Classroom Management Reflections

When I explain TAB to other art teachers I usually get incredulous looks and questions as to how in the world do I manage “all those different mediums!” But over the years I have found that managing 30+ kids doing the same media project is much harder!

My room is not so big. I only recently got a real drying rack for paintings but it is small, with only 30 racks that can fit one 22×30″ painting per shelf. So only one of my 6 classes can do a painting project at a time or I will run out of drying rack space. But if I have a paint center with no more than 6 kids per period, then some kids can paint every period before I run out of space.

I recently tried to do Paper Mache’ creatures with my beginning mixed 6/7 th grade classes. My first period group has 30 kids, no kids with IEPs, no ELL kids and a bulk of them are in our gifted/challenge program. With my class jobs and set up structure, they did fine with distributing 15 shared sets of Paper Mache’ materials and painting tools and supplies. There were still a lot of issues with space to store the 15 partner sculptures and some bribery required to get the absolute best clean up on a daily basis. But the unit went well overall and I even trusted them with the hot glue guns to embellish the creatures with feathers, glitter and beads.IMG_0138

On the other hand, my seventh period class was not successful on many levels. This is the last class of the day, and we know how that already can affect learning. The class consists of 32 kids, 12 with IEPs, 2 with special discipline behavior contracts, 2 others that NEED behavior contracts and 2 low ELL kids. Needless to say, a VERY different mix than first period.

This group has no volume control; it was outside playground loud in my room every day. They quickly took advantage of the freedom of movement (they originally had permission to go to the sinks and wash their hands as needed) to mess around, visit friends, squirt people with the cleanup spray bottles, get paste or paint on each other…etc…etc… The projects were not progressing due to the lack of focus. Clean up was not happening properly despite jobs both being chosen and assigned with or without bribery. I am not proud to admit, I got mad, lectured them and threatened to cancel the project, unfinished.

So after trying to redirect for more on task behaviors and consistent clean-up, I called in support. I asked my VP and counselor to come in to observe as I reset expectations and made some new limits on movement, new guidelines on clean-up and retaught all of it with a practice session. We even practiced different talking volumes. Then we set up for work time and then began cleaning up again as a practice. They still couldn’t manage, even with the added adult eyes and re-teaching of instructions.

So what to do? Cancel the project? They were very excited by the project, which is one of the reasons they had such a hard time maintaining behaviors. I redirected to a day of drawing and then took the weekend to think it over. I decided to divide and conquer. 4 groups at a time would get to paint and I would manage the smaller groups with distributing supplies, while the rest if the class worked on Zen-doodle pattern drawing project. The Zen groups need to practice SILENT Zen focus, and the Paper Mache’ painting partners needed to work in Top Secret Whisper mode. My SPED para-educator (thank god I do get an extra body with this group) would focus on the drawing kids. I rotated through the groups for the week and we finally got done painting.

This boils down to two things. The mix of a class and the size of a class can dramatically impact any style of teaching. Those that say class size doesn’t matter has never tried to do a complicated algebra lesson or a messy Paper Mache’ project with 32 high needs kids! I welcome any legislator to come on in for the day and teach this group ANYTHING!

The other thing is that doing complicated, larger, messy projects is just more manageable in smaller groups. And this is partially why choice style studio CAN, in most cases, be easier to manage than full class projects. Many behavior issues can be alleviated when kids are choosing their favorite medium. Lots of kids were grossed out by the Paper Mache’ glue and didn’t want to do it. They acted out. Not everyone can work for 2 weeks with the same partner, so they argued and acted out. If only the kids that were most passionate about Paper Mache’ were the ones making creatures and others were doing that they wanted, collage, computers or drawing, then acting out behaviors would be diminished. So the final question is, will I switch to more choices with this particular class and trust them to make good choices or stick with one teacher-direct project for all? The jury is still out. I’ll keep you posted!