• Jordan Sposito

Meanwhile in the Art Classroom: Choice-based Portrait Projects

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Developing a semester long unit plan for a high school visual art one class while trying to implement a choice-based curriculum can be very challenging. Let's not forget to mention already facing the challenge of 35 teens in a small room with art skills varying from the the advanced middle school art kids all the way to the, "I am a senior and just realized I needed fine arts to graduate and have not colored since the 6th grade," kids. You feel the struggle, right?

As an art teacher, I feel it is part of my job to teach my students the basics. To provide them with experience and exploration in art, while developing their knowledge of the principles of design and elements of art. We developed this portrait project as a means of trying to do all of those things.

I say "we" because I cannot take full credit for any of these lessons! The other art teacher and I are a complete team and collaborate on almost every single thing! Teamwork makes the dream work. So just know, when I refer to something as "us" or "we" just know it is because she and I used our brainpower together.

Based on the Art of Education Choice Based Learning Spectrum, this portrait project (in my opinion) falls somewhere between the Montessori and Waldorf-Reggio in regard to amount of choice.

We started the kids off by practicing our facial features. By first demonstrating how to draw each of the facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, the students would use our bell-ringer time to practice these in the accurate way. I provided them with an awesome instructional packet to help them if they needed to refer back. click here for awesome PDF on how to draw the human nose. To conclude, we practiced how to put together all the features to make a proportionally correct face.

Filling out an Internet Artist Research Worksheet about at least three different artists was the next step of this project so students could gain some knowledge on famous artists. Following, Students were shown an image flood of different portrait paintings in a variety of styles! This was important because in order to be inspired, they needed to see things that they could be inspired by. Re-creating the wheel is a little tough to do anyways! The students chose either one of the artists they researched, OR pick their own artist/style to reference for their portrait project.

Students were now to do a project planning sheet and propose their portrait project plan to me. In order for me to allow my kids to have a lot of choice, I need to be able to see that they can and have developed a full plan prior to starting the project. (This also will save some more time from them messing up and wanting to start over 100 times.)

This planning sheet is a starting point for students to learn how to organize their ideas and help them conceptualize their art! I had every student do a "practice piece" and then "real deal project." It is important to me that they do a practice piece so they can problem solve and edit their piece prior to starting on their real deal project.

On the board, I make sure to provide statements that will result in a measurable goal for each student even though they are all working on a portrait in a different way.

This helps keep the class organized and allow the students to have some control of their time management and organization, which is not only important in the classroom, but also an important life skill.

I was really impressed with how well my kids did with these portraits! There was a lot of interesting and individualized art that came from this project. The students were able to apply the skills they learned and adapt those to a more personal and conceptual piece of art.

I will say that although I had students who highly excelled in this project, I did have students who struggled with the high level of freedom and choice. The thought of being imaginative or conceptualizing art does not come natural to them. In some cases, this is even a cause of anxiety for some kids! In my teaching philosophy, art class being a means of stress for a student means that I am doing my job wrong! I want art class to teach kids something about art, but I also want it to be a place where they can relax and have fun. For these students who struggled with the amount of freedom and choice they had, there was the option to do a pencil shaded self-portrait. By referencing a photo of themselves, the student could draw the features correctly proportioned and shade the correct values for their art project. That too, is still art!

Not only did the students learn the proper way to draw a human face, but they were able to apply these techniques to create a portrait in a style that was interesting to them. The exploration of different materials and problem-solving what worked and what did not work were all an important part of the process.

Thanks for stopping by!


art teacher Spo

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