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Getting to Know Your Students Through Art

 

Getting to know your students through Art                                                                      paint hands

Our most important duty during these first few weeks is to get to know all these bright new faces sitting in front of us. All of your students will bring their unique stories and personalities into your classroom and it is your job to figure them out.  How will they learn? What are their likes and dislikes? What is their home life like? Will they respond to you? AHH! There is so much to figure out and so little time to do it. Instead of giving them a 100-point questionnaire, consider utilizing a few of these art activities. You might learn more things about your group than you thought you would! Oh, and it might actually be fun! Who would have dreamt it?

Name that Kid

The dreaded “name game.”  As classroom sizes inflate each year, teachers are challenged to find new ways to log their kids in the old memory bank. Of course there are always THOSE students who are burned into your brain almost instantaneously— the little boy that tells you he likes to eat boogers for breakfast or the little girl who blurts out how she likes to put makeup on her dad. Regardless, how are you to remember the other 28 kids staring back at you on the first week of school? Or even worse, what if you are a special area subject teacher that only sees these kids for an hour once a week or on Day 6? The task can seem pretty daunting.  One way that helped me on the first day was to have each child create his or her own nameplate. Jazz up the classic table tent or folder with a few of these variations.

  • Have the children turn the letters of their name into favorite things. For example, have each letter reflect something about themselves: a favorite animal, food, season of the year, subject in school, after-school activity, etc.
  • For younger children, print out blank bubble letter versions of their name and ask the kids to fill them in using stickers, cut-outs or stamps.  Each day of the first week, pose a question to the students and have them use their bubble letter name plates to answer it. The repeated exposure will help both you and your students identify names and provide associations with their favorite things. Check out Woo Junior for some great printable letter templates.
  • For slightly older children, ask the students to pick a “spirit animal” or an animal that best represents them. Then, ask the kids to pick their favorite color and an adjective that best describes themselves. Challenge them to incorporate all of these ideas into a picture with the first letter of their name.  By the end of the first day, you will have a bulletin board full of dancing horses with pink hair and skateboarding bears with blue sunglasses. By reviewing these names and drawings frequently, you will actually create a memory device to help you learn about your kids!

Under Your Roof

Finding out about students’ home life can help teachers a great deal. One of the best ways to learn about what is going on at home is to have your kids draw their families. Art therapists and child psychologists have long used children’s drawings to help analyze their feelings about a situation. Some characteristics may be exaggerated or left out and can house artgive insight into what a child views as valuable.

  • Fold a paper inward and cut the upper corners to make a house shape and have the children fill it with their family, pets, and favorite things.
  • Don’t forget to have them draw themselves in the portrait. If there is something alarming about their picture, seek counsel from a professional.
  • For older kids, ask them to draw a typical day in their house with their family or make up a cartoon where everyone in the house makes an appearance.

Learning about their home life will at least give you an idea if there are specific challenges your students are facing each day. Knowing that a child shares a room with a younger sibling or splits time between divorced parents may help avoid awkward exchanges and give insight into everyday struggles.  There are websites such as this one which can be helpful in analyzing your students’ psychological status, but always consult a professional if you have serious concerns.

My Superhero Alter Ego

art suppliesWho hasn’t fantasized about having secret superpowers? Personally, I’ve dreamt about teleportation on just about every Friday afternoon commute. This is a great activity for all ages with a few modifications. Challenge your students to draw their future selves as working adults. They can pick any career and environment that they want. Encourage them to dream about what they want to be when they grow up with no limitations or barriers. Then, have them draw their Alter Ego Superhero self (think Clark Kent/Superman).  They will need to be specific about their special powers and at least one weakness.

  • Encourage them to use details in their drawing like making their cape a favorite color, a poster in the background with their favorite pop star, or perhaps their favorite food on their desk at work.
  • Descriptive drawing is just as important as descriptive writing so have them tell you all about their characters by writing about them.
  • Questions such as, “If I could solve one problem in the world it would be…” can provide interesting responses and may even reveal a specific passion or emotion in some kids.
  • In order to make this a little easier on students, provide blank templates or drawings of people that they would need to change or add details to.
  • For small children, give choices or ideas about what sort of powers there are and what they could help solve.  You could prompt them to discover what their “kryptonite” is by giving them examples of unappetizing foods or unpleasant weather situations.

Believe it or not, a Superhero can tell you a lot about what someone values and fears. Be prepared to be asked what your superpower is as well.  It might help to come to school with your cape in hand that day. It shouldn’t be too difficult, since being a teacher gives you instant superhero status!  Have a great year!

The Teacher’s Academy is the proud parent company of Act 48 Academy. We provide Act 48 Hours for PA teachers, and professional development hours for teachers across the USA. Check out our Online Course Catalog for the most relevant, affordable and convenient professional development courses, created by teachers for teachers.

