Learning centers are fun for middle-school students to participate in because they contain all the elements students thrive upon. Learning centers
are nuanced with personal challenge, have abundant variety, and are
kinetically advanced. They seem to
be something like an art challenge
course, a steeplechase, or decathlon.
The goal of this style of learning is to
expose students to the many facets of
art inquiry and for them to actually
experience art, not just master one
technique, concept, or media.
I have created and used three versions of the stations, varying the timing, media, method, or perspective
on the art subject. There are endless
I set up nine stations that can be used
by two or three students at a time.
Students move with their tablemates
through the stations in consecutive
order for a prescribed period of time.
All artwork is done in a sketchbook.
Before beginning, I lay out the
parameters and introduce the activities at each table. Depending on the
set-up, I place a variety of books, magazines, and examples from art history
on the tables for reference.
Version One: Drawing
Blind contour and contour drawing:
Different objects (shells, rocks,
and media are
placed on each
table. Each group
spends two-to-three minutes at
each table drawing unique compositions using the tools provided.
Version Two: Action Figures
Figure drawing: One manikin is placed
at each table and placed in a different action pose, accompanied
by various drawing media. Each
group spends anywhere from thirty
seconds to five minutes making a
drawing at each table.
Version Three: Different Ways to
See a Landscape
Each group of students spends five-to-ten minutes at each table drawing
different types of landscapes. Each
table should be set up for the following tasks:
Table 1: Ink contour drawing of an
actual ficus Bonsai tree.
Table 2: Pencil drawing of a cropped
Table 3: Copy fine-art reproductions in
Table 4: Look out the window and
create an “en plein air” watercolor
Table 5: Look out the window and
create an “en plein air” oil pastel
Table 6: Using a light table, create a
Canaletto-inspired drawing in pen.
Table 7: Create a Claude glass effect
using sanguine, sepia, white chalk,
and charcoal on paper.
Table 8: Compose a Gainsborough-inspired landscape. Set up broccoli
trees and mirror pond, wood chips,
rocks, and a small ceramic “
cottage.” Draw using colored pencil.
Table 9: Compose a “dry” landscape
(rock or Zen garden) with sand tray,
rocks, and rake (fork). Photograph
the setup using a digital camera,
print, and tape into the sketchbook.
I find my students physically
energized, eager to
and pleased with
themselves. As I
working through the course, I noted
an unanticipated bonus in studio
cooperation. As one group left a table,
they voluntarily oriented the new
group coming to the activity. Or, if
they sensed someone was struggling,
they turned around and tried to help.
The goal of learning
centers is to expose
students to the many
facets of art inquiry and
for them to actually
Martha Savage is an art teacher at Thomas
Edison Middle School in Meriden, Con-necticutt. firstname.lastname@example.org