Collaborative work in the arts classroom…

The Art21 blog is a great place to reconsider how postmodern art and artists might redirect the way we teach and think about teaching.
A recent post, “It Takes Two…or Two Hundred” is an interesting discussion about the fact that many postmodern artists work collaboratively. The end of the post raises the following questions:

Students in art classes today are most often engaged with working on projects alone. Why do so many teachers resist collaboration? Is it solely the organizational challenges? We’re certainly aware of the benefits it offers to both students and ourselves. How can we overcome the fear of planning collaborative work to more realistically reflect contemporary practice?

I often have students work collaboratively. The two main reasons that I think most visual art teachers might shy away from collaborative work are:

1) Issues with Assessment
It’s sometimes hard for kids to work collaboratively. Not each child can play an equal role. Sometimes ideas that meld everyone’s ideas aren’t the best ideas. How do you determine what score/grade/feedback students should receive?

2) It requires a different type of classroom and behavior management.
Group work requires the support of the physical space. Desks and tables arranged in lines are potentially detrimental to group work. Students talk more when facing each other (but you want them to talk, after all…it’s a collaborative project). Sometimes group dynamics create interesting behavior issues that may not have existed if students are sitting in their neat rows doing their own project.

In a massive clean out of my office, I came across some questions that can be used to help a group self-assess. I believe this came through the Getty Listserve. It seems that these questions might be a good method to use in order to get each student reporting what happened in their group:

  • Who was good at listening to others on your team? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at suggesting ideas for your team? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at asking good questions that helped us think? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at keeping our team focused and productive? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at technical things and skills? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at composition and design? Explain with examples.
  • What ways did you contribute to your team effort? Explain with examples.

What barriers exist in your classroom? What tips and tricks do you have that help facilitate collaborative projects? What are the pros and cons of assigning jobs?