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A Theme-Based Yearlong Curriculum

All lesson plans © Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
September 2007

During one recent school year, my student artists looked at indigenous art from the seven continents. When I began to write this theme-based, yearlong curriculum, I thought about how to make it “work” with their other disciplines to really enhance student learning.

While I always enjoy seeing my students make the “connection,” I also like to keep art for art’s sake. This curriculum I am sharing allows for both. As students “travel” the planet, they’ll see artworks that document our world’s history and, ultimately, this experience will help them better understand who they are.

This multicultural approach to teaching the visual arts is exciting in that every student will have the opportunity to create seven pieces of art while being inspired by art from across the world.

During the school year, I teach approximately 1,100 students, and only am able to see my students for 22 class periods lasting 45 minutes. So, it can be done! The key is early planning and organization.

This series of lessons will aid you in your planning of a yearlong curriculum with an overarching theme. It is my hope that you will springboard off this to create a wonderful art-learning environment for your students.

I have been writing and teaching theme-based, yearlong curricula for 12 years now, and I believe it helps students better understand the art they are creating. It also helps in the planning of your “end-of-the-year” student art exhibit, and is easily followed by the VIPs you invite to this event, such as your local school-board members, legislators, superintendent, parents and the community as a whole.

At the exhibit, the community has the opportunity to see student artworks in themed installations, complete with students’ written reflections and information researched by classes. The students are always so excited to have the opportunity to talk about their art, and that is so much more powerful than simply another pretty picture hanging on a school wall! This curriculum gives art education meaning!

My goal as an art educator is to get my students to think! This happens when they listen, when they look and when they are allowed to question the “whys” of art, as they are being inspired to create their own individual or collaborative pieces.

Creativity, technical skills, art vocabulary, critical-thinking skills—these are all extremely important elements to creating a successful and meaningful curriculum. Sticking with one theme throughout the school year enhances these elements, and the ultimate indicator of success is that the kids “get it.” Students are able to talk about their art and, in the case of the “eARTh ... it’s got ART” curriculum, they can talk about our world, the continents and the different countries they “visited” via PowerPoint presentations and the Web.

They can also make connections to other disciplines so much better due to this hands-on experience. During the coming issues of Arts & Activities, look for the following units: North America; South America; Asia; Africa; Australia; Europe; Antarctica; and a “how-to” guide to planning an end-of-the-year student art exhibit.

Each unit will have a grade-specific, in-depth lesson based on either a country or an element from the featured continent, along with a quick bulleted list of the other grade levels’ lessons, and there will be a number of visual images for you to look to for inspiration.

One other unique feature included in these articles will be my Rhythm-ongs*. These are brain-based rhymes or songs I write to go with each lesson. This is just one more way for students to learn and remember the art facts we are exposing them to. Through hands-on, theme-based curricula and Rhythm-ongs, I guarantee you will enjoy bringing these ideas to your students and watching them make new meaning out of their art class experience!

Painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, still life, markers, printing techniques, crayons, oil pastel, mixed media and more ... students learn how to properly use these materials to create their own masterpieces. They already have the creativity inside them, it is our job to teach them about the planet, about who they are and how they can create the best art they can. Every one of our students should leave our art rooms proud of their accomplishments. There is nothing they can’t do ... through the ARTS!

I hope you enjoy this series of theme-based lessons. See you next month!

Yes, we are the SMARTEST ARTISTS,
Őcause we listen and we look
and we look and then we learn ...
* Rhythm-ong © Debi West.

Now teaching art at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., Debi West wrote her “eARTh ... it’s got ART” curriculum while at Level Creek Elementary, also in Suwanee. Debi is a past-president of the Georgia Art Education Association and the owner of Crystal Collage Children’s Art Studio.


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