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Competitive Art. Wait, what?! (Interest, Attention & Motivation)

Academic self-worth is vital to success in school.  The research referred to in Pressley &  McCormick (2007, p. 270) lists four types of students.  There are the Overachievers, who are as afraid of failure as they are desirous of success, and who are motivated by anxiety.  Then there are Success-oriented students, who value academic achievement without the fear of failure.  Third are the Failure avoiders, who are similar to the overachievers but without the positive aspect of motivation toward success.  And fourth, the Failure acceptors, students who reject academic values and care neither about success or failure.  One area where academia sometimes fails our students is in making a competition out of learning.  Competition can be healthy at times (for example in wrestling matches and football games) but if everything in school is competitive, then learning becomes a job.  It becomes a job students must do better than the student at the next desk, in the next class or at the next school.  This is no way to motivate students to become lifelong learners.

As an alternative to competition Pressley & McCormick (2007) suggest that teachers “reward students for doing better than they did previously” (p. 271).  This is the most effective way to motivate students in visual arts.  The arts have competitions just like other disciplines.   Drama class has tryouts for productions, music (band) class has competitions for ‘first chair’, AP art requires a portfolio review.  Visual art can be a tedious and sometimes boring process for students (shading endlessly or doing the same type of task over and over to improve skills).  To make these worth a student’s time and attention, the student must be motivated to do it.  In order to do this, art teachers must truly differentiate instruction so that each student works in their zone of proximal development.  Even though everyone in the class may be working on drawing a cup and saucer with graphite, each drawing will be unique to the individual and it is the art teacher’s job to help students find their strengths and build upon them so they can address their weaknesses with confidence.  Keeping a portfolio of student work in the classroom is amazingly helpful for this.  When teachers talk to individual students about their progress, the changes are evident and immediately visible.  Students who start out with great skill in a drawing class must understand that their success depends upon growth, not comparison.  Otherwise there is no academic reason for that student to spend the time and energy to improve.

When I was in high school, I took art as many art classes as my schedule allowed.  I was good at art.  I spent my babysitting money on painting classes at night and on art supplies.  At the beginning of my second semester, my high school art teacher told me that I would get an A even if I didn’t work in the class.  I wanted him to demand more of me and, being a teenager without the long view of life, I decided that I would challenge him on that statement by not even going to class. This ridiculous strategy put me into the category of the “failure acceptor” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007) and though I got a B in the class I never attended, I learned nothing about art.  Students want their teachers to care about student learning.  “When students perceive that their teachers are warm and supportive, they are also likely to perceive that their efforts will pay off—that they are in control of their academic outcomes.” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 283)  Though I loved high school art, my teacher’s comment gave me the perception that he did not care if I succeeded or not and therefore my efforts would be worthless.

Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

~ by anitawesto on November 12, 2012.

ceramics, drawing & painting, sculpture, teaching