I want to engage my students, but I'm not sure how, or even if it's possible.
February 3, 2012 10:20 PM   Subscribe

How do I do a better job of teaching Art History in a way that will engage my students and feel meaningful to me (are the two antithetical)?

So, I'm teaching Japanese Art History, though in reality I guess it might be better if I thought of it as "Japanese Art Appreciation". The school is a 2-year University in Tokyo. The students don't seem to have a specific interest in art history, though some may have an inkling of an interest in art, or at least in being creative. I think the class is seen by the students (and by the administration?) as a kind of chance for the students to enjoy themselves, almost as a respite from the more academic nature of their other classes. With a few exceptions, the students want to know only what's going to be on the test, and nothing else. I'm teaching in Japanese, which is not my first language (and I think that is part of my problem). I've been through the class twice now (Spring and Fall semesters), and for my first time through, I guess I didn't do too bad of a job. But I'd really prefer to do a better job next semester (from April). With this in mind, I want to . . . I guess start from zero in terms of planning the course and its content. But I'm not sure if I need to go back to zero or not.

What I am quite sure of is that most of the students are not . . . interested? engaged? And this is the thing that weighs most heavily upon me; I feel like kind of a jackass going through these lectures that (almost) no one is actually paying attention to. I know they're not paying attention, and they know that I know, so it feels like a bit of a ruse, which makes me extremely uncomfortable. I can say "hey, pay attention out there!" (and I do) but I find that doesn't ultimately work for more than about 3 minutes, and ideally I'd like to be be giving them something that they really want as opposed to force-feeding them.

I'm sure that part of this is that I simply need to thicken my skin, and I do believe it's true that my skin thickens slightly with each class, but I continue to struggle with: How much do I need to adjust vs how much should I be encouraging (forcing?) my students to adjust? Is it actually possible to give a lecture on Art History that these students will be interested in?

Thus far, I have been reading the lectures, which are accompanied by projected "slides" of the artwork (as well as some text of the more important points) I'm discussing ; the students have hand-outs that identify the slides, and they're encouraged to follow along and make their own notes, both from the slides and from my lecture. I try to read it in as conversational a manner as I can, and make sure to throw in ad-libbed comments here and there, but I know that any lecture that is read is going to be kind of dry. I'm reading because my command of Japanese, although not bad, and perfectly fine in conversational settings, is not quite where it needs to be in order for me to give the lectures off-the-cuff, though now that I have gone through the cycle twice, I intend to work at giving the lectures from a set of notes in point form, so that I'm not exactly reading but at least a step closer to spontaneity.

I've essentially been given carte blanche on the class, so I can adjust it any way I feel fit to. With that in mind:

What did your Art History (or Art Appreciation) teachers do that made the class interesting for you? that made it boring?

How important/necessary is it for the lecturer (at the university level) to tailor the material or teaching style to the students (as opposed to encouraging the students to make the reach to the lecturer's side)?

What resources (of any kind) are there for me to learn how to get better?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by segatakai to Education (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to your Art History specific questions, but for your second question, I think the main thing is to tailor the content to the students' interests, while keeping the theoretical framework where it needs to be. The tailored content should be interesting enough to make them want to make the leap to where you are with the theory.

For example, I teach linguistics, and the main thing that makes students engaged in letures is using examples that they care about and are interested in, and asking questions about these. So that means finding out what languages the students speak, have learned or plan to learn, and using examples from these; using examples from weird enough languages or dialects that students just find it plain entertaining; and connecting to issues in the popular media that have to do with language.

For art appreciation, I guess maybe the analogy is to use at least some examples from popular art that students care about - maybe that means the art of video games, or comic books...? I don't know, but it's kind of your job to find out. Then you tie that content back in to the concepts you want them to understand and take away from the course.

