Studio Habits of Mind: Change for the Better

My schedule just changed . . . again.  Art times have been shortened . . . again.  There was no money for the art supply budget this year and students are not allowed to share supplies.  There have been so many challenges to teaching art to elementary students through a pandemic.  However, this virus has forced me to reframe how I think about my curriculum and how I deliver art instruction to students.  The result has changed me as a teacher and my students as learners for the better.  It has yielded such effective results that I plan to continue using these practices even after COVID-19 is over.


My name is Maele Shakespear.  I am the only BTS visual art teacher in Box Elder School District.  I started my career teaching junior high art 18-years ago in Alpine School District as a fresh-out-of-school graduate of Brigham Young University.  I don’t feel that old, but when I remember that we used slides to show art images to students back then, I realize that perhaps I’m older than I think!  Those days of slide machines and overhead projectors are nostalgic and in many ways it is exciting to see how things have changed over the years to improve learning.  Change is a constant in education . . . and in areas where it is not, it really should be.  However, nothing could have prepared me for the sudden change that happened last Spring when schools went to a soft closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The demographic of the school I teach at is fairly diverse and rapidly changing due to development in the nearby mountain community of Mantua which is in our school boundaries.  Right now, the majority of our student body lives in poverty.  Many of these students experience hunger, drug use in their home, and abuse daily.  Their basic needs are routinely unmet.  A smaller portion of our students live in middle- to upper-class families with support from home.  When the soft closure hit last Spring, my concern with online art instruction was that the vast majority of my students did not have access to art supplies at home.  (I often have students asking me for scratch paper to take home to draw on.)  My principal and I both decided last Spring that art instruction needed to be something that would not overwhelm our already drowning families.  As a result I crafted weekly videos (using Adobe Spark–thanks to a BTS-sponsored workshop for teaching me!) that allowed students to work with their siblings in a collaborative manner using readily available resources.  Here is an example of what our weekly videos looked like: 

With the end of the 2019-2020 school year I anxiously awaited what the Fall would look like in education.  There were so many unknowns.  I used extra contract time in the Spring with the soft closure and a part of my summer to prepare for a number of scenarios.  I reached out to my principal with my ideas in an effort to advocate for our art program in the case that funding would be cut.  One thing that has made a big difference for our program (and my sanity) has been how I approached the curriculum this year.  Our district has what they call BELS (when I taught in Alpine they called it the “Core of the Core”).  In short, BELS are predetermined learning outcomes that teachers focus on when instructing students–in essence it is the “bones” or most important aspects of the curriculum.  After meeting with intermediate, middle and high school art teachers last year during PLCs to vertically align our curriculum combined with my previous experience in researching art curricula across the nation, I created some elementary visual art “BELS.”   These learning outcomes serve as the “for sures” that I teach if there is not time for anything else.  Since interventions in elementary art are not possible due to time restraints, the learning outcomes I created span multiple grades of art instruction giving students two-years to master these concepts.  Many of these learning outcomes are skill-based and reflect a number of different state standards.  I also referenced the Studio Habits of Mind when creating these.  With the recent change in my schedule and art times being shortened due to our new shortened school day, I can’t possibly teach all that I would like in art this year.  However, I can make sure that I at least teach these concepts and then I can build on them next year.  This document is something that I reflect on frequently and make notes on to better refine for the coming years.  Click here to see my learning outcomes:

This last summer our school district “strongly encouraged” each certified teacher to take an online classroom management course.  I begrudgingly did.  The accompanying book was thick and intimidating and the numerous modules in the course overwhelmed me.  However, the course proved to save me in many ways this year.  It gave me the opportunity to think through and develop how I teach routines and procedures in the classroom . . . especially in this year of COVID where sanitizing, social distancing, and other classroom routines would be so crucial.  The course had us create the following chart to be visible in our classrooms:

It also had us think through how and when we were going to teach these procedures.  This is something that I refer to often for myself and with students.  It helps me stay consistent with different classes while also serving as a reminder to students regarding procedures and conduct in the art room.  

As part of this course we were asked to construct some “guidelines for success.”  As I was mulling over the options for these, I realized that the Studio Habits of Mind make great guidelines for success.  I rephrased each habit into a short sentence that my students would understand.  I also refer to these often throughout my instruction.  To see my guidelines for success click here:

With the threat of soft closure always looming, I proposed the idea of creating an online elementary art course to my principal.  My experience teaching a broadcast course titled “Elementary Art Methods” at Utah State University for 9-years helped me see how this could be possible and how it could be used in multiple ways.  With a number of students opting to do school online, our school lost two in-person classes which reduced my teaching load.  With that excess time (and a number of donated hours), I have been developing Canvas courses for each grade level.  Initially the thought was that I would use this for if I had to quarantine.  That way, students wouldn’t have to miss a beat if I were gone and it would be something a substitute could easily facilitate.  However, since starting down this road I have found that it has been and can be so much more.  I started using my instructional videos in class.  It is like having two of me in the room.  One of me on the screen demonstrating (while allowing students to social distance) and one of me walking around the room using proximity to help students stay engaged and to address any concerns or questions.  I also try to stay two-weeks ahead in the case of quarantine.  I’m getting ready to start posting the courses to the commons to be shared throughout the district where classroom teachers who do not have an art specialist in their building will have access to art instruction for their students.  Also, if a soft closure happens again, it’s covered and I can send links to my pages out to my fellow teachers to be posted on their Canvas pages so that students do not miss art instruction during a closure. In brainstorming with my principal, this is something we would like to continue from year to year to build a treasure trove of lessons that can be shared with others throughout the district (especially in the remote areas of our district) and beyond.  To view one of my instructional videos click here:

Lastly I want to address the supply issue.  I’ve learned through this unprecedented time in education just how supportive my fellow teachers and administrators are.  My administrator and school secretary combed through a number of budgets to squeeze out any money they could to help support the art program.  Some teachers in the buildings used a portion of their supply money to provide their students with colored pencils, scissors, etc. that they happily bring with them to art so everyone can have their own set.  Other teachers sent communications home letting families know they could donate key supplies that would be used for art.  We are still only working in 2-dimensional media, but am getting to the point where I have collected two classroom sets of each medium that we frequently use in the art room.  If I have each grade level use a different medium for each project, then I’m able to rotate sets allowing time for supplies to be sanitized and quarantined between each use.

One thing that has been a real game changer for me has been individualized student folders (or portfolios as I call them) that I purchased using the little money we were able to scrape together.  I also had a huge box of 12”x18” brochure paper donated by a local company.  Our awesome librarian came and helped me fold and staple this paper into sketchbooks for each student.  These sketchbooks fit in their portfolios along with a pencil for each student.  Having an individualized “packet” for each student has helped a lot with managing supplies and keeping track of students’ preliminary practice work which I’m planning on using as an assessment tool later in the year to show their progress.

These portfolios are organized by class and stored in the art room.  They are distributed and collected each class period by me (I have a system that keeps them in the right order for the seating chart).  This way they have a week of quarantine before their next use since they touch each other in the crates they are stored in.


As tragic and disruptive as this virus has been to our lives and in our practice as art teachers, perhaps there is something that we can learn that we wouldn’t have learned any other way.  And perhaps what we learn will make us even better teachers than we were before.  To my fellow art teachers across the state: I wish you the best through these hard times.  I’m sure you’ve figured out some even better solutions to the challenges we face and I look forward to learning from you.  I think of the creative capacity we have as a collective and I have no doubt that what results from these challenges will only make the future brighter and better.

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