Sunday, December 16, 2012

Students reflect on a project and demonstrate critical thinking

Freshman students in my Art 1 class worked on a still life drawing, using charcoal for 2-3 weeks in class.  I wanted them to learn several techniques such as laying down a tone on the paper first and pulling out highlights, as well as enlarging a small thumbnail sketch in order to ensure a successful composition.  This type of art (Vanitas Still Life using Chiaroscuro) is an ancient form, and so we also spent time learning about that.

Following the completion of their drawings from observation, students spent pretty much an entire class period reflecting on their process and how they felt about it.  Below are some of the examples of their written reflections using the template we received in our workshops, as well as some of my thoughts when reading them.   I will post some images of the students finished works over winter break- to coincide with their reflections.

As a teacher, the best part of looking these over is the drawings the students made of themselves, “map yourself doing this activity”…  I was surprised by how much information the students’ drawings possessed. They reinforced and expanded my overall impression of the student and their view of themselves.  The drawings demonstrated emotions the students were feeling and thoughts they had while making their drawing. They showed this through the way they drew their facial expression, the posture of the person representing them, and more.

The drawings also remind me of certain actions the students took, or seminal moments in their process for them, such as placing their drawing across the room to look at it and noticing it has all the same value.

In many drawings, the students recorded an exact drawing of the shapes of their piece, upside-down, which reminded me how deep their connection with that image they struggled with- how ingrained it must be.

Another thing that was really great was reading some of the students’ “self talk” that they included in their drawing- basically their inner life as an artist. The way they drew thought bubbles with internal dialogue was really interesting.  The bubbles described how the students spoke to themselves during the project, which is not something a teacher could know about without this type of reflection.  Some examples are “Ani, step down and think”, “don’t look too frustrated”.  Students also included dialogue from their peers that went on, in speech bubbles, which is also valuable information for how the students were communicating with and helping each other throughout the process. 

This student stood while she drew, everyday.  I like how she captured that, as well as how she seems to be alone in her world.  The drawings most students created in this reflection are perfect mini-versions of what they were working on.

This student includes an image of himself asking for tips and guidance from other students at his table.

Another thing that amazed me from reading these reflections was the HUGE range of emotions that students felt during and about this process of creating a charcoal still life.  Everything from angry to irritated to sleepy to calm to happy to proud to nervous to passionate serene and graceful.
I also enjoyed reading about how the students felt this process would change them as artists, and what prior experiences they had which impacted their drawing experience.  One student said she felt calm because the objects were peaceful, another said her interest in antiques fueled her for part of the project. Others sited family members or drawing classes from the past, or past projects in my class, which gave them confidence going into the project.
While reading these over, I tried to keep my eyes open to repeating answers and feelings the students’ had- trying to learn what the students may have gleaned from the project as a whole.  When they answered the 3 questions on the back, many of them expressed that they learned to be more patient with drawings and with themselves, that they moved past frustration to make something they are proud of.  

Many mentioned that they had never worked for so long on something before. Some mentioned specific things I wanted them to learn, such as not to outline everything in order to make things look more 3-dimensional.  Many of them also mentioned that they loved charcoal or despised it, and those feelings that were rooted in an experience with a physical material dictated the direction of their feelings. I am also glad that each of my students experienced several different emotions throughout their process, this is true to life during almost any challenging experience.
As a teacher, I am very glad that many of my students felt that they learned they needed to be more patient with their work and with themselves.  Many of them expressed that if they did apply patience and worked hard, their drawing turned out really well, and they were proud of it.  “I learned that if I stick to something, no matter how hard it might get, I could make something really pretty out of it”.
This is part of what it means to be an artist, and truly persist beyond what you feel your initial capacities are.

This student drew a seminal moment in her process, when she set her drawing up across the room to see what needed to me done and get some distance on it.

I enjoyed reading about what students were thinking about, in this case music.

This student's drawing definitely expresses her sense of anger- the way she drew the clenched hand.



  1. These are stunning. Your students have vivid images in their heads and their internal voice is so clear. Did you use examples of the teachers reflective drawings to guide your students or did they just know how to do this? There are so many levels of meaning in each drawing. The schema's, the thought bubbles, the representations of their own work, their awareness of their own bodies is really powerful.

  2. Love these! Really great understanding of their process. Such good reflections. Thanks for sharing. I'd like to show my students next year when I'm trying to get them up to snuff.