Adaptive Art Education

By Karamanol, Alice; Salley, Laura | School Arts, January 2005 | Go to article overview
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Adaptive Art Education


Karamanol, Alice, Salley, Laura, School Arts


As art educators, we often find ourselves faced with students whose needs are beyond what we feel trained to handle. How can we design lessons so that every student feels successful? Because we are also art therapists, our school colleagues often ask us for help in working with students who are very needy. With inclusion becoming more common, art teachers find they must adapt their lessons to meet a variety of needs.

Product versus Process

While art education is mostly concerned with the art product, art therapy addresses the process. For the observer, the resulting art pieces may or may not be beautiful, but the artists can talk about the experience of making the art and learn about themselves. Art therapy in schools usually targets special-education students, but all students can benefit from a therapeutic art lesson. You don't need to be an art therapist to make your lessons therapeutic.

All Art-Making Is Therapeutic

As artists, art educators know firsthand how good it feels to make art. Don't we sometimes use art to communicate feeling, work out life problems visually, or respond to the world around us? So why not design our lessons to give students that same opportunity? Even though art-making is therapeutic, the process can still include art history, design, literacy, thematic content, and achievement standards.

The time we are living in now has many vivid images of tragedy, war, and violence. Children are bombarded with this material every time they turn on the TV. Our students need to have a place to go during the week where they feel relaxed, respected, and get to do work that will help them visually express deep feelings, and begin to heal. We, as art educators, have the opportunity to let art class be a healing place by teaching our art classes therapeutically.

Alice Karamanol is an art therapist and art teacher at Jotham W. Wakeman School in Parsippany, New Jersey. Laura Salley is an art therapist and art teacher at Samuel L. Berliner School in Montclair, New Jersey.

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