Creating A Significant Learning Environment

Teaching elementary art is a pretty crazy thing. I have students for 30 minutes, once a week. I have almost 1000 students, and my program is spread between 3 schools. My supply budget is really small, and I have to spend a lot of time writing grants and seeking out funding so I can provide art supplies beyond crayons and paper. I want my program to provide my students with real art-creating experiences, and not just a place to put kids while their classroom teachers get planning time, but I’ve found that to be very challenging, given the scheduling and budgetary constraints.

I’ve had to get very creative with how I provide instruction to my students, and finding ways to maximize our time in the art room. To find inspiration in making these changes, I looked at my own practices as an artist, and also at how other artists I know learn how work as artists, as is recommended by pedagogical models like Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) and Montessori (Teaching, 2011). Artists tend to work in favorite media, but dabble in others. We paint subject matter that is meaningful to us. We would rather learn new media techniques by watching a quick demonstration and then practice on our own. Artists are passionate about creating art, and we collaborate with other artists, sometimes, who share our passions. So, I have been providing more choices to the students, and finding more self-directed ways for them to learn about important artworks and media techniques so that I can walk around the room and assist them, rather than trying to get instruction out to every student, at once. I’ve also been fortunate enough to get a set of iPads for the art room, which provides me with digital art creation opportunities, and also to snap photos of projects throughout the creative process to share with others to get feedback — or feed-forward, as we like to call it — for next steps.

As I’m reading “A New Culture of Learning” (Brown, et al 2011), I am starting to see that what I was doing was more than just mitigating the challenges of my crazy art schedule and budget, but creating a learning environment that is better for my students. This learning environment fosters my students’ passions by giving them choice in subject matter and artistic media; it mimics the natural way my students learn by giving them the tools they need to learn how to do things; it encourages imagination by giving students opportunities to play with art media to create their own artistic style. The best part, I think, is that my students will be tapping into the collective minds of fellow students as they create and grow, through posting their work on Seesaw (a digital portfolio app) and sharing ideas.

With the CSLE method (Creating Significant Learning Environments), I see that I have already addressed some of my learning environment issues through backward design. But, I have plenty of room to grow my learning environment into something that will achieve the goals I want. While I have addressed the “analog” issues of art media and instruction, I could be using my digital resources in a better way. Instead of using technology for art demos, documentation of student work, feedback, and occasional digital art project, I really need to create the learning environment within the digital world, using a learning management system to keep it all together. Using blended learning for instruction will allow me to design my program holistically, and it will also help make it more portable as I travel from school to school. It will also allow my students access to art learning when they are not in art class, and this is probably the best reason to do this, since our time together is so short.

I think my main challenges will be to build appropriate learning environments for my students. I typically plan similarly for grades K-2 and for grades 3-5, respectively, and then handle the differences in learning objectives through discussions and prompts within each group. I am not sure how I will handle this with an online learning environment, but would like to keep them organized like this to minimize time logging in and out of an LMS. With classes only 30 minutes once a week, and shared devices, it’s important to streamline everything pretty severely. I also have to find time to build my new learning environment and have all the components finished and ready to go before the first day of school. Since I work on two different school calendars and paint murals throughout the three weeks of vacation I get in the summer, I am never not working. I will have to find a way to build the skeleton now and add the rest as I can between now and July 1, when school starts back for my biggest school. I also get very little planning time at school — often less than classroom teachers — so I need to create a system that will be easy to keep going as the school year moves on.

I think that, in my quest to craft the ideal learning environment for my students, I have been driving myself crazy thinking that creating parts of it (like my different art stations), instead of looking at the learning environment as something bigger and more ephemeral than my classrooms. While this will be a lot of work to create in the beginning, I think it will improve the experience for my students so much because it will ultimately match my teaching to the way my students learn, and will put them in control of all parts of their learning experience, freeing me up to to coach and advise them and maximizing my time with them. I think this will also improve my relationships with my students, because they will see me as a co-learner an not some authority figure making them do things that I want them to do.



Teaching for Artistic Behavior. (2017). Retrieved from

Brown J. S. & D, Thomas. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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