This was the last photo I took of my students in the art room before our long separation from one another due to COVID-19. It was the day before the Chinese New Year and all of the students wore festive attire to celebrate. As we said goodbye to the students before the week-long holiday break, no one had any idea how different the new year ahead was going to be.
Since February 3rd, 2020 I have been facilitating Home Learning for the Visual Arts for over 760 Lower Primary students between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. With the virus spreading and more school closures imminent, I want to share some of my experiences providing home learning as a primary year visual arts teacher and by doing so, I might be in some small way, doing my part, helping others navigate this difficult time.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE!
Once it was announced that our school would be facilitating home learning, I decided to use things that I already have and already know. If you have a professional Instagram account dedicated to student artmaking, USE IT! If you have a blog or are using Seesaw already, USE IT! If you have a Youtube channel that you created 4 years ago to upload a funny video of your cat, USE IT! What I am trying to say is, dust off some of these platforms that you have already established and give them a new lick of paint to make them useable and function as a way to teach, communicate, share and provide feedback.
Your school may or may not have a system in place to easily collate virtual learning content so make it easy on yourself, your admin and the little people you are trying to connect with and connect all of your platforms. Link Tree is a great way to do this. If you don’t already have Link Tree, DO IT! This creates one sharable link that has all of your platforms in one place, one easy click away. That way when you need to share your content with classroom teachers, parents or your super supportive mom, it’s slick, easy, and always up-to-date.
Curriculum Content vs. One-Off Lessons
When I received the news initially that we would be closed for two weeks, I figured I could use videoes to front-load some of my essential questions for my new units, introduce the artists we were looking at and teach art vocabulary we would use in the upcoming projects. Then, when kids come back to school, you can launch into the making and doing. As the weeks turned into months, I just kept my units coming.
Now, I’ve had to modify them to use different materials, ones that kids likely have at home but this way I could show that curriculum was continuing on despite being physically apart. I have talked to some teachers who have done the opposite and now in our 6th week of home learning, they are finding it difficult to keep generating new content. This takes me back to my original point, USE WHAT YOU HAVE! Use your units and lessons and simply modify the materials or rearrange the order of your curriculum to facilitate the units and lessons that are more suited for home learning i.e. portraits, observational drawing and/or collage.
At my school, the specialist subject’s home learning content is not required. I have strong feelings on this but that is for another day and another post but be prepared for kids not following through with learning you have created for them. However, despite being optional (eye twitch) I have about 20% engagement rate meaning, about 1/4 of my students/partners/guardians are looking at my blog, watching videos and sending me photos of their work. This is actually pretty good for being optional!
Our subject is very visual, so personally, what I think works best is video demonstrations. Think of it like any other lesson minus the actual making of the art and clean-up. Film your opener, state the goals for the lesson or assignment, demonstrate techniques and skills and the rest is up to them!
Some of my comrades have created online galleries where kids can share their artwork but depending on how many kids you teach and how long school might be closed, be careful to not make a rode for your own back. That’s a lot of digital artwork to manage! Have a plan if you need to virtually collect work to not create an organization headache later.
Take this situation and look at it as an opportunity to learn and try new things! From finally learning how to use iMovie and Garage Band on your Mac to logging into your first Zoom meeting, there is going to be a lot of learning! Also, constraints bore creativity so try to use this time to think differently on how you do things and how you deliver content. Also, do a bit of research and find other teachers and Youtubers that you like regarding their style, delivery and try to use them as a model, a guide to help you get started helping you find your own way of doing things. Below is a fellow Hong Kong Primary Art Teacher, Chris Gadbury, that has used his impressive graphic design skills to create entertaining video lessons.
What Materials Do They At Home?
A big constraint is materials and knowing what kids have at home. From my experience, you can assume that all kids have some pencils, pens, scissors, tape, a glue stick and maybe some markers, crayons and/or colored pencils. There is a lot you can do with these items. In addition to teaching visual arts, we are now teaching resourcefulness!
No watercolor paint? Make some using old markers or coffee! No paintbrush? Use a Q-tip! No blank paper? Make your own by turning recycled paper into pulp and making handmade paper with a deckled edge that would rival the expensive stuff in the store! You get the idea. Don’t let limited materials hold you back, see it as an opportunity to teach students how to improvise, adapt, and overcome!
Go Get Your Nails Done!
Yes, you miss your students, yes, the workload is the same because filming and editing take a long time but you don’t have to prep or clean-up after materials! This is a positive, at least for me who has always wanted nails like Cardi B! Use this time to moisturize your hands, wear clothes you normally don’t because you’re worried they will be ruined and put your feet up because the physicality of your day-to-day is now a whole lot lighter! Oh, and then use your own nail polish to make more content! HA!