was to teach them to be creative.”
That thought really rang true when one of Picker’s students came to her asking if she could show the class a project that she created at home. “The little girl was normally pretty quiet,” Picker said, “but when she started showing the bird she made at home out of a soda bottle, she was talking a mile a minute.”
Choice-based art was developed in Massachusetts classrooms more than 30 years ago, and through courses and research at Massachusetts College of Art, according to Teaching for Artistic Behavior, an organization of art teachers from around the country. Choice-based art classrooms have different mini-studios set up around the classroom. The approach provides children the opportunities to behave, think, and perform as artists.
When she suggested the idea to her principal, Picker said she was thrilled and a little intimidated when she got the green light and an enthusiastic “do it now.” Picker spent the next summer dismantling and reorganizing her old classroom, and rethinking all of the lesson plans she developed over the years to reflect the new learning needs of her student artists. Her redesigned classroom started out with four mini-studios and now has seven, including a printmaking studio, fiber and textile studio, and interior design studio.
In a choice-based art classroom, the students begin with a small discussion/mini-lesson based on an artist, an art idea, an art skill or an art process. Some are planned lessons targeting visual thinking strategies or art history. Some are demonstrations. Then students freely choose a mini-studio to work in to explore their art idea. Within each studio there are resources and materials to support each little artist in his or her work. The teacher moves from each studio during class time to encourage, help problem solve and talk about the student’s plan for their artwork.
The UMSL Art Education candidates who do their practicum work in Picker’s classroom experience firsthand the rewards and challenges of choice-based art education. Organization and trusting each child to put away all the supplies as they are instructed at the end of class are key to smooth-running choice art classrooms. Karen Cummings, associate professor and art education coordinator at UMSL, is impressed with the teaching process. “The candidates who teach under Maryellen’s guidance leave her classroom with a new outlook on teaching and are forever changed by the experience,” she said.
Picker has thoroughly embraced the process and lists critical thinking, problem solving, time management and creativity among the major skills that children learn in choice-based art classrooms. The students at Captain Elementary seem to love the choice-based approach, too, and Picker often has as many as 10 children voluntarily coming into the mini-studios during their recess to work on their projects.
“Every child has ideas, things that are important to them, things they are afraid of, things they dream about. Students plan and learn ways to execute their ideas, using good craftsmanship and looking at master works and at times, collaborating with their peers. It is an organic evolution. That is the way art is,” Picker said. “It takes a leap of faith to allow students to come up with their very own ideas and then to see those ideas through to completion. They have never disappointed me.”
Visit Maryellen Picker’s page at Captain Elementary or her blog to learn more about choice-based art education. For more information about the College of Education’s program in art education, please visit our web page.
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