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Curriculum Insights • A Look into Visual Arts at PBS

Keriann Armusewicz, Visual Arts Teacher

Thinking back to elementary school, everyone has memories that stand out. For many of us, those memories happened in band, in PE, in the art studio. The art program at PBS strives to create a safe environment where students can express themselves, grow, take risks, and build memorable experiences of their own. This is achieved through curriculum design with specific challenging yet attainable learning goals for our student artists. We want to cultivate student learners that are knowledgeable about art, art forms, and processes, while being contributing members to our own art community. 

In practice, PBS students are self-directed in their art making and able to seek support, while also being reflective of the process. Students are able to speak to their strengths within the visual arts and their areas of growth, while also engaging meaningfully with art in their world.

What sources does PBS draw on for the visual arts curriculum?

To make student goals attainable, the PBS art curriculum is creative and intentional by drawing on different educational philosophies and scholarship. This results in a program that is both rigorous and reflective of students’ interests and needs.

  • Overarching themes come from the TAB movementTeaching for Artistic Behaviors is a newer movement in art education and is founded on three core pillars:

    • What do artists do?
    • The child is the artist.
    • The classroom is the child’s studio.
  • These essential themes heavily influence the physical structure and organization of the art studio, the curriculum itself, and class period design. Example: The studio is set up with open access to art materials so students can be independent in obtaining the materials they need to create, when they need them.
  • TAB works in conjunction with the 8 Studio Habits of Mind from Harvard’s Project Zero. Reflecting best practices, these habits are taught to students to cultivate the artist’s mindset. The art curriculum at PBS focuses on these 8 studio habits:
    • Develop Craft
    • Engage and Persist
    • Envision
    • Express
    • Observe
    • Reflect
    • Stretch and Explore
    • Understand Art Worlds
  • Developed in accordance with the National Core Art Standards: This ensures competency in creating, presenting, responding, and connecting in and with the visual arts. 
  • Represents a developmentalist philosophy: This ensures that children are met where they are and emphasizes the importance of the educational journey, not just the final outcome.
  • Intentionally fosters creative thinking skills: This prepares students for future challenges both in and out of the art studio. 

What do PBS children experience in the art studio throughout all grades, and how does artistic learning build in Kindergarten through 5th Grade?

The art program at PBS grows with the child and is focused on developing a strong foundation in the visual arts while fostering the child’s creativity. As an elementary level program, the emphasis rests on four fundamentals, which are in practice in Kindergarten through 5th Grade: 

  • #1 Experimentation: Necessary to see what’s possible and to be able to push the limits of tools and materials
    • Each year, materials are reintroduced in a spiral so students can continue to explore limits, reflecting on new discoveries and sharing them with peers. Example: In our sewing spiral, Kindergarteners learn a running stitch and practice on finger-friendly plastic canvases. 1st-graders review that stitch and learn hemming stitches. 2nd-graders review the first two stitches, and add the backstitch and explore pattern-making. 3rd- to 5th-graders review, but add sewing machines, appliqués, and more advanced patterns.
    • Experimentation fosters student creativity by providing space for problem solving, risk-taking, and originality.
  • #2 Development of foundational knowledge with tools, materials, and processes: This teaches foundational knowledge specific to drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, textile arts, and media arts. 
    • Knowledge-building begins in Kindergarten and continues through 5th Grade, building off that which has previously been learned. Example: In Kindergarten, students learn foundational strategies for hand-building with clay: pinch, slab, and coil. Students review these basic techniques each year and discover new ways of pushing the limits of creation; perhaps a simple pinch pot one year and in subsequent years, the addition of coils to pinch pots, creating a larger and more complex vessel.
  • #3 Reflection: This allows students to synthesize knowledge, envision future possibilities, and grow in a meaningful way from their experiences. 
    • Reflection aids creativity by encouraging students to be open to other possibilities and options, to see the perspectives of others, and by promoting mindfulness in their artistic journey. Example: While working on an abstract collage, we prompt the student, i.e., Tell me more about this. We discuss specifics of the work, then what might happen if there were multiples, or if the color schemes were changed, and more. The student internalizes this information and uses it in the future.
  • #4 Art Appreciation and Engagement: This introduces the art of other artists, creating space for students to develop subject-specific vocabulary, communicate personal views about artworks, and connect art to history. Example: 5th graders examined the art of Latinx activist artists. Students read about the artists, context, and artworks. They presented their findings to the class. They engaged in discussion about the messaging behind the artworks and how the artists communicated those visually.
    • Art appreciation and engagement fosters creativity by providing opportunities for students to be curious, put ideas into context, and look at art from different perspectives.

What can I do to support art learning and enjoyment in my children at home?

  • Ask questions! Ask for discoveries made after your children’s art days at school. When your children bring home an art piece, ask open-ended questions like: Can you tell me about this work? What process(es) did you use to make this? How did you find inspiration? What did you discover while making this? Ask for elaboration when children give a partial answer.
  • Engage with art in your community: Engage your child in conversations about art, from murals to museums. Use the three guiding questions of Visual Thinking Strategies: What’s going on here? What did you see that makes you say that? What more can we find? This will help encourage close looking and critical thinking.
  • Encourage art making: Having a dedicated space for art-making facilitates the process. This can be as simple as a small child’s table and art materials bin. Talk with your children about what they like to work with before creating the space; then design it together. Involve your children in setup and care for materials. 

To learn more other multigrade subjects at PBS, watch for upcoming parent education opportunities:

  • Every Tuesday before Spring Break: Articles on the remaining multigrade subjects (music, physical education, and technology)
  • April 5: Virtual parent education at 8:00 p.m. led by Jon Fulk and PBS multigrade teachers

Thank you for supporting our multigrade programs!

Keriann Armusewicz, Jon Fulk, and Scott Erickson
Visual Arts Teacher, Head of Academic Programs, and Head of School

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