And yeah, not reading is going to help, but I know what it's like to have to teach in a second language!
posted by lollusc at 10:29 PM on February 3, 2012

Get off script and nerd out. If you love the subject, you know the best anecdotes and stories and exactly why this piece of art is AWESOME. People get into stuff when other people get into it. I mean, they won't all become art majors, but they will remember the best stories and probably more of the test answers.
posted by Garm at 10:32 PM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Take them to Art. My best art teachers have shared their passion about art. Are you an artist? What rings your bell in the art world. Have them research an artist and do a slide presentation. Let them pick a living artist, no dead ones that's to easy, and do the lecture. Why should you do all the talking. If you can do anything with the class, I say get them out into the art world.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:53 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

What did your Art History (or Art Appreciation) teachers do that made the class interesting for you? that made it boring?

I've always loved any art-related courses that I've taken, so none of them were ever boring, but I can tell you some things professors have done that were outstanding.

One professor I had would begin the course by asking the class a question ( a broad, philosophical question to which they could reply personally or based on previous knowledge) and write down all the answers on the board--kind of like a group brainstorm (0ff the top of my head, one such question was "what is art?"). The class would begin in a discussion and the professor would subtly guide the class towards the answers which had the most depth. Once the discussion was done the professor would begin incorporating the ideas the students themselves had presented into the planned lecture for the day so that the entire class length would have a very clear and relatable coherence. I always found that being asked to come up with answers before the lecture even began would stimulate the students to pay attention and also get them to relate personally to the content--- because that's the things with art, it is designed to ask you questions and demands you to relate to it. Also I generally found class discussions were really easy to remember and made the material more accessible in my memory. Generally this method made it so that everyone was on the same page as to what we were learning, and even those students who normally wouldn't learn as easily could remember the class discussion and had a starting point from which to being studying.

I can see how that might be hard for you teaching in Japanese, but if you have a general idea of where the discussion is supposed to head, perhaps you could ease into a prepared lecture as the discussion moves along? Also perhaps you could begin the class with a short film related to the content and use that as a jumping-off point for the lecture? Also (if you're allowed?) maybe you could allot some of the course grade to participation points? I don't know how things like that are done in Japan.

Another thing a professor did was have us respond personally to an article related to the course content, in a short summary which we had to hand in every couple of weeks or so. These assignments were short but made it so that everyone had to follow along and be able to show that they could understand the material on their own terms.

As for tailoring to the students interests, I don't think professors should have to think about this too much besides just making an effort to make the material interesting. If they are there to learn about art appreciation then shouldn't it be about learning to appreciate things they aren't already familiar with? (perhaps this is a bit snobby of me, I know).

I know they're not paying attention, and they know that I know, so it feels like a bit of a ruse, which makes me extremely uncomfortable.

That's tough! I feel for you on that one. I would just try to go about your teaching as if you don't notice when they're not paying attention. Students can sense when a professor is uncomfortable and it can sometimes in itself make it harder to pay attention. Maybe try to take on a more commanding presence?

Well I hope some of this helps you in some way. art rules!
posted by costanza at 11:04 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best Film professor (closest thing I took to art after grade school, sorry!) ran a very good class because he knew his field well enough he could connect it back to us. Now most professors know what they're talking about, but this guy could make a connection from The Great Train Robbery all the way to Bad Boys 2, showing us how various shots and techniques evolved and finishing up with a delicious Will Smith dessert.

He knew some of the Great Works were kind of boring to watch in a classroom with a bunch of bored 19 year olds, so he'd show us clips and segments highlighting the various techniques he wanted to talk about in the Great Works, then show us parts of movies we'd actually seen or could relate to to show those same techniques. Basically, rather than subjecting us to the cinematic equivalent of "just looking at paintings" (the stereotype of an art class), he showed us how the existing body of work connected with what we were seeing every day and our own particular cultural background because he loved film and had watched a LOT of it beyond what you'd think of as snobby film professor films. Beyond that...

