Friday, April 1, 2016

Art Lesson: Pheasants

I'm currently reading aloud The Secret Garden to my fourth graders. (I love this book.) A couple of weeks ago, we read this passage:
My students didn't know what pheasants look like, so I did what I often do -googled on my phone and put my phone under my document reader. This is the image I showed them:
This is a Lady Amherst pheasant. My students immediately asked if they could draw a pheasant for their next art lesson.

Not being an artist, and having never drawn a pheasant, I was hesitant to say yes, but I said yes. Because that's the kind of teacher I am. I think this is something really important for you to know about me. 

There are teachers who like to do the same lessons year after year; I'll call them the perfecters. In March, their bulletin boards are decorated with 30 identical construction paper leprechauns, a no-fail craft. Cut on the dotted line, and glue where you read "Glue here." Perfecters do activities that can be completed (and cleaned up) in a single sitting. Their rooms look like pages from a school supply store catalog, what we believe a classroom should look like, images of which student-teachers' dreams are made.

And then there are teachers who need to learn along with their students. Let's call these the learners - or the masochists. (Drama teachers are a good example of learners; they do different plays every year.) There is always a project in progress.

In elementary school, the perfecter teacher is more common than the learner teacher. The perfecter doesn't say yes when students ask them to teach something. In fact, the perfecter's students learn early on that their teacher won't deviate from her lesson plan book, so they daren't ask her to. The perfecter is in control, and she's staying that way. As a child, she was good at school. She read the directions, followed the rules, and only put glue where she read "Glue here." She isn't about to start failing now.

I'm not a perfecter.

Here are a few of my students' drawings...
This afternoon, I took my students into the iPad lab so they could zoom in on pheasant images, and work on their pictures.
Here is the first finished pheasant:
She even put in an earthworm and a crushed soda can. She paid attention to detail.

The most exciting thing about teaching the students to draw the pheasant was that they got the idea of proportion. They didn't try to squeeze the feet into the image. Some of them had tail feathers that extended beyond the frame of the picture.

As a public elementary school teacher, it's easier and more accepted to be a perfecter. Often, I wish I could change. 

But then I have moments like this. I don't think I could feel this kind of happiness looking at a bulletin board of identical leprechauns.


  1. No, no hand "turkeys" or leprechauns for you ! I would love to hear some of the parent comments
    about their children's Art efforts this year ! I'm certain they are AMAZED !!! These should be treasured !

    1. Thank you...I have a couple of parents who have been very pleased, but I don't think they really understand how much time and perseverance went into the work, because all they see is the finished product. I think I enjoy watching the students more, their focus, erasing and redrawing.

  2. How fortunate your students are to have a "learner" for their teacher. Kudos to you!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Melanie! :)