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Ellen Oppenheimer in the art supply closet at Peralta Elementary. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

6 Art Teachers on How They Adapted Their Lesson Plans to Make the Most Out of the Pandemic School Year | Artnet News

For parents and teachers across much of the world, the 2020–21 school year was unlike any other. Artnet News spoke with six art teachers at the elementary and high school levels about the challenges they faced with remote, in-person, and hybrid learning environments, and how they pivoted to offer art education under unprecedented circumstances.

 

Ellen Oppenheimer, teaching 20 years

Ellen Oppenheimer in the art supply closet at Peralta Elementary. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Ellen Oppenheimer in the art supply closet at Peralta Elementary. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

School: Peralta Elementary School, Oakland

Students Taught: 325 students, kindergarten through 5th grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

The kids went immediately to remote learning. I immediately opened an unemployment claim. I just knew I wasn’t going to try to run art classes on Zoom. I did a few little things, but not much.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

I pretty much made art kits for every kid in the school for the first few months. I didn’t have to spend too much on the kits. I had hoarded materials here for 20 years and the former principal had hoarded art supplies for 25 years, so there were a lot of materials. I used tons of recycled stuff that way lying around school or got dropped off at the recycling center.

I started with this grand idea of dividing the year up into themes. We started with color and then we did line and then we were going to do texture and form. At some point I realized it was better for the kids to have less content and more tactile things. We made Nick Cave soundsuits using silver bags that food comes in from Amazon, since everyone was getting their food delivered. And then I made bundles of paper and used old video tapes. It cost nothing basically.

Ellen Oppenheimer's Nick Cave sound suit project. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Ellen Oppenheimer’s Nick Cave soundsuit project. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Did you have difficulty getting your students to do their assignments? 

Some families just never touched the kits. Some kids did every week, they never missed it. Everyone figured out what worked for them and their families. I was really pleased with the work that I saw.

Was there a silver lining at all in teaching this year? 

I thought it was actually easier. I worked less making all those art kits—and I made thousands of them. It was less demanding to put together a kit than to interact with people and it was less clean up. And I had a more flexible schedule. It was quite a productive time in terms of developing new ideas for curriculum. I learned a ton.

 

Grace Fletcher-Lantz, teaching 12 years

Grace Fletcher-Lantz wore this pin in class this past school year, the only way students could see her face. Photo courtesy of Grace Fletcher-Lantz.

Grace Fletcher-Lantz wore this pin in class this past school year, the only way students could see her face. Photo courtesy of Grace Fletcher-Lantz.

School: Zionsville Community High School, Indiana

Students Taught: 150 children, 9th through 12th grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

We were just waiting, because we knew at some point the school was going to close. I teach all 3-D art classes, so I knew that was going to be a struggle. With my ceramics students, I had been sending them home with modeling clay. I thought it was going to just be two weeks and they could do stop-motion animation.

Our students weren’t online with us. We gave them assignments and they were supposed to do them. The kids would send pictures and I would get back to them. We started to do weekly Zooms, but they weren’t required, so maybe seven out of 28 kids would show up. That was probably the hardest thing.

A chess board project made by one of Grace Fletcher-Lantz's students. Photo courtesy of Grace Fletcher-Lantz.

A chess board project made by one of Grace Fletcher-Lantz’s students. Photo courtesy of Grace Fletcher-Lantz.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

I had to create art kits for kids to take home. We have a really good budget because each student pays a $23 course fee to take the class. The difficulty in 3-D art is most of the supplies are shared. I had to wrap up individual spools of wire for every single student and cut up blocks of clay and put them in bags.

There was one day on Monday which was fully virtual, and then we had [in-person] cohorts. That created a big domino effect. When more and more students started to go remote, it became very uncomfortable for students to be one of the two students there in person. They’re just sitting alone in the classroom.

What was the hardest moment for you?

The hardest moment was at the end of the year when I had my students send me their finished portfolios. One of my students had been avoiding turning in her project for a long time. It was a self portrait out of clay and it was very alarming how she portrayed herself. I read her writing assignment, and she really shared her mental struggles from the year. She was getting the help that she needed, but the guilt that I felt after I read that, from not being able to recognize it, was just heartbreaking for me.

 

Kelly Garcia, teaching art four years 

Kelly Garcia teaching art class over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Kelly Garcia.

Kelly Garcia teaching art class over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Kelly Garcia.

School: Manhattan Bridges High School, New York

Students Taught: 90 students, 10th through 12th grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

The initial period was very challenging, because the students went home without any art supplies. I tried to do some artwork on the computer but not all of them had the right technology. Some of them had tablets, some of them were only working on their phones, some of them had school laptops.

Instead we did writing assignments—we did less hands on stuff and more analysis.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

I started to prepare art kits for the students to take home. But everything arrived staggered. The sketch books arrived one week and then the paints didn’t arrive until December. It was a bit of a hassle. And some students were not allowed to leave their house to come pick up at the school. So I helped drop off supplies at their houses, which took longer than I thought. I would need a lot of practice to become a delivery driver—I could only do six or seven in a day.

Kelly Garcia's camera set up for teaching art class over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Kelly Garcia.

Kelly Garcia’s camera set up for teaching art class over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Kelly Garcia.

What was the biggest challenge?

The lack of interaction. Remote classes started out strong with a lot of attendance and everyone participating, but it slowly died off. In the beginning, they would turn on their cameras and I could look them in the eye. As they started to fade away, all the cameras were just turned off. It felt like I was just talking into the void. I would see their names there and be like “Is anyone there? Are you with me?”

What was the most unexpected thing about remote learning? 