Click Find Your State for specific details on professional development from your department of education.

Enjoy!

Building your Classroom Community

 How to Build a Strong Classroom Community

For many of us, September marks the beginning of a new school year. During these next few weeks we will be building the framework that will set the pace for the rest of the  year.

One of the most effective ways we can do that is to create a strong classroom community.  Students who feel like part of a community are more excited to come to Wschool, enthusiastic about learning, helpful, and accepting of others.

Creating a strong classroom community happens in ways that are both subtle and overt, but always intentional.  Here are some of the best ways that we have discovered to build a strong community of learners.

8 Ways to Build a Strong Classroom Community

1. Help your students feel safe!   If students are constantly worrying about their own safety, both physically or emotionally, they are unlikely to be successful learners or community members.  There are many things you can do to make your students feel safe, some more obvious than others. Modeling compassionate communication, allowing for vulnerability (both your own and students’), and being intolerant of bullying are some of the ways that you can help students feel safe.   Check out our online course to get some practical advice on combating bullying.

2. Arrange your classroom in an effective way! Desks that are all pointed towards the front of the room send a clear message that the teacher is the primary decision maker.  Arranging desks in semi-circles or small pods allows for more group discussions and community building.

bean bagsClassroom walls should be a place to display students’ work and projects, not teacher-created material or posters.  Consider allowing the students to coordinate to make a “Classroom Constitution” which can be hung up and referred to during the year.

Although it may seem contradictory, quiet corners can also be useful tools in making the classroom feel more like a community.  Sometimes the best way to foster students to engage with the rest of the class is to give them the freedom and space to take a few moments alone.  This is especially true for introverted students.  Plants and class pets are also useful in making all students feel connected.

Classroom Architect provides a helpful website to experiment with different classroom layouts.

3. Take a big step back!  Always being the one in control may make for more orderly days, but it allows little room for community building.  Group work, student-led discussions, and Project Based Learning are all excellent ways to build community.  The BIE website is particularly helpful for learning about Project Based Learning.

An important component of student-led projects is grouping. When left to their own devices, kids will often revert back to familiar groups, which doesn’t leave much room for Elementary school students studyingsocial growth and can often result in certain kids being left out.  Try some new ways to group your kids.  One fun way is to have each student anonymously write down a favorite book, hobby, or dream travel destination, and then put them in the group with kids with similar answers.  They might be surprised by who has similar interests!

4. Give opportunities for silliness!  Just as struggling to complete a class project together builds community, so too does laughing over a shared experience.  If humor is your thing, don’t be afraid to let the kids see that side of you.  Tell jokes, have playful conversations, and encourage your students to do the same.  If you are a more serious person, integrating student-created skits or songs into your curriculum will invite humor into your classroom in a natural way.

5. Celebrate each child’s unique spirit!  Being a community does not mean that everyone should feel pressure to be the same.  Quite the contrary.  A true community allows each member to be appreciated for the unique gifts that he or she contributes.  Allowing your students to use multiple ways to present their knowledge shines a light on all the amazing differences and talents that they possess.asian strong children against blackboard in classroom, Education

Our Universal Design for Learning course will show you how to re-design your lessons to be accessible and showcase the strengths of all your students.

6.  Hold them responsible!  An important part of community is understanding how instrumental each member is to the group’s success.  Giving students classroom jobs gives them ownership and helps   them feel like a vital part of the community.

7.  Build trust between all community members!  Trust is an important component in every relationship.  Since a community is, by nature, an interconnected web of relationships, a great deal of trust needs to be built in to allow things to run smoothly.  The most effective way to earn your students’ trust is to be consistent in your words and actions.  Not only does this help your students to trust you, but it also models the behavior that you expect from them.

Spiral StaircaseAnother important way to build trust is to ensure your students that you expect the best from them.  Instead of focusing on a lot of minor details in classroom conduct, assure your students that you have faith in their abilities and good judgement. You will be surprised by how often they rise to the occasion!

Trust-building activities can be a light-hearted way to help build trust between your students.  Check out Teampedia for some fun team building activities.

8.  Respect and celebrate emotions!  Intellect is only one component of a person.  When you acknowledge and honor the other aspects of what makes them human, students feel more comfortable communicating and taking risks.

Group work can be difficult.  With a lot of personalities involved, emotions often run high.  Let students know that it is okay to feel frustrated or sad or even angry.  Talk to them about ways to use those emotions in a productive manner and keep the classroom community a positive, safe place.

Beyond the Classroom…

Teaching kids what an effective, productive community looks like is one of your most important jobs as a teacher.  The lessons they learn in your classroom will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The Teacher’s Academy is proud to provide Professional Development Courses to teachers from all across the country. We offer quality, affordable classes that you can take right from your home computer. Check out our catalog to find a course that will help you make this year the best one yet!