In Art Kids Want Challenging Work

I was really hoping to have more time to reflect on my new adventure as an art teacher but, as I am also a novice I have a plethora of small parts I am trying to figure out. This scrambling has made it hard to sit back and appreciate the moment. From organizing materials to getting a firm grasp on my standards I feel like I am constantly behind the curve. I am reminded of what I felt like when I first started 20 years ago and I would go into school at 6:30 in the morning to prepare. I am truly feeling more of the Novice part than the Advantage part of The Novice Advantage.

What I learned so far…

  • I like teaching a variety of ages

  • The act of making art is inherently satisfying for students

  • Students often only hear the first part of directions

  • Kids like to do challenging work

Here are a few activities we did the first two weeks.

We created “Community Drawings.” In these crayon drawings on long pieces of paper my Kindergarten – 5th grade students drew parts of their community together. In this activity that expected students to work together it was only the older students who has a problem sharing materials of figuring out how to make their individual ideas fit together. I documented these students pictures with my phone and turned them into the video below. Now we are editing the drawings but cutting out pieces we want to keep for the future.

I decided to do an activity with tangrams to assess spatial reasoning students. It also helped me to know where students were in identifying shapes. I was pleasantly surprised that when offered the harder puzzle of fitting the tangram pieces into a blank square vs. a square with lines drawn for the pieces my older students all chose to do it the hard way. When they finally figured out how to put the pieces together and I told them now you can do whatever design you like they exclaimed, “Yes!” This happened multiple times. The reward of autonomy reinforced the innate reward of reaching a challenging goal.

After figuring out how to fit the traditional tangram shape into a square students were free to use shapes to make any design they chose.

The major realization I had this week was that I want to adopt the “Teaching for Artistic Behavior” approach in my classroom. This approach creates community art space feel in the classroom where students define their own learning goals while learning new processes and connecting their work to art history and culture.

I have a bunch of work to do to make this approach viable. I will fill you in as I go along. I am excited that my students seem to be learning even with only two hours in my class so far. Below are Kindergarten students described learning in The Learning Studio.

All photos: @jmholland

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  • CarissaZill

    When they aren’t challenged, they get bored

    I have learned that when students aren’t challenged they start to get bored with their work.  They love knowing that you are counting on them to discover new things in their art work! I make sure to celebrate when a student finds a new way of approaching a problem that I had never thought of.   

    • JohnHolland


      RIght now I am struggling to figure out how I am going to create SMART goals using student data when what I am asking students to do things I haven’t thought of.

      That celebration is critical. Thanks for the comment!


  • neha520

    I have been reading out a lot

    I have been reading out a lot of your articles and that i ought to say pretty nice stuff.
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  • HO1983

    It’s true. Kids are excited

    It’s true. Kids are excited about new challenges, something that let’s them unleash their creativity. It doesn’t necessarily need to be too elaborate but it needs to give them the feeling of being an artist.



    • JohnHolland


      The more I teach art the more I think we are doing it all wrong. We are deadening their souls instead of lighting them up. I am finding that the younger kids are better at than the older ones.

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  • joesav

    Tip for teacher

    Hi John,

    How many years have you been teaching? Looks like solid experience.

    As for teacher you may be interested in this good topic and relevent advices shown at neighbor pages of this site.