Help me come up with a meaningful - yet dull - alternative assignment.
April 28, 2015 7:08 PM   Subscribe

I am a first-year high school art teacher. I need something for a couple students to do for the next three weeks that is relevant but not as interesting as what other students are working on. I want ideas that aren't just "write an essay on x topic", unless that really is the best option.

My students got to choose essentially whatever they wanted to do for the next 4 weeks, culminating in an exhibition in about 3 weeks, as long as it is visual arts, school-appropriate, and not going to set the building or themselves on fire. Most of them are pretty pumped about it... But I have two or three 10th grade students who have chosen to not plan out this project (they had a plan and a calendar due last week), so they will not participate in the gallery show.

They need to be doing something:
- related to my state standards (I can't just have them do algebra worksheets for 3 weeks)
- take them 3 weeks of dedicated effort
- be unappealing to other students.

I don't particularly want to assign an essay, but it seems to be the go-to for this kind of thing. Ideally they could be working on something that would benefit me somehow, but I'm not sure what I could give them that I could actually use... presentations on material that I could use next year was one idea I had.

Any ideas, MeFites?
posted by Donuts to Education (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What state are you in so we can think about the standards that might be applicable?
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:10 PM on April 28, 2015

I'm in Texas. My standards are broad -- I mean more that it needs to be directly art/art history/cultural appreciation related.

Link to standards (Art I, at the top.)
posted by Donuts at 7:15 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have them make you a portable photography station for other students' work. Make them research light boxes & product photography, lighting, seamless backdrops and stands, and cameras (that aren't attached to phones.) Then have them make something that will fit most of the other students' pieces, as well as the portfolio work of outgoing seniors who need good shots of their work for college applications.

Then they get to watch as all the other students get their pieces nicely shot for perpetuity and they feel the cruel underappreciation of the background people, but also it is a very nice thing for an art teacher to be able to offer to students.
posted by Mizu at 7:21 PM on April 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

Thinking back, the art class projects that got the kids who didn't want anything to do with art projects to at least participate were:

-create something in the style of one of your favorite artists
-paint the lyrics to your favorite song
-make the clay into a cock and balls shape while the teacher's back is turned

The first one gave the most interesting results.
posted by phunniemee at 7:22 PM on April 28, 2015

I understand that their artwork won't be in the gallery but they should be doing some type of art of course. I'd pick 3 types of art or allow them to pick 3 types of art and practice replicating styles for a week. Or focusing on a part of the body to draw. Or experimitation with different materials, or doing smaller mixed media projects. I'm honestly surprised that your giving them an alternate assignment instead of failing them... The ability to plan and exicute a plan is so so very important to life in general and letting them get away with it seems like you aren't doing them any favors.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:23 PM on April 28, 2015

Come up with the type of plan you would have expected them to write and then make them execute that. They still have to do the work, just without the benefit of having planned it themselves.
posted by bleep at 7:29 PM on April 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

My advice - as a 25 year teaching veteran to a first year teacher - is that I don't think it is a good idea to "punish" these kids for a month and use them as an example to others because they missed a deadline or don't want to select a project. This is a pretty big project and taking up a lot of class time. They're really going to make you miserable for a month and get turned off to art at the same time. Use this opportunity to find out why they didn't choose a project and what difference you can make with them to chose one. Come up with three broad generic projects. One off the top of my head would be to research an artist, write a report about them and create a sample of their work. Ask them to pick one of choices you give them. Some kids don't do well at all with the "choose anything" option; they need direction and fewer choices, and sometimes more structure. They missed the deadline, so they can't be in the gallery show, but you really owe them the same education and time you're giving everyone else for the next month. Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2015 [41 favorites]

I don't think it is a good idea to "punish" these kids for a month and use them as an example to others because they missed a deadline or don't want to select a project.
As a former high school teacher for years, now a college teacher for years, and as a parent... I quote NoraCharles for truth.

Yes, these kids missed the deadline or otherwise screwed up. And. Are you really going to punish them with education as the weapon -- to deny them the chance to do something engaging in the entire last month of their education with you, while their peers are getting pumped for the show?

What's your larger goal for these trailing kids? Because if it's to turn them off further from school, or to make them feel that petty resentment and work are completely entangled, or just to humiliate and alienate them from their capacity to do art and from the majority of their peers, that's the way to do it.
Not saying they should be in the show -- but to give them something intentionally dull to do for an entire month because they missed a deadline is not good pedagogy.
posted by third rail at 7:47 PM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have them find a face in a book or magazine - then have them make a papier mache mask of that face.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 7:50 PM on April 28, 2015

Hm, maybe I am wording this poorly with the "dull". I don't want other students to jump ship on the gallery show/their plans because they see that the students who did not do the work to begin with are now getting to do something they think is preferable to the project they came up with themselves.

It should perhaps also be mentioned that I work at a PBL school -- 4 weeks is an average time for a project for these kids.

