I’m starting a new project today at both the middle school and the high school. In groups of 2 or 3, they are being asked to create posters for the high school play, “School for Nerds”.
I began today’s class by showing overheads of posters for Amadeus, Hairspray, and Grease. I led a discussion about how the design of the posters gives messages about what the plays are about. I asked whether students would laugh, cry, or be scared if they went to see the various plays. I asked how the designers created unity, and how color communicates a message. I defined graphic design as “artistically combining text and images.”
I told students they would be graded on the following:
- group work – How did the students cooperate together to create a unified vision?
- individual work – How did each individual contribute to the project? (I will be asking for a written response from each student)
- craftsmanship/completeness – Was the design well planned and executed? Does it include all of the required elements?
Here are the steps of the project:
- Create four thumbnails. You can divide a 9″ x 12″ sheet of newsprint into four sections. Draw in the general shapes of the text and images. Stick figures are not allowed.
- Choose one thumbnail and refine it larger on 9″ x 12″ newsprint paper. Do a detailed drawing of the image(s) and write in all the text as it will appear.
- Do the initial layout in pencil on an 18″ x 24″ sheet of white drawing paper.
- Paint or otherwise create color on the poster (markers, crayon, colored pencils, oil pastels, etc.)
I wrote on the board all of the details of the play that need to be included on the poster:
- an appropriate illustration
- the name of the play (“School for Nerds”)
- the location of the performances
- my phone number for more information
- the performance dates and time
- “produced by the [high school name] drama department”
- ticket prices
I also read the description of the play’s plot from the publisher’s website.
I asked students to turn in their four thumbnails tomorrow at the end of class. Some problems have arisen that I’ve tried to address, I hope adequately. One group of three formed, then “kicked” a member out because he did not agree with the vision of the other two. I told them that once they formed the group they cannot kick a member out. They need to create designs that everyone in the group can agree on. By the end of class I did not see them begin to cooperate yet, but I reminded them that their grade is based partially on their ability to cooperate together.
Many students wanted to do the project alone or in a group of four. I did not allow this. This is a great and rare opportunity for me to incorporate some group collaboration into an art class. The kids need to learn how to work in a team. If they can figure out how to do it now when they’re children, they’ll have a much easier time of it when they are adults.
I love working alone. I prefer it. I’ve always hated working in groups, primarily because I was usually the one doing all of the work. My teachers never seemed to monitor our progress or assess whether everyone was contributing.
But I have to admit that nobody works in a vacuum. People who work easily and harmoniously with others enjoy greater successes in life.
First and second periods at the middle school had great discussions, and behavior appropriate for their ages. Many students in first period was especially excited that the drama class might end up using their poster design.
Third period was a nightmare. Most of them seem to hate sitting for lecture or discussion. Many of them were acting like they were much younger than they are. Consequently, discussion took forever because I had to keep waiting for students to stop talking over one another. I got some students to start raising hands to be called on, but then they would say something far off topic.
I started writing names on the board of students who will be asked to stand outside, but then that started becoming a game and a source of mirth for them. I said that if this method does not correct the behavior, they will experience referrals to the Principal pretty quickly. I’d do a crapload of detentions, except that my schedule across both schools does not allow me to keep middle school students in for lunch or after school. And of course the middle school does not have a formal detention time with a dedicated staff member like the high school. My options for consequences here are rather limited. It sucks.
Numerous students had to be reminded to leave room for text on their thumbnails, and to show me at least the block shape the text would take on each thumbnail. A couple of students tried to get away with stick figures. I had a few replace “School for Nerds” with “School 4 Nerds”, or wrote letters backward. For clarity, I asked them to correct these variations.
Most students have now completed the four thumbnails. A few have even completed the second draft on 9″ x 12″ paper. I stipulated the following requirements for this step:
- images in full detail
- show values: light and dark areas
- all required text with careful lettering
A couple of the second drafts had the text all crowded together with no clear distinctions between types of information. For example, the place would go onto a new line and then the performance times would finish that line and begin another. I guided students to give each piece of information its own space.
Because it is the end of day three and most students are still working on step two (or even step one), I expect to carry this project over into next week.
I will have them complete a rubric like this one, except not just about themselves but about the other members in the group as well. This will give them the opportunity to report on students who did not carry their weight in the project. I had one student at the high school come to me mid-class yesterday and ask if they could “switch groups.” Her group had already finished step one so I said no. I asked her why, and she wouldn’t tell me. I suspect it was because the slacker in her group was looking right at her as she spoke with me at my desk. I will tell her privately today about this rubric, and encourage her to tell me now what’s going wrong with her group (if only to confirm my suspicion.) I will introduce the rubric on an overhead tomorrow at the beginning of each art class. The students will complete it after the posters are all complete. I will consider how group members scored each other when assessing the final grade for this project.
I adjusted the due dates to reflect how far along the majority of students were coming. I asked everyone to have the “refined draft” done by last Friday, the penciled 18″x24″ done by Monday, and the final colored version by Wednesday. I will allow some time at the beginning of Thursday for those last stragglers, and then I will have everyone complete the rubric.
One thing I should have emphasized in my initial lecture/discussion is the importance of arranging text so that individual ideas are clearly separated. I mentioned in my last update how this was a problem. Many students are cramming it all together, and I take the blame. I should not have assumed they knew instinctively how to arrange information clearly.
I hope I made the right choice in making this a group project. It seemed ideal, but often one or two group members are sitting idle while one is drawing, lettering, or painting. In some cases the group is phenomenal and everyone’s painting at once. This is rare. I guess the real question is: is it okay for students to remain idle for periods of time in my class? I debate this with myself all the time. I always feel like I’m not doing my job if a student is not working on something artistic at all times in my class.
At the end of the project, each student will get a Grade Sheet with their project grade broken down as follows (each worth 10 points):
March 5: discussion and begin thumbnails
March 6: four thumbnails
March 7 & 8: refined 9â€x12â€ draft
March 8 & 12: 18â€ x 24â€ in pencil
March 13 & 14: 18â€ x 24â€ in color
Craftsmanship and Completeness
Total Points / Percentage / Letter Grade
UPDATE 04/01/07: Student Work
Here are the four posters the drama class chose out of a selection of 40 posters. The drama students were not told who designed what before they voted. Their top choice, the first one below, was made by 8th graders. The remaining three were by high schoolers.