Teachers Connect
Jul 15, 2015

Institute 2: Risk Taking

How will you encourage students to take risks and address errors in their work?  What strategies can you help them develop so they don’t continually “start over?”

15 Responses to Institute 2: Risk Taking

  1. maureen berard says:

    I tell students that they need to turn and talk to a peer before starting over. Help each other with suggestions . We repeatedly say in the classroom, ” An artist can often make something out of a mistake.” It sort of becomes a challenge. It is not an absolute, but it does create a pause in the start over process. I also find that walking around the room and commenting, holding work up to get feedback from classmates, and encouraging and getting excited about their creations while my students are working goes a long way.

    • Mark Montgomery says:

      I had a teacher in college that spoke of the “happy accidents” that often happens in art projects. Students offering their ideas builds a wonderful classroom community. All students (of all ages) love their work to be evaluated and appreciated by their teachers. Your responses are spot-on!

    • Julia says:

      Thanks Maureen, that is a great suggestion.
      Peer encouragement always seems to work better than teacher encouragement. Sometimes they need to start over, but mostly they just don’t feel good about their work. As we know by this class, sometimes you don’t have time to start over, and it’s best to go on to the next thing even if you aren’t completely satisfied.

  2. Mark Montgomery says:

    Most teachers know a few students that are relative perfectionists with projects. Those are students who place a high demand on themselves to either be what they perceive to be the best in the class, or be among the one’s thought of as the best. Their behavior when given an assignment is to, when thinking she or he is not performing up to par, is over at the waste paper basket with a crumpled up piece of studio paper, or in your face saying “I want a new sheet of paper.” Sometimes these student’s work is not even in the upper echelon of the class, but their demands are higher even then ours as the teacher. I frankly do not see any way around either letting that student sulk (heaven forbid) the rest of the class period, or giving the student that other sheet of paper. Perhaps teachers could emphasize the limited amount of money allocaded…I’m joking : ). Actually, an alternative might be to let 2 students, perhaps from another class, preview the making of the project, side by side. One following the correct sequence and one following his or her own “genius” approach, shortcutting the teacher’s formula. This way students can see first-hand the successful outcome of the correct finished project, as against the errant example of the “geniius.” It could be with the project that is being taught, or something similar that requires correct sequencing. However, the comparative project-building can also be introduced after 2 chances of student attempts. The comparative study can also be video taped ahead of time and shown after the initial attempts are tried individually or in small groups. This way, only the students that keep making mistakes can watch the video without slowing down the rest of the class and their teacher.

    Perhaps this will not totally eliminate the starting over piece that some students experience, but eventually may develop a keener understanding of why the ability to focus during project directions is very important with all assignments, in all classes..

  3. Ellen Rosenthal says:

    I think back to my art school days, and hearing one of my teachers say: “You always do two paintings; the one in your head and the one your end up with.” So true.

    I encourage my 7th and 8th Grade art students to take risks by brainstorming and doing sketches (at least 3) before starting the final sketch and then the artwork itself. I do something like this routine with the majority of my lessons. This allows them to try out new ideas without commitment–easy to change the ideas when you are just working with a pencil and paper. We talk a lot about not going with their first idea, because it is often the most obvious and least creative, and to have at least 3 or more ideas. I review the sketches, either one on one or in a group, and we talk about their ideas, how comfortable they are with their ideas, and how they could improve their sketches and so on. The sketches and brainstorm sheets are graded, so they know how they did, and if they need to put more work into their sketches and ideas.

    In my experience, this really cuts down on the “Can I start over?” situation. Usually knowing where they are going with their art, and having feedback on their ideas, gives them the confidence to complete the lesson.

    In terms of experimenting with the materials, often I give a experimentation session with the art media. so they get more familiar and more confident in using it. This “playtime” with the art materials is very important too.

    It terms of “errors”, it depends on what you mean by that term. Often in the art room an “error” can be a positive thing and can lead to some new and wonderful ideas. If it is a matter of not following the lesson procedures, that is one thing. If it is a matter of their watercolor paint running all over their artwork and creating accidental designs, that is something else.

    If a student really feels he or she wants to start over, they have to talk to me about what they think went “wrong” and what they would do differently if they could start again.
    I give them the spiel that every artist goes through this situation and have the choice of; trying to “make it work” and realize the result may be very different, better, or worse than what they started out with, or use what they have learned from the experience and start over. I don’t generally use the words “mistake” or “error” in my art room.