Obviously I don't want to turn them off to education or art any further than they already are. I'm looking to reinforce the fact that not following through with their work has consequences. I don't know that not participating in a show is a big enough consequence for these kids.
posted by Donuts at 8:00 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

In that case, you should find a way to integrate them into working on the show, in some way, even if their own work won't be showcased. Don't have them do something totally different and marginalized from (or conversely more tempting than) the group. Find a way to keep the show as a community focus; even if they don't get the kudos of having their work exhibited there can be ways for them to be part of it.
posted by third rail at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2015

Have them select a famous piece of artwork, and try to forge a duplicate of it.
posted by nickggully at 8:09 PM on April 28, 2015

A month is too long for a high school project, three weeks too long too. See if they can help with prom or set decoration for part of it. Make a complicated still life, that stays in place, have them make credible drawings from all sides. Start black and white linear, move to tone and value, then to color. They could do a three d recycle project, or wire sculptures. Give them one more chance to come up with a plan, by Friday.
posted by Oyéah at 8:14 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

A month is too long for a high school project, three weeks too long too.

I was in high-level high school art classes, and it really isn't, especially for a final gallery show project.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:34 PM on April 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

I am a (former) high school and (current) middle school teacher.

It strikes me as far too punitive that students who fail to turn in a plan don't "get to" do a version of what other students are doing. I question the premise that students who don't follow the timeline have to do something "less interesting" because of it.

With creative pursuits (I edit videos and do graphic design, and I earn money as a blogger for education articles), I find that deadlines only help in that things start to come into focus at that point and I suddenly get better ideas than I had previously. This killed me in high school before I lacked the language to explain it, or the executive function to actually follow through and turn it in.

A failure to plan is not a failure to care. Perhaps they had ideas but didn't like any? Perhaps it was too open ended and they got frustrated, overwhelmed and shut down?

With that in mind...shat if you gave them smaller deadlines within that time frame? I understand that's what the plan was supposed to be, but maybe they need it scaffolded? Perhaps they choose the genre first. Then the subject. Then their approach to it. Give them time in class to generate those, and hold them to the deadlines - that way, the consequence of not being able to plan on their own leads to having more structure than their classmates, but it's not punitive.

Part of being creative is learning to live within restrictions. This is similar to learning how to be a good writer; when you are forced to use standard patterns, such as poetic forms like the sonnet, haiku, etc., it is often easier to generate good writing. Structure acts as a guide.

How about asking them to watch episodes of The Art Assignment and using one of their prompts as a starting point? It's a PBS-funded show on YouTube where a modern art curator visits artists and gets them to assign a project for the audience to complete and share. Very few are simply visual - most are interactive and push the definition of art in a way that I think is pretty amazing.

Also, speaking as an English teacher, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY do not assign writing as "punishment." It's already difficult enough to get students excited about writing, but that kind of stuff makes it a Sisyphean task.

I don't mean to be harsh at all...teaching is a difficult thing, and PBL is an added level of difficulty. I only made the transition in my 7th-8th year teaching, so kudos for starting it so early in your career! I made tons of mistakes in my first few years, but I was lucky to have people to help guide me. It's a really good thing you reached out to mefi. Please memail me if you want to talk more about teaching. I love it, but it's a really freaking hard in the current educational climate to stay sane and keep going.

Good luck! The exhibition sounds fantastic.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:41 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Perhaps some kind of assignment that could help them become better at planning and/or coming up with topics or ideas for themselves? It sounds like this is a weak spot for them (as it was for me -- coming up with topics or a focus for _anything_ always utterly defeated me), so maybe a few class-long "decide what to do and do it" items, followed by some two-class-long items, then a week-long item....

Or have them come up with a list of 10 possible projects, then have them narrow that down to 2-3, then select one. Then have them work on that one project, so they'll have the experience of just _completing_ something (amazing!). If they don't show their project in the exhibition, fine; they'll still benefit, and the other students have an experience they won't.

As far as I can tell, the only reason to "punish" something like this is so that the other students won't feel they're being treated unfairly; punishment isn't really helpful for learning. However, that perception of fairness is important, so the important thing is how the other students perceive things.
posted by amtho at 9:38 PM on April 28, 2015

If I was your student, I would be incredibly sad at my own incompetence for not being able to follow your standards, and then incredibly resentful that I had to follow your timeline, and then get incredibly humilated and would never want to do art or a large project ever again, since I'm a stupid failure who couldn't even get that done. Why would anyone else ever want to take me seriously in the future?

I think what would be better is having them assist with the gallery show and learning the background work of building the gallery show. You could even devote a single class to it, and then have the other three students work on that. Alternatively, you could figure out if they had time management or idea conception problems, and making a small scale project that they could then show to the class on the last day of school. They would understand that while they missed a chance at the gallery show, that they can recover and eventually enter gallery shows later in their career.

You don't want to initiate them into a mindset that they are a massive failure because they couldn't complete it, and that they really should stop doing art. There are a million other components to being a professional, working artist beyond the process of doing art. Doing art within a time frame, grading standards, and the viewing of the public and your peers is HARD and anxiety inducing.