Could you do any hands-on presentations where you walk them through making an example of whatever? It'd get them moving, at least. Or maybe have them bring in examples of particular examples/styles? Send them on a scavenger hunt for examples of (whatever), they have to take a picture of it, then you show it as part of your presentation the next day/week/whatever? If you work better from conversational, have a conversation about whatever you're showing. What's their reaction to it? How does it tie to earlier things you've shown? Where have they seen examples of it around? If you feel like a jackass doing the boring bits but nobody cares what you do, skip the boring bits. If you must cover them, do so in a short and cursory way covering just the basics (and explain they're boring, but important, so let's all get through them together), then move on to something more interesting to you. Can you have local artists or art experts in to talk or give a guest lecture on some of the things you're covering? Could you move it to a more college-style format, where they do the reading and look at the slides on their own time, then you spend the day discussing what you want to discuss and having them discuss things?

And since you have carte blanche, what's the art class you always wanted to take? Now's your chance to give it to them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:20 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didn't think I appreciated Art, and I wanted to learn more about it. For instance, what IS so great about the Mona Lisa and Picasso? Prosaic questions like that.

I picked up The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich, and it opened my eyes. It's clear, authoritative, illustrated and really explains the 'why's' of some great pieces, in context of their time. I didn't know how to look at art, appreciate it, or care about it until that book opened my eyes. It led me by the hand through the basics, chronologically, explaining major artists and styles so well that I 'get it' now.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:58 AM on February 4, 2012

Thus far, I have been reading the lectures

I totally understand your language issue and the compulsion to do this. Being read to about something you're not interested in is, however, a dire recipe for sleep. Can you use bullet point notes, with any particularly hard phrases written out, so your lecture is more natural?

Also, tie the development to interesting things. Did some form give rise to anime? Is perspective tied to, I dunno, comics or cartoons? Are old pieces of art used in contemporary marketing? It will help if you can make old art seem relevant to their experience of their world.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:40 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both my high school and college art history classes were like what you described- "a respite from the more academic nature of their other classes," despite being a substantial subject itself. They were the slide+lecture format. I think the teachers kept class engaging with anecdotes.. like how you would make a history class interesting. For example, relationships between artists, juicy art history gossip (ha). Or make it really clear how art relates to its time--seeing the history in art (even if history itself may be boring) is interesting. To me, reading as much as you can out of propaganda or a detailed picture was fun-- you could point out the connections to them.

Another big thing was seeing famous artwork in class, the ones you've always seen. And then seeing 10 more artworks like that. I don't think you need to tailor to the students a lot. What do you find engaging about art history? It's fine if my teacher spent 10 minutes on one slide but 1 minute on the others, if s/he thought the 10-minute one was fascinating. Students will pick up on that.
posted by ichomp at 1:51 AM on February 4, 2012

You have to pick the pieces that really speak to you personally, so that the students will pick up on your energy, and you'll be more capable of going off-script when discussing them.

I loved nearly all of my art history classes, even the seemingly boring ones, but the classes with students who normally wouldn't enjoy them that worked for them anyway were always about deliberately exciting niche topics. Like one day we were going over the Dadaists and instead of talking about, you know, Duchamp blah blah, our professor talked about the promiscuous love affairs and interpersonal drama and scandal within the group and some of the resulting works of art that all inspired.

Art is often about rebellion, and Japanese art has often been a way for cultural expression that would otherwise be seen as much too subversive to be spoken or acted out. I mean, Japan has a pretty conservative culture, you know? But man, just look at the porn.

So pick topics that would make any student amused or interested; subversive, creepy, rebellious, sexy, insane stuff, and pick art pieces that express these sorts of ideas and explain the circumstances around their creation.
posted by Mizu at 2:11 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just finished taking what are supposed to be 'academic' classes at a Japanese university - not classes for exchange students either, but for regular Japanese undergrads, and sometimes I was the only student WHO WASN'T asleep with my head pillowed on my arms, or playing with my iPhone, or reading, or trying to stick post-it notes to the back of the kid in the next row. (Ok, I did help with the post-it notes once. Because the kid was sitting right in front of me and they were barely sticking to his back so I re-stuck it.)

