I am a big fan of encouraging my students to take ownership of our classroom culture:
- Facilitating an environment where students feel empowered and comfortable enough to take risks, be vulnerable with each other, and make art begins on day one. Students – especially returning Marwen students- know what they expect from each other in order to have a great class- they know how to breed respect and how to inspire each other to have fun and create. So I begin each course with asking them to name the qualities of a good studio class and good teaching artists.
I am also a big fan of big post-it notes. Here’s how my classes create expectations that can be posted each day of the course:
- I come up with some prompts and write one prompt each on about 5-6 big post-it notes – depending on the class size. (some i’ve used: We expect our teaching artists to… We expect our peers to… As an artist in this course I will challenge myself by… As Marwen community members we will…. List one interesting or unique fact about each person in the group…) and then stick them up around the room.
- Next, usually after some kind of fun ice breaker- like a name game or categories (modified to align with class content), I explain the point and “rules” of the activity. Each team of 3-4 students will have a chance to respond to each prompt. They should discuss and come up with one answer as a group for each prompt. Each group that comes afterwards should read the previous responses and may not repeat an answer.
- The class is divided by counting off and one person per group becomes the scribe with a marker. We give the class a few minutes to introduce themselves and each group moves to one big post-it to begin the activity.
Lastly, I am a big fan of reflection:
- After each group responds to each prompt I ask students to walk around and read each other’s ideas and to select a few that they find to be either interesting or important.
- We share lots of funny, important and smart ideas and ask each other to agree to them. (Like my assistant teaching artist and I agree “to not be boring” , “to share cool artist with them” and to “give them help when they need it”, and they agree “to ask lots of questions”, “to have fun and be nice to each other” and “clean up really well after class”)
- You can take this a step further and type up a “contract for all to agree to and sign!
It’s fun and enlightening for me each time. How do you all work with your students to set up class culture? Do you have questions or ideas? Comment below!!
Kate Adams is an artist, teaching artist, and mom. As a Marwen staff member she oversees Marwen’s teaching artist professional development, student assessment, and program evaluation. Through her artwork she explores concepts of home, generations and change. You can reach her at email@example.com