How much more complicated it made things for my students. When you’re in person, you can just show them “this is what you’re going to do; it’s going to go like this.” But even if I posted a video of myself doing the assignment, they would just glance at the assignment, decide it was too difficult, and not do it. When they would finally watch it, they would say “it seemed like it would be harder.” It seemed like they would get stuck.

 

Suzette Hacker, teaching art four years

Suzette Hacker. Photo courtesy of Suzette Hacker.

Suzette Hacker. Photo courtesy of Suzette Hacker.

School: Lafayette Elementary and Burton Valley Elementary School, California

Students Taught: 265 students, Kindergarten through 2nd grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

The rest of that year, we did not offer any art. Basically, our job was finished after March.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

The decision was made to offer recorded video lessons for the kids. The art teachers in the district would upload them on YouTube, and the kids could access it on Seesaw, which is a virtual learning platform. None of us felt it was effective.

In the classroom, we had all different mediums. We had a kiln. This year, we were restricted to projects that used watercolor paint, markers, or crayons because those were the only materials that district sent home to the kids. There was some art quality paper, but no colored paper, nothing like that.

Suzette Hacker's Keith Haring inspired art project. Photo courtesy of Suzette Hacker.

Suzette Hacker’s Keith Haring inspired art project. Photo courtesy of Suzette Hacker.

What was the biggest challenge?

We all had some struggles figuring out technology. How do you record yourself? How do you edit? I had never done that before. I found a program called Screencastify that allowed me to make a couple different recordings and put them together.

I tried to give them more art history, and I would start each lesson by reading them a story. The second part of the lesson would be a recording of me showing them how to do the project.

Was there a silver lining at all in teaching this year? 

We’re going to have another chance with these kids in the upcoming year, and we’re going to be able to get them caught up. And I was able to create some new lessons that I’ll use going forward.

 

Ina Gallon, teaching 16 years

Ina Gallon. Photo courtesy of Ina Gallon.

Ina Gallon. Photo courtesy of Ina Gallon.

School: AmPark Neighborhood School PS 344, Bronx

Students Taught: 400 students, kindergarten through 5th grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

There were a lot of skills that had to be acquired. We had to set up Google classroom and learn how to use it. The kids had to figure out how to submit assignments. It was hard; we had kindergarten kids trying to come to Zoom meetings. But the kids really like me as a YouTube star better than they enjoy the person me. They can understand it better, and they can go back and re-listen. And they are very screen oriented.

But a lot of our kids didn’t have technology—computers or broadband service. In the beginning, I was trying to come up with things they could do at home. I think the first thing I did with them was draw the view out their window.

Op Art Slice and Orb Designs by Ina Gallon's students. Photos courtesy of Ina Gallon.

Op Art Slice and Orb Designs by Ina Gallon’s students. Photos courtesy of Ina Gallon.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

Some of my kids had full on art supplies at home and some of them had nothing. They were drawing on looseleaf. So I would say, if you have paint you could try this, or if you have markers and pencils try this. I was able to get some supplies to some kids when they would pick things up for their regular classes, but I didn’t have a budget to buy supplies. There’s a budget for art supplies that are shared, but it wasn’t enough to get stuff for every kid. I couldn’t make art kits for all the kids unless I spent my own money.

Did you have difficulty getting your students to do their assignments? 

There was a core group of kids who always did the work every week. I had one second grader whose mother would always do the project herself—she would have David’s project and mom’s project, and after a while dad started submitting too. Some families had two or three kid in the school, and would sit down every weekend and do the work together. But there were some kids I hardly ever heard from.

Was there a silver lining at all in teaching this year? 

I developed some nice relationships with kids that I probably never would have in a regular classroom because I was able to give them very specific feedback. There were some things I couldn’t have done with 30 kids in the class, six classes a day.

 

Amy Jenkins, teaching 20 years

Amy Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Amy Jenkins.

Amy Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Amy Jenkins.

School: Indian Mountain School, Lakeville, Connecticut

Students Taught: 140 children, Pre-K through 6th grade

What was the start of remote teaching like in March 2020?

We immediately went remote and were up and running right away. In the upper grades we did self portraits, drawing our hands. With the lower grades, I did a lot of outdoor projects, like having them trace the shadows of bushes and plants. I learned how to edit movies and made a whole Ray Johnson mailing project with collage for the kids. They sent me artwork and I sent them artwork.

Going into this past school year, what did your teaching situation look like?

We’re an international school with students from all around the world. At the upper campus [for 5th through 9th grade] we have a boarding component. So we would have two weeks of remote learning after every vacation, so we knew people were quarantining before they came back to school.

We have lots of outdoor space on our campus. I did a lot of Andy Goldsworthy projects outside where we did meditation mazes with leaves and we wrapped the trees with yarn. We were creating with sticks, wood, whatever we had out there, making snow sculptures. That was really fun.

Amy Jenkins demonstrating the art portrait challenge at home for her students. Photo courtesy of Amy Jenkins.

Amy Jenkins demonstrating the art portrait challenge at home for her students. Photo courtesy of Amy Jenkins.

What was the biggest challenge of teaching during the pandemic?

Knowing what the stakes were and trying to keep it light for the kids and balance your emotions against that. And the tremendous amount of effort that went into reworking all the projects.

What was the hardest moment for you?

I remember one day when a little girl got really frustrated. She wasn’t happy with her drawing, and that happens in art class frequently—but you’re usually there to say, “okay, let’s try something else,” or “it’s a happy accident.” Her mom was there to help her, but if you are in the classroom, you can talk to her and calm her down. Instead you’re just watching her fall apart on the screen.

Was there a silver lining at all in teaching this year? 

I think art was one of the most important classes that they took this year. It was a creative outlet. There was no wrong path. It made me feel really proud to have this thing that I did with children that was going to give them coping skills.


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