That said, if you can find a way to assign participation points, they might start listening more. Not necessarily be more interested in the topic, but they'll pay attention for the sake of grades. I don't think having the students give presentations would be the best idea, as in my experience the presenters just read off their paper and nobody pays any more attention to them than they did the professor.

Maybe if you try calling on specific kids about concepts you've covered already while showing them a new slide. "Sato-kun, can you tell me what period this image is from?" "Ishida-san, how could he tell it's from the Azuchi-Momoyama jidai?" etc.
posted by emmling at 3:59 AM on February 4, 2012

If their inattention is the most important problem, they have offered the solution, put everything on the test.

More to the spirit of your question:

I find that handouts give students a false sense of security. After all why do they need to pay attention when they've got the most important parts of the lecture already written out for them? Stop giving them handouts, instead give them a "sample note-page," a page that shows what information they should be paying attention to from a typical lecture.

Finally ask questions frequently and give them reasons to argue. Here is an example. Break the class into teams (any size), then select two paintings and ask the students a comparative question without an obviously right answer, for example: "Which one of these better represents classical XYZ?" or "Which one of these is most clearly an homage to the earlier ABC movement?" or "Which one of these points to the current J-pop top forty artist Ms. Awesome?" Make them defend their answers and engage with each other.

I teach philosophy for a living, so I can understand the pain of teaching a "boring" subject. Me-mail me if you just want to discuss pedagogy.
posted by oddman at 4:27 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I only took one art history class in college, and the professor's lectures were awful.

He would just show slides and talk, in a monotone voice, about them. He never said anything personal about art, or why he liked it, or what pieces he thought were cool. I remember the class as just slides of different pieces, with no general arch or pattern to show change or growth or influence.

Our "study guides" for tests were simply a list of 300 pieces of art, where we had to remember the title, medium, date, and artist of each one. 300!! For the test, he would show slides of about 20 paintings from the list, and we would write down all the info about them.

I was a freshman and it was one of the huge lecture halls, and he had just received his phd and it was his first time teaching, but still. It was the worst class I had in college.

So, don't do that.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:54 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, can you make it entirely Socratic? Make them tell you the answers. Maybe you could assign them the artists or period weekly and have them give you the facts and then you tell them what is special or innovative about the piece. And throughout the week you could build on a certain technique or topic so that by the end of the week, they can see a brand new piece and tell you about it.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:04 AM on February 4, 2012

I had an awesome Art History class as an undergraduate. While it was a "slide + lecturing" format, what I found to be very engaging was that the professor focused on the background development, purpose, and function of the artwork and used it as a window through which to examine history and culture.

My final paper for that class was to go on the internet, find a lengthy article expounding some incredibly bogus fringe claim about the properties of something we had studied, then provide a detailed and well-researched rebuttal. I had an enormous amount of fun proofreading my paper in the best Carl Sagan imitation I could muster.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:27 AM on February 4, 2012

I enjoy lectures, so this was not the best format for me, but I recently took an art history course (professional development course for teachers) where the instructor, a high school teacher who is used to teaching uninvolved high school kids, did not a whit of slide+lecture. Instead, she showed a *lot* of video clips of artists talking about their own work, the process of it, and so on; sometimes she showed pictures and let us talk about them (more interesting than me to the videos, but the rest of the class mostly liked the videos better). This was contemporary art, so the artists were (mostly) alive, but there's probably videos about older works, even if they would have to not feature the artist.

I know discussion can be hard to do in a large lecture (how many students?), but people *love* giving their opinions about works of art, and art appreciation is when you can understand how to go from a statement like "I like it/I don't like it" to a reason like "because [of the use of colors/the way it fits into a cultural background/the artist's personal life]" or whatever. In that sense, there is some "personal expression" involved, even if there's information also.

