Full disclosure, after watching Project Runway Season 11, in which all the constants had to work in teams for every challenge, I was completely inspired to incorporate more collaborative learning challenges in the art room. Even though the show was fraught with bickering and disagreements, which make for great TV, and-not-so-great classroom management experiences, it still made sense to me that elementary-aged students should be working together. I love the idea of 'art challenges' in which students are given a list of materials, and a theme, and they have to work 'under the gun' to create something that they later have to defend and explain what is great or not-so-great about their concept. It is also a really valuable learning experience for them to defend their ideas to each other and give up a bit of control, forcing them to compromise their ideas for the good of the finished product. Working in teams brought out a much richer art production experience than I could've imagined and I was able to sit back and listen to their conversations (and sometimes disagreements) about their ideas.
Last year, I really tried to incorporate those 'team-challenges" into my art room. It taught me a lot about how to use cooperative learning in a really effective way.
# 1 Let students choose their own teams.
My method: while students are in the hall, before entering the room, they had to quickly and quietly stand beside the person that they wanted to work with. This almost always worked perfectly.....sometimes there was an odd-man out...by choice or by sheer numbers, but in those cases I would allow a group of 3 or I would encourage that person to work the absentees upon their return.
#2 Allow teams to sit anywhere.
By letting students pick their own teams, and even their own seats for the team challenge, I immediately gave over a bit of classroom control. Generally, students were so happy to sit with their buddies, that they were really good listeners while I introduced the project.
# 3 WORK BIG.
By forcing my students to work in teams, it allowed us to work bigger. Instead of the regular-sized projects, we went JUMBO. This was super fun because my displays were larger and more visually powerful. Working in teams also meant fewer finished products so I had a little more storage space: 14 vs 28 finished pieces.
# 4 Let them decide who takes it home.
In art, students create a product...if everyone contributes, who owns the finished piece? This got a little hairy and we saw several tears in the beginning of our collaborative challenges because one person REALLY wanted to keep the BIG finished painting, instead of the little practice sketch....so I tried to do two back-to-back collaborations within the same teams so that it was easier to compromise.
Here is a compilation of collaborative art projects that were very successful for me last year.
Design Your own 'Custom iPads.
Grumpy Cat Paintings
Abraham Lincoln Paintings
Gingerbread House Paintings
Collaborative Owl Animations
Stop-Motion Lego Movies
The best part, actually happened this year when I introduced the Matisse collage project to one of my classes, which is made up of over half of my students from last year...they said: 'Can we work with partners?' Oh how my heart melted. Why, yes, of course you can!!!! I allowed students to pick their own teams, sit anywhere they wanted, and it was incredible to circulate the room while they excitedly rearranged their compositions and talked about their ideas. Such a great day and a great reminder that all of my efforts to push them towards collaboration last year, are paying off this year.
This post is part of the reflective teaching blog challenge, day 25.