Teachers who Teach us

First Grade Rainforest Art“It is through the process of transformation that we become closer to the very essence of life.”            ~Vea Vecchi, lecture on Children’s Expressive Languages, Reggio Emilia ITALY 1999

After all, isn’t this what Art making is all about?  How can we as teachers transform our classrooms into places, in which Art is a vehicle for both cognition and creativity?  What is the teacher’s role in designing a workspace and class culture in which:

1. CHILDREN explore with purpose and an inventive spiritIMG_4565

2. MATERIALS provoke the imagination and deepen understanding

3. BIG IDEAS are constantly percolating and refined


With her students as partners, one of the finest teachers I know proposes to her first graders that they learn about the rainforest by creating one. She sets the stage by transforming her classroom into a studio.

Positioned in a key IMG_0349location is library of  books filled with related images and information, volumes of Art-making materials, and living things that thrive in a rainforest environment. In this setting her students become researchers and keen observers who gain lasting knowledge about rainforest life.

Their research leads to observational drawing, studies of geography, and map making. Each connected experience leads to deeper thinking and the evolution of scholarly questions. At the start of their investigations their work might appear to be “just Art” to the casual visitor.IMG_0273 Yet, these first graders are developing the skills of young scientists – making hypotheses and classifying information, learning to be caretakers of the world for which they will be ultimately responsible. As veritable experts in their field, six and seven year olds debate the planet’s most pressing issues, environmental as well as cultural.

This teacher and others like her give Art a central role in their classrooms.

 First Grade Rainforest MuralSnakes in the RainforestRainforest Watercolor Art

How do they do it?  How do they determine their priorities and set expectations?  From the Reggio Emilia approach we learn much about the artform – teaching.

• First and foremost we become co-researchers in our own classrooms.  We work side-by-side An integration of Art and Spanishwith our students so that we can build relationships of mutual trust. We guide them, propelling their thinking to higher levels and teaching them craftsmanship as well as skills.

• As teachers we must be astute observers. We collect evidence to better understand the subtleties of children’s thinking. With this knowledge we learn when to intervene and how to initiate the next learning experience.  We, like they, won’t always know what will happen. But on our shared journey, teachers along with their students, must be patient.

• We collect and present a wide range of resources, enough to entice imaginations but not to overindulge the senses.

• We schedule extended periods of time, so that when children are just getting involved, we don’t have to tell them it’s time to move on.

• We talk with children about their work and give them the language to be specific about their thinking processes (what we know as metacognition.)

• We show students how to reflect, and we, along with them, document how their ideas emerge and change over time.

There is much we can learn from our colleagues as we continue to transform ourselves as teachers and push our own thinking as well as our kids’.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

2 thoughts on “Teachers who Teach us

    1. One Art teacher I’ve visited sends all the work in progress back to the classroom, neatly packed in a box. She has no space to keep the work in between classes, and this works well for her!

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