Kids *do* like videos: I teach Latin, so I show a lot of video clips to try to give them a sense of reality/three-dimensionality that is often missing for them just reading old texts. Kids do *not* like slides. Kids *do* like giving their opinions.

Kids also like field trips, if that's an option! Seeing a picture of something is nothing like seeing the actual thing.
posted by lysimache at 5:40 AM on February 4, 2012

The one art history class I've taken was focused on western architecture, roughly from the French revolution to the present, and aimed to connect buildings to the political and economic circumstances at the time they were designed and/or built.

The prof didn't ever read lecture material or use any notes that I detected, but clearly knew what he wanted to say about each slide. He'd persistently ask, "Any questions?" every few minutes, even on days when nobody seemed eager to speak up. When someone did engage him he'd run with it, striving to connect the material to whatever thoughts it had prompted in the student.

Besides the lectures, we had to research and write two papers about structures of our choosing. This had us out in the local community, putting buildings and other elements of the built environment into contexts we hadn't previously been aware of. The material had meaning because it was clearly relevant to stuff we saw every day.

It was a great class. I'd take another like it in a heartbeat.
posted by jon1270 at 5:46 AM on February 4, 2012

I've gone back to college to finish my degree and it seems to me that there really aren't any boring topic, just various degrees of engagement that makes classes utterly boring or very exiting.

For example, in my discrete mathematics course, nothing is done to counter the abstractness of the topic, so lectures are confusing, hard to understand and painful to attend. You could say that given the subject matter, there isn't really much any professor can do, but of the top of my head I can think of an entire smörgåsbord of solutions that would make the class more fun for everyone involved.

Also, I'm taking another class (computer science) at the same time and even if the topic is fairly complex and abstract the professor and TAs have managed to make it fun and engaging. How? For starters, they get us, the students, involved in the learning process. We work in groups, discussing key concepts that we've researched ourselves; we're encouraged to interact with each other using the online learning system, etc, etc. We still have lectures and textbooks from which we can extract the theory, but the emphasis is getting us involved and engaged.

You say that you teach Japanese Art History - that's amazing. Not only is the topic interesting in itself, but it's fairly concrete and you can involve so many of the senses. I'm thinking there is much you can do to make this class more rewarding for your students and yourself:
* ask your students to pick a topic they would like to know more about and have them research it. The end result could be an oral presentation but if you're really open-minded about this, why not have a mini-exhibit on campus where your students get to present their topics? I know this sounds like high school stuff, but if your students are learning the things they should be learning, what's the harm in having fun?

* Invite speakers. I bet there are countless of experts that would love to talk to your students about their field of expertise. Maybe your college has a couple of these experts.

* Make the students part of the learning process. Once your students know enough theory (either through lectures or textbooks) there's really no reason why they can't be responsible for exploring the topic/subject/concept themselves. Have them form study groups where they reason around given questions and make them synthesis their thoughts and present them to the other groups. There are endless possibilities here but the key thing is finding a balance between autonomy and the fact that they aren't very knowledge on the matter yet (i.e. they might find the discussions confusing).

* Illustrate, exemplify and relate. Never state a fact if you can show it using an image, sound clip, video, etc. Never state an interpretation without giving an example (why was x's work considered subversive during the meiji period? here are two of her paintings from that period: pretty radical stuff, even by our standards..."). Really great teachers have a way of relating knowledge to their students, to themselves and in other ways that makes the topic more understandable and engaging. For instance, when you're giving a lecture on Kabuki, why not tell a story about how Kabuki has influence modern Japanese street dancing or x phenomena? People easily forget facts but stories tend to stick.

* Experience the art. Maybe your college is tight on money but art history is a class where you can actually go to places to experience it. And I'm not just taking about museums and other institutions of knowledge but why not go where the practitioners are? Even the most arcane arts have their champions that keep the flames burning. If your department really has no money at all, why not create a field trip on the topic "Ancient Japanese Art Meets The Streets" where you relate art history to the present day.

