In November, I participated in the Young Audiences Teaching Artist Studio, a 5-day intensive workshop focused on classroom skills for artists who teach. Teaching artists are working artists who share their knowledge with students while working collaboratively with classroom teachers to integrate art into related studies.
I thought my experience as an artist and communicator was sufficient to connect with students. Yes and no. Yes, I knew how to connect with some students. No, I was not connecting with all students. Here’s one of the things I now understand more fully.
There are many different learning styles. Some students learn best through reading. Others learn through hearing. Some learn faster through hands-on exercises. Still others benefit through song, dance, role play, etc. I’m a visual artist. It comes as no surprise that I learn best through images and kinesthetic or hands-on techniques. But that’s just me. The art of teaching art has to address all learning styles.
One participant in our cohort is Julie Keefe, a photojournalist. In a short, highly interactive presentation she called “Camera Yoga,” she explained options for framing a photo. First she created a rectangle with her thumbs and index fingers. As she shifted her frame back and forth from horizontal to vertical, she described the frame in a series of terms: tall or wide; portrait or landscape; hot dog or hamburger. Then she added more dimension to the task by identifying different points of view: birds eye view, dog view, snake view. As she described each, we used our hands to frame each angle of viewing – looking down, looking straight ahead and looking up. We were in motion, engaged and actively putting new information to work. Finally, using a series of projected images, she anchored these concepts by having us identify the photographer’s point of view for each shot. This all happened within a few minutes. Yet each person in the room, regardless of his or her learning style was actively learning.
A teaching artist is expert in both an art form and the skills for communicating that knowledge to a full spectrum of learning styles. This is one of many valuable experiences I gained during the workshop. I have already integrated a number of techniques. With my painting students, I have them drag an empty brush over an existing painting to help them examine the brush strokes of the original painter. I found this creates a bit of suspense which fully engages students. Then we imitate those strokes with a brush loaded with pigment. In the process, they see, feel, hear my description, and describe their own observations. It also makes their strokes more deliberate and expressive.
Young Audiences Teaching Artist Studio is a professional development program for teaching artists in Oregon and SW Washington.