It’s strange, sometimes, that as soon as you start talking about measurable results for student achievement, some people rush to assume that measurable results are the only thing you care about and that you not only don’t care about things like the arts but that you must not teach them if your results are good. You must be a “test prep factory.” This is flawed logic (obviously). Ironically, I personally suspect that top-quality instruction in the arts actually DOES support higher test scores, but even if it didn’t, we’d still insist on its presence in our schools anyway. They’re just too important in their own right. Anyway, it continues to be one of the least known facts about Uncommon School that we LOVE art, teach a lot of it (generally far more than the schools our students come from), and we think it is immensely important.
I thought I’d take a minute then to share some examples of teaching in the visual arts that I find really powerful and inspirational. The materials below are Nina Troiano’s. Her kids produce beautiful, thoughtful, expressive art work that adorns the walls of Troy Prep where she teaches, but she’s also so effective at working in knowledge about the arts–which also matters–and in building skills at drawing things progressively through exercises leading up to a final piece. When kids draw a tree in a landscape, for example, Nina gives them some principles to follow, has them practice 3 or 4 times in increasing complexity, and THEN has them add the tree to their landscape. The results are pretty amazing. (You can see some examples here).
Anyway, Nina agreed to share some “annotated lesson plans” to show what Art instruction looks like in our schools. Basically they’re her plans with added text boxes in which she describes what she does during class, and why she designed things as she did. I couldn’t be more proud to share them. These links show her two-part lesson on Modigliani inspired self-portraits.
A couple of examples of the final products her students produced also appear below. You can see in them both a strong proficiency with pastels (see the practice they did with them on day 2) and the echoes of Modigliani’s elongated necks and African-mask-inspired affect. Not to mention the care and thoughtfulness her students brought to the project. So, that to me is what art looks like when a great teacher like Nina puts it into practice. As an aside, I’m going to ask Nina to offer occasional observations on teaching visual arts on Field Notes to underscore not only how much I learn from her teaching but how important the arts are in our schools.