I was an AP Art student who couldn't finish my portfolio in time for submission, because I had undiagnosed issues with ADHD, executive function problems, time management issues, and I also took four other AP classes on top of college applications and extracurriculars. I also didn't recognize that I was in an awful, abusive, dysfunctional relationship that hindered all of my performance. I already felt like a massive failure for not completing it, because GDI, why couldn't I just do it???

No matter how much time I carved out, I was crippled by my anxiety and suffered panic attacks in private, but I could never express it to my art teacher because she accused of me making excuses. However, she never made me feel bad that I couldn't finish my portfolio, so I give her credit for not kicking me down where it hurt, just because she recognized that my current status as an art student was more important than her perception of where I should've been in her eyes. Also, a lot of that was because I didn't know how to recognize and understand my own problems, and didn't feel comfortable enough to ask for adult guidance.

It's been 5 years since, and I'm picking up art again since I'm shaking off the sadness from that. Please be sympathetic towards their future and how they are going to view themselves . You may see them as one of 30 students, but they remember you as a teacher for the rest of their life.
posted by yueliang at 10:40 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have them create the online catalog for the gallery show? They could photoblog all the works in progress and preparations etc. Design the handouts. Stuff like that. Essentially they would be doing some photo and design work for the other students. They didn't plan, so their work becomes driven by the plans of others....
posted by Gotanda at 12:55 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a high school teacher at a school for kids with emotional disabilities, so I'm coming at this from the special educator x 100 angle.

I would backtrack and find out why the kids didn't do the calendar and hand in project plans. Were they overwhelmed by the openness of the assignment? Do they have other stress in their lives? Do they not understand the directions? Do they have executive function issues and planning is a skill set they just don't have? Do they have anxiety about showing their work in a show? It's pretty rare that kids won't do assignments because they're lazy. I would assume they have their reasons and they need your help.

And then...what's the learning objective of this assignment? Is it to plan out a long term project alone? Is it to prepare for an art show? I think you need to scaffold the assignment for them; and give them a LOT more support. Our teaching goal is to meet kids where they are and build UP, not point to the finish line and say, "Now get there."

I doubt that it's REALLY too late for them to participate in the show. I suggest you meet with all of them 1:1 and help them plan out what they're going to do FOR THE ART SHOW, and create step-by-step plans for how they'll do this.
posted by kinetic at 3:01 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Think of it this way: in 20 years, do you want these kids to remember you as the art teacher who didn't help them and made them feel like crap and turned them off art, or do you want them to remember the time they struggled in school and this awesome art teacher helped them and they learned how to get things done?

Because THAT'S what this will boil down to.
posted by kinetic at 3:12 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

But I have two or three 10th grade students who have chosen to not plan out this project (they had a plan and a calendar due last week), so they will not participate in the gallery show.

I think this is the incorrect Actions > Consequences rubric or whatever to embrace. Everyone participates in the show because it is the class show. What they now no longer get to do is plan and choose their own project. Give them three choices. Do not make them dull on purpose.

I don't want other students to jump ship on the gallery show/their plans because they see that the students who did not do the work to begin with are now getting to do something they think is preferable to the project they came up with themselves.

So don't make that an option. I guess the consequence for the kids who didn't plan exciting projects is that their projects are not exciting but they still have to do them because they have made a commitment to the class show.

(There might be more value in nurturing their natural enthusiasms but that's your call.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:59 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd get them involved in the organizing, running and paperwork of the show. They'd still be involved in the show, but not in the super fun everyone is looking at our stuff part, but in the setting up lighting, designing promotional materials, working out timetables, organizing of things related to the show (I have no idea what goes on at an art show). I am not a teacher, but in my mind, it teaches them skills, is still vaguely art related, they get to work on the event and so aren't excluded from the class for a whole month, they just don't get the final fun of having a work on display.
posted by wwax at 7:40 AM on April 29, 2015

I agree with the trend, above, that suggests putting these students into the production end of the project. I'm pretty sure that organizing such a show entails tasks that you may profitably delegate to these students.

It may be helpful to rethink your terms. I suspect that these students are not less interesting than the ones who are working within the boundaries you set. In some respects you can say that any assignment is as interesting as the person doing it is able to make it. Why saddle them with the notion that they should do less interesting things because they didn't feel like doing the more interesting things the other students are doing?

I say this because I was an art student until my second year at university, when I discovered that history and languages were my true love, and writing was my primary venue. Your students are still creating their self images. It would be very cool of you to have sparked a hidden talent in them, instead of visiting upon them the expected punishment for not achieving some goal they were never able to warm up to.

I don't mean to suggest that students should be rewarded for ignoring guidelines. But it seems to me that a project being put forth to the whole school is complex enough to have creative input in more than one way. Also, hardly anything good ever comes from assigning mediocrity to a student.
posted by mule98J at 11:11 AM on April 29, 2015

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