The Big Idea: Service-Learning and Art Education

By Buffington, Melanie L. | Art Education, November 2007 | Go to article overview

The Big Idea: Service-Learning and Art Education

Buffington, Melanie L., Art Education

In this article I explore the big idea concept, service-learning, and offer a specific example of a service-learning project involving preservice art teachers at a middle school. Following the description, I address what the preservice teachers learned through the experience as expressed in their reflections about the project. The impetus for this project came from the preservice art teachers' in my classes who shared stories about the art lessons they saw during their school observations. The teachers they observed worked from different orientations including Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE), creative self-expression, formalism, holiday art, and make-and-take. The lessons and artmaking that the preservice teachers saw related closely to their personal experiences as students, although they did not overtly connect to course content.

The textbook that I used with preservice art teachers was Sydney Walker's (2001) Teaching Meaning in Artmaking. Introducing preservice teachers to the big idea concept as the focus for artmaking was exciting; preservice teachers shared with me how this concept improved their understanding of their own artmaking and other preservice teachers expressed their interest in using a big idea as the focus for their lessons. However, some preservice teachers explained their hesitation to accept this concept because they did not learn this way, had not seen this in practice, and did not know what it would be like to teach from this approach.

These discussions with preservice teachers prompted me to investigate ways to provide them with concrete experiences that related the conceptual content of the course to the reality of public school teaching. At the same time, through conversations with local teachers, I became aware of the significant reductions in funding for visual art in the local public schools. The combination of the status of art education in the local schools and the need to involve preservice teachers in meaningful teaching experiences, led me to think about how the preservice teachers could provide service to students in a local school, while giving them an experience working with a big idea in a school setting. This led to the development of a service-learning project for preservice art teachers to involve them in working with a group of students at a local middle school.

Big Ideas

Within art education, scholars advocate teaching with big ideas, also called enduring ideas, key ideas, or themes (Daniel, Stuhr, & Ballengee-Morris, 2006; Stewart & Walker, 2005; The Ohio State University TETAC Mentors, 2002; Walker, 2001). Emanating from the interdisciplinary/integrated curriculum movement related to the work of curriculum theorists, including Jacobs (1989), Burns (1995), and Beane (1997), big ideas organize curriculum around important topics. According to Walker (2001), "Big ideas-broad, important human issues-are characterized by complexity, ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity" (p. 1). Examples of big ideas include measurement, power, community, heroes, family, celebration, environment, human diversity, nature and culture, violence, and social order. Walker (2001) explained that many artists work with a particular big idea over the course of many years. Though the subject matter, materials, or form of the art may change, the artist is still investigating ways to understand the big idea. When teaching from this perspective, student artmaking, like the work of professional artists, relates to issues in the world. Instead of a teacher presenting students with an example to copy or focusing artmaking on technical exercises only, artmaking should function as a way to connect student experiences in the world to the big idea. Through developing personal connections to the big idea, practicing techniques, and approaching art as a meaning-making endeavor, students can move toward what Roberts (2005) described as "real" artmaking. Few of my students previously encountered big ideas; after introducing them to this concept, I also introduced them to service-learning. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Big Idea: Service-Learning and Art Education


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.