Student Ownership: Learning in a Student-Centered Art Room

By Andrews, Barbara Henriksen | Art Education, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Student Ownership: Learning in a Student-Centered Art Room


Andrews, Barbara Henriksen, Art Education


We got to pick our own projects and set our own goals and objectives. We were in control of what we wanted to get from this class. It was a totally new idea from what any other classes in high school are like.

-Female Student (personal communication, 2005)

After taking this art class, I can easily see the differences between truly participating in art, and simply doing what one is told to create by the teacher.

-Female Student (personal communication, 2009)

In other art courses you do what the teacher wants and what they plan. In this class you have to think.

-Male Student (personal communication, 2007)

These high school students, who previously were unenthusiastic about art, now express joy and satisfaction in their learning. I believe this shift in student attitude, from reluctant learner to engaged learner, took place in a studentcentered class titled Art and Ideas. After 8 years of teaching more traditional, mediaspecific classes, I became frustrated with a few students in each class who were not as enthusiastic about our art projects as I was. I wanted to reach these students and turn their apathy into excitement. I wanted motivated learners.

Before the introduction of Art and Ideas, students passively waited for me, the high school teacher, to introduce assignments and due dates. They were accustomed to receiving information, completing projects, and routinely taking tests. Like many teachers, however, I wanted active learners who had a role in shaping curriculum.

To accomplish this goal, I developed a student-centered approach to teach art at our high school. In 1996 I introduced our new art class, Art and Ideas, with the goal of putting students at the center of their learning. Each semester I teach four sections of the class.

Student Ownership of Learning in a Testing-Saturated Culture

Many educators strive to cultivate students' ownership of their learning. This can be challenging with the current emphasis on high-stakes test scores. Berliner and Nichols (2008) address this concern in "Testing the Joy Out of Learning" in Educational Leadership. They write, "A high-stakes testing climate sends a message that the primary purpose of learning is to score well on the test." Students need to do more than learn how to take standardized tests. They need to be able to think for themselves, not just the way the instructor wants them to. A student -centered art room offers an oasis of freedom in the testing landscape, allowing students to work and think creatively.

Using a new approach to classroom teaching, I was able to provide students an alternative to the testing atmosphere by allowing them the opportunity to choose their projects and direction of study in art. High school students have many interests and activities which link to art. In addition, art is an interdisciplinary subject, connecting to literature, history, and mathematics as well as to ones culture and heritage. These connections, which are the starting points in the student-centered class, aid students in conceptualizing their ideas and visual art production. Projects can be interpreted and executed in numerous techniques, all of which provide our students valid learning opportunities. Art and Ideas is an addition to our school curriculum, not a replacement to more traditional, media-specific or discipline-centered art classes such as painting, ceramics, or drawing. Additional information on a student- centered class structure are discussed in "Art, Reflection, and Creativity" (Andrews, 2005) and "Art and Ideas: Reaching Nontraditional Art Students" (Andrews, 2001).

Student-Centered and DisciplineCentered Art Instruction

Understanding the differences between student-centered and discipline-centered approaches to art instruction requires a clarification of terms. O'Neill and McMahon (2005) provide several examples.

Harden and Crosby describe the teacher-centered learning strategies as the focus on the teacher transmitting knowledge, from the expert to the novice. …

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