Good luck with your class! And don't feel dispirited because you think that you're not really reaching your students. Having an educational, insightful and very fun class is very much possible even with what seems to be the most disinterested students. You just need to cut yourself some slack and understand that it takes time to design these things. Don't lose faith in yourself and your students as partners in learning!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:29 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

From what it sounds like, your big problem is that you're just giving lectures. It's an art history class! You should be spending every class period at the library pulling out books filled with artwork, big paintings/prints of the work and discussing their particular relevance. For example, pulling out some piece from 900CE and explaining not only what's going on in that piece but why it's designed that way, plus giving them a contextual background on the era.

Also, I don't know how you're actually doing the information, but I've found that it's best to always touch on the modern when doing any kind of historical class. That is to say, find ways to link whatever you're doing with current events. There's a lot of things going on in the art world, a lot of interesting stuff going on. Drawing connections between old Japanese artwork for storytelling and modern manga. Drawing connections with Japan's rich and bourgeoning graffiti culture and people like Bansky.

It sounds like you're teaching far too much of the 'history' part and not enough of the art.
posted by Modica at 6:49 AM on February 4, 2012

I taught some American Fourth Graders a few lessons in Art History last year and it was a roaring success. A bunch of them even remember what I taught them, one girl even correctly identified a Bauhaus painting just last week!

What I did was show them a bunch of slides and then did a project where they could create their own piece using the 'rules' of that particular theme. Having them do their own work really helped it sink in. (Of course, they really loved the bit we did when we emulated Jackson Pollock!!)

I know my kids were much younger and we were looking at much different topics, but maybe it's time for you to bust out the art supplies. If you really want them to be engaged, then maybe the hands on approach would work for you.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:44 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tended to prefer the art history teachers who told stories as well. The lectures that stuck with me were the ones where the professor related ancient Greek column styles to the facades you could see in a walking tour of the city around us, and when we were allowed to look at a Durer print under magnification in a museum and really see how fine his lines were.

Maybe you could do something similar- if it's an overall Japanese art class, maybe have a class about fashion and its evolution in Japan, and intersperse pictures from Harajuku with the older works of art. Same for the local architecture. Maybe make friends with some local artists/museums, if you can, and bring some interesting guests in to the class.

As to the tests, the class that forced me to pay attention due to difficulty level was the one that showed unknown slides and made me support the argument for who created it/what year/area in essay form. That specific class was exhausting and unenjoyable, as it involved memorizing as much as possible for the rest of the test, but it's a reasonable concept for making sure your students are paying attention to what you say.
posted by tautological at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2012

3 rules of teaching:

1. Be totally into your subject.
2. Make sure the stuff you teach resonates with real life.
3. Like people and make sure it shows.

Also, do not read. Figure out the two or three most important thing you want the students to learn that day and just make sure you hit those high notes. Even if your use of language is not perfect it will be far more interesting. Look at it this way: they're probably not listening to a lot of what you say so who cares if you miss a few details!

Do use personal anecdotes and informal langauge. It helps to slip in a joke from time to time, if you can. If possible have them do some of the work. Put them in groups of 5 or less and give each group an image. Give them 10 minutes to talk about and analyze it. When you get to that image let the group present it, then you fill in the blanks.

If presenting a new technique get them to try it. Bring in a few sheets of plexiglas and some ink and let them pull a few monoprints. Have them try and do gesture drawing from their desks for a few minutes. Ask them to get in groups and design short comics. Have them move around the room to simulate cubism. Have then do quick sketches to demonstrate the difference between landscape, portrait or scroll compositions. How would they show a story differently based on this? If they can draw stick figures they can do all these things. You don't mention what genres/time periods you are covering but you can adjust. It might feel too much like studio to you but if they can actually try or observe basic techniques they will remember more and find it more interesting.

When you do your lecture play up the juicy details. There are always evil noblemen, wars, sex, murder, prostitution etc. Know the history that goes with the work and try and be passionate about it. Choose your work accordingly. Include some greatest hits but also lesser known stuff that you think is awesome.
posted by Cuke at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I teach a required science class to non-majors. So while that's a whole different thing, I still have the problem of trying to involve students in something they view as irrelevant, at best. But my best advice is to second the poster who said "go off script and nerd out," and to add that you need to be looking at them, gauging their interest, and checking in with them a *lot*. If you find that they lock in on some detail that you thought was superfluous and weren't going to spend time on, follow that thread where it leads. *Especially* if the administration thinks of this as a "break" from their "tougher academic classes" then you should feel free to roam wherever you want in the Art History landscape.

My anecdote: I was going to use some planetarium software just to demonstrate one little thing, and was surprised that all of my students were suddenly making little "oohs and aahs." I spent the rest of the class time with the software, because they were entranced. It hadn't occurred to me that most of them had never been to a planetarium. What I had thought would be a cheap momentary gimmick turned out to be the centerpiece of this unit.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:43 PM on February 4, 2012

Per what lollusc said, have you done a needs analysis or any other sort of survey at the beginning of class? The lofty ideals that another poster mentions of the material being sufficiently appealing unto itself is generally unrealistic (I have little patience for the "I shall sit upon my throne and the supplicants shall come unto me" school of "teaching," or for the jokers who insist that a more humanistic and communicative approach to teaching must necessarily devolve to idiotic infotainment). This is particularly true when presented in the read-along-with-notes format, even if it's necessary in some cases. I really feel for you -- I cannot imagine teaching in Japanese or Chinese.

Anyway, a needs analysis might help you connect course content to your students' realities. I am not suggesting that you talk solely about their interests, but it may help you understand them more. I studied art history a long time ago and some of the things that intrigued me at the time, and have intrigued other friends, were things like seeing how Alphonse Mucha's art affected everyone from rock poster designers in the 60s to manga artists in the 90s (and now), how scenes in Disney's film Bolt were inspired by Edward Hopper, and how techniques used in 17th-century paintings are still being used now. (I know there are similar examples for classical Japanese artists.) Few of my college professors used slides (digital or otherwise), but the ones who did sometimes used contrasting or funny slides to get our attention and wake us up.

See if you can integrate small group work somehow. I guess this might shock them a little if you haven't been doing it and it's not standard practice there, but tell them you're giving the class an international flavor. ;)

I don't know how long you've been teaching, but the Tomorrow's Professor mailing list is pretty useful even for established teachers: Tomorrow's Professor Archive. A lot of it's about departmental stuff, which doesn't apply to me either, but the teaching stuff is pretty good.

Best wishes. :)
posted by wintersweet at 7:27 PM on February 4, 2012

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks everybody! I'm frankly overwhelmed by all of the good advice. I'm going to need to print this out and have a good long look at all of these ideas! I get the (repeated) point that I need to stop reading. Will do. Will also try to implement some of the other ideas above, though admittedly my gut reaction to many is "that'll never work with these students!" I realize that is a cop-out, and that's why I'll sit down and look at all of these ideas very carefully. Thanks again!
posted by segatakai at 4:18 AM on February 5, 2012

I happened to see this today and thought of this thread because it's exactly what I'm talking about. Granted, this is oriented at a geeky audience and I don't know what your kids are like, but it's an interesting way to get their attention. Or you could talk about things like this Japanese artist replacing the subjects of famous paintings with their fat cat.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:40 PM on February 5, 2012

This is just the first thought I had. I'm not an expert on teaching art my any means.

Artists can be some pretty crazy dudes. People like gossip/drama - borrow a little from celebrity gossip and talk about the artist's lives as a way to create intrigue, then weave that into an analysis of their work. Caravaggio comes to mind - it's hard for me to think of his work without thinking of that guy's life, too.
posted by victory_laser at 1:28 AM on February 6, 2012

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