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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Video Library K-5

Teaching Visual Art

Two visual art specialist teachers use contrasting interpretations of the human face to explore inquiry–based instruction and various techniques in visual art. Pamela Mancini, the visual art teacher at Helen Street School in Hamden, Connecticut, uses portraits to foster inquiry and self-expression with a class of fifth-graders. At Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, New York, MaryFrances Perkins introduces mask–making to a second–grade art class. In making their own masks, students examine the concept of symmetry, study the vocabulary word for the day, and learn that masks are found in cultures throughout the world.

View Transcript

In art class, second-graders at Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, New York, make stylized masks with exaggerated features.

Two visual art specialist teachers use contrasting interpretations of the human face to explore inquiry-based instruction and various techniques in visual art:

  • At Helen Street School in Hamden, Connecticut, visual art teacher Pamela Mancini uses portraits from two periods in history to help a fifth-grade class discover that there is more to a painting than meets the eye. After examining the paintings, students draw original portraits, expressing information about their subjects through expression, clothing, background, technique, and other visual cues. They conclude the lesson by sharing their responses to each other’s work.“Visual art gives students a time to wind down and express themselves,” says Mancini. “They have the freedom of making choices; they learn from making the decisions that they make. They learn to look at their work in a different way.”
  • At Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, New York, MaryFrances Perkins introduces mask-making to a second-grade art class. By making their own masks, students examine the concept of symmetry, study the vocabulary word for the day, and learn that masks are found in cultures throughout the world. Children gain skills and confidence with the art form as they identify common characteristics of masks, such as exaggerated features and decoration, and relate the shapes of eyes and noses to geometrical shapes they have learned.

Featured People

Who’s Who
(In order of appearance)

  • Pamela Mancini, visual art teacher, Helen Street School, Hamden, Connecticut (See interview below)
  • MaryFrances Perkins, visual art teacher, Ridgeway Elementary School, White Plains, New York


Featured Approaches

Portraits From Two Periods

  • Students look at clothing, hairstyles, background, and other clues in Southern Belle, a work by the 19th-century German artist Erich Correns, to learn more about the cultural context of the painting and its subject.
  • Examining Head of a Negro by Peter Paul Rubens, students speculate about the strong emotions expressed in the eyes and other features of the 17th-century subject.


Gaining Skills and Confidence

MaryFrances Perkins purposely keeps the demonstration mask she makes very simple, so students do their own work and are not tempted to copy her work. “There is no right or wrong in art — what anyone does is great. Our word is ‘awesome.’ It’s pleasing for me to see that they exchange ideas and that they are respectful,” she says.

Perkins observes that students have grown more confident in their work throughout the year. “In September, they normally start out saying, ‘I can’t do it; would you please help me?’ Now, all of them have grown. They are more willing to take a risk, take a chance, and [know that] it’s okay to make mistakes.”


Featured Schools

Helen Street School

  • Location: Hamden, Connecticut
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Richard Balisciano
  • Featured teacher: Pamela Mancini, visual art teacher
  • Grades: K–6
  • Number of students: 400

Each morning, all the students at the Helen Street School walk to school, where the old-fashioned school bell greets them on their way in. The tight-knit community strives to provide a safe environment that meets the social, emotional, physical, aesthetic, and academic needs of its students. The curriculum emphasizes various learning styles and the importance of the individual.

The school stresses cooperation in both classes and community. With funding from the state’s department of education, the school runs an internship program with nearby Quinnipiac University. Graduate students work as both student teachers and interns throughout the course of two years. In 2002, about 30 Quinnipiac students joined the elementary school, working with the children in small groups and offering after-school tutoring.

Information provided by Helen Street School. Current as of July 2002.


Ridgeway Elementary School

  • Location: White Plains, New York
  • Principal: Sandi Cangialosi
  • Grades: K–5
  • Featured teachers: Monