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The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Developing Students as Artists

In this session, participants explore how arts teachers help students develop knowledge and fundamental skills while weaving in opportunities for creativity and independence. First, a dance teacher gives senior students leadership responsibilities and coaches them in their choreography projects. Then a theatre teacher mentors stagecraft students who are responsible for the technical aspects of a dance concert. In an intermediate visual art course, a teacher builds on students' prior learning in a foundation course. Finally, a vocal music teacher works with two classes: students learning to read music and an advanced jazz ensemble.

In this Program


A dance teacher gives seniors leadership responsibilities and coaches their choreography.


A theatre teacher mentors students who are progressing through a stagecraft and design curriculum.


A vocal music teacher works with two classes: students learning to read music, and an advanced jazz ensemble.

Visual Art

Visual art teachers introduce basic color techniques in a foundation course, and build to a more sophisticated level in an intermediate class.


Arts teachers help students develop knowledge and fundamental skills while weaving in opportunities for creativity and independence. The challenge is to achieve a balance between teacher-led instruction and active, self-directed learning. To achieve mastery, students cannot be passive consumers of knowledge; they must actively construct and apply what they learn.

How do teachers help students develop as artists?

  • Assignments reflect increasing knowledge, skills, and experience
  • Instruction is thoughtfully sequenced to support student development
  • Artistic roles are age- and level-appropriate
  • Students experience increasing mastery and autonomy in the arts

Learning Goals

The goals of this workshop are for you to:

  • Construct a working definition of instructional “scaffolding,” and determine how it can help students develop as artists
  • Identify teaching sequences that effectively scaffold student learning
  • Redesign an instructional sequence to better foster students’ development

Getting Ready

(15 minutes)

Readiness can be thought of as a student’s pre-existing knowledge, experiences, and attitudes. Discuss how student readiness affects the sequence of instruction.

  • What are the prerequisites for the various courses in your program?
  • What happens if a student doesn’t have the requisite knowledge, experiences, and/or attitudes for a particular course?
  • Assuming that individuals progress at different rates through a course, how do you deal with students who have not developed the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed with the next phase of the curriculum?

Watching the Program

(15 minutes)

The information sheets below provide helpful background on the schools, arts programs, and individual classes featured in each segment:

Segment 1:  Dance (PDF)
Segment 2:  Theatre (PDF)
Segment 3:  Visual Art (PDF)
Segment 4:  Music (PDF)

Consider the following questions as you watch the program. You may stop the video after each segment to discuss the questions with your colleagues.

DANCE Michael O’Banion Senior Choreography Project

  • How does Michael support his students as they develop new artistic skills?
  • How does your curriculum support the artistic development of your students?

THEATRE Peter Lynch Stagecraft and Design

  • When did students make independent decisions, and when did Peter step
    in to offer guidance?
  • How do you help your students become more self-reliant?

VISUAL ART Dale Zheutlin and Jon Murray Silhouettes/Still Life Paintings

  • How does the visual art curriculum used by Dale and Jon support the artistic development of their students?
  • How do you strike a balance between building skills and providing opportunities for creativity?

MUSIC William Taylor Beginner Men’s Ensemble/Angelaires

  • We see Will teaching two classes with very different skill levels. What differences in instructional techniques do you see Will use in these two classes?
  • How do you motivate beginning students to continue studying the arts?

Activities and Discussion

(45 minutes)

Instructional Sequence and “Scaffolding”

Part I. Read and discuss the following two descriptions of scaffolding. (10 minutes)

Scaffolding is an instructional strategy where a more knowledgeable person provides scaffolds or supports to facilitate students’ development as they build on prior knowledge and internalize new information. Scaffolds are temporary structures that physically support workers while they complete jobs that would otherwise be impossible. Scaffolds provide workers with both a place to work and the means to reach work areas that they could not access on their own. Instructional scaffolding is a teaching strategy that was cleverly named for the practical resemblance it bears to the physical scaffolds used on construction sites. The strategy consists of teaching new skills by engaging students collaboratively in tasks that would be too difficult for them to complete on their own. The instructor initially provides extensive instructional support, or scaffolding, to continually assist the students in building their understanding of new content and process. Once the students internalize the content and/or process, they assume full responsibility for controlling the progress of a given task. The temporary scaffolding provided by the instructor is removed to reveal the impressive permanent structure of student understanding.

Reprinted by permission from H. L. Herber, J. N. Herber, Teaching in Content Areas with Reading, Writing, and Reasoning. Published by Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA. Copyright ©1993 by Pearson Education.

Some teachers favor an apprenticeship model of scaffolding, where an expert models an activity, provides advice and examples, guides the student in practice, and then tapers off support until the student can do the task alone. Others prefer methods that encourage ongoing consultation with other people, since in life few people ever work exclusively on their own.

From “Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy” by Linda J. Lawson. Used with permission.

After you have read the passages above, discuss the following questions:

  • How do these two descriptions of scaffolding compare to your own understanding and use of the term?
  • As a group, try to agree on a working definition of scaffolding.

Part II. Identify examples of scaffolding used by teachers in
Program 2. (15 minutes)

For each of the teaching segments in the program, brainstorm examples of scaffolding that you saw:

  • Dance Senior Choreography Project
  • Theatre Stagecraft and Design
  • Visual Art City Silhouettes/Still Life
  • Music Beginner Men’s Ensemble/Angelaires

Part III. Identify scaffolding that you currently do, or might consider. (20 minutes)

How do you sequence instruction? What sort of scaffolding techniques do you use? Do you provide students with the same level of support at all stages? Or do you strive to withdraw supports over time, allowing students more opportunities for creative autonomy?

Use the Instructional Sequence Worksheet (PDF) to sketch a teaching sequence you do, and analyze the scaffolding and student autonomy it involves.

Afterward, share with the group your instructional sequences and the ratings you gave the different steps.

As a group, discuss these questions:

If the overall goal is student autonomy, what is the relationship between the scaffolding a teacher provides and the creative autonomy students have?
What strategies can we use to increase the likelihood that students are making creative choices as artists?


Homework (On Your Own)

In your journal, describe two recent students — one who displayed great progress in his or her development as an artist, and one who struggled. For each student, reflect in writing on these questions: 

Additional Resources


The Collaborative Classroom         Search for: collaborative classroom
Essay describing characteristics of collaborative classrooms, including teacher and student roles, interactions, challenges and conflicts, and relevant research

Constructing Knowledge In The Classroom        Search for: scimast constructing
An article that introduces teachers to constructivsm and how it can be employed in the classroom including six characteristics of the constructivist classroom

Instructional Grouping in the Classroom         Search for: ward grouping
An article on reasons and strategies for creating learning groups in the classroom

Working Toward Student Self-Direction & Personal Efficacy as Educational Goals         Search for: personal efficacy
Information and strategies enabling students to take charge of their own learning


Boody Fine Arts, Inc.        Select: Artists, then 3-Dimentional Art
Photo gallery of Dale Zheutlin’s ceramic artwork

Denver School of the Arts Performing Arts Department        Select: Majors, then Performing Arts Department
Department Web pages, including philosophy and course descriptions for Dance and Theatre

Denver School of the Arts Fine and Practical Arts Department        Select: Majors, then Fine and Practical Arts Department
Department Web pages, including philosophy and course descriptions for Stage Craft and Design, Video Cinema Arts, and Visual Art

East High School
East High School’s school web site

Mamaroneck High School Art Department        Select: Departments and Class Web Pages, then Art Department
Web page with student art gallery and description of course offerings

In Print

Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, & Brooks, Martin. In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Revised edition, 1999. ISBN: 0871203588

Presents a case for the development of classrooms in which students are encouraged to construct deep understandings of important concepts

Eisner, Elliot. The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0300095236

Examines different approaches to the teaching of the arts and the virtues each possesses when well taught

Hogan, Kathleen, & Pressley, Michael. Scaffolding Student Learning: Instructional Approaches and Issues. Brookline Books, 1997. ISBN: 1571290362

Addresses the how-tos of scaffolding students who need support to keep up, as well as those working to master difficult materials

Manning, Brenda H., & Payne, Beverly. Self-Talk for Teachers and Students: Metacognitive Strategies for Personal and Classroom Use. Allyn & Bacon, 1996. ISBN: 0205159486

Guides teachers to use metacognition to change the ways they think and learn so they will become more reflective, autonomous, proactive, and positive

Meichenbaum, Donald, & Biemiller, Andrew. Nurturing Independent Learners. Brookline Books, 1998. ISBN 1571290478

A framework for helping students acquire skills and strategies, and transfer them to increasingly complex, authentic tasks


Produced by Lavine Production Group, Inc., in collaboration with EDC's Center for Children and Technology and the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts. 2005.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-769-X