  4. Emily Shevell says:

    Whenever my students decide to take risks, or whenever I guide them to, I always remain super supportive but straightforward at the same time. The frustrated and starting over conversations usually sound like this:
    Student: “I can’t do it.”
    Me: “Yes you can”
    S: It’s hard
    Me: Yup
    S: I can’t do it!
    Me: You can, you’re just having trouble.
    S: Ok, I’m having trouble.
    Me: Alright, what are you having trouble with? What have you already done? What are you planning on doing? Where are you trying to go?
    From here, I have a student describe to me what they’ve done and how they got there. Usually, by this time, they’ve figured out their problem. If they haven’t, I can usually re-structure their thinking in order to find the right answer/task/etc. If errors are continually showing up, I will first have them work with a partner and then, if that doesn’t work, I will take them through a few steps myself to see where we can fix things and how to move on in the process. Frequently by the end of the year the conversation changes to this:
    S: I can’t do it!
    Me: mmmm?
    S: Ok, I can do it but I’m having trouble with _____ when I did _____ to lead up to here.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      I love having them become more specific about the problem that leads to the “starting over”….that will serve them so well over their whole lives!

  5. Julia says:

    When we do writing projects there is the rewriting process, but when we do something involving art materials then often it is more difficult to scratch everything and start over. I find that it is even more discouraging to start over too many times, so even when rewriting, I don’t request a redo after they have already done it once. I try to have them look at the assignment from a different viewpoint to try to get more meaning. As for art projects, I try to do simple things that can be easily adjusted if there are spelling or coloring mistakes.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      Good idea of looking at an assignment from a different viewpoint. Fits in with Denise’s project this morning….looking at something (like a flower) from different angles.

  6. Gina T. says:

    One way I have tried to encourage risk-taking is allowing students to try a smaller scale version of whatever the project is (much like prototyping or models but not requiring as much vision). I also generally try to scaffold things in so that students have experience with each individual aspect of a project before I ask them to synthesize and apply it in their own way. For example, I might use the zia-balls for reading, having each student decorate a strip with a literary question that could be used during novel study and then assemble and use them in class. Then, the zia-balls can be used by students later in their own way, as an option in a larger project in any content area. I find that by giving them some time initially, they begin to look for new or different ways to use/create things-especially when they know it will be used as part of a project later. That’s when students will say things like, “can I attach yarn or a ribbon to hang it?” and another will add “we can make a class tree!”

    Regarding mistakes… I have a poster that says, “You may never make a discovery if you’re afraid to make a mistake.” We talk A LOT about the fact that school is entirely designed for making mistakes, as it is an essential part of learning. Once my students realize that making mistakes are not only allowed, but expected, they are much more open to persevering and collaborating to problem solve.

    As for starting over…interestingly enough I don’t run into this a lot, so I really had to think on this. I realized that my response is usually one that directs the student to reflect… is it something they can fix or alter and still use? How much time and hard work have they invested in it- are they really willing to let that go? Will they realistically have enough time to start over, finish, and be comfortable with the result?

  7. Mary Ellen Fink says:

    Sometimes I show students the stages of my projects to show that what we make has many life stages. I have also encouraged students to go with it or build upon new directions a project may take. “Errors” or “mistakes” can be glorious opportunities. I have also related hands on projects to the writing process—especially editing and revising. We talk about how J.K. Rawling or other authors they like may not end up with published work that looks exactly like their first vision. Of course, there are some obsessive compulsive students in search of intangible perfection or the must-make pattern that I work all year to reinforce, etc. with the goal of eliminating the always required do-over. It is a delicate process and one that involves a curious slurry of lack of self-confidence blended with a hairy superiority. The “Sheldon Cooper” from “Big Bang Theory” kind of kid. The day we don’t have to start over before ever really getting started at all,(I am picturing a few faces from the past) have been. silent victories for me and prideful moments for the students.

  8. Grace Hulse says:

    In the beginning of the school year I have my students brainstorm ways they can fix mistakes. they decide that they can erase when possible, hide their mistake by drawing or painting over it, ask a friend for advice, turn over their paper, etc. We post these and when someone has trouble we talk about which solution could work for them. They are always excited and proud when they find a way to fix things and usually say they like their work better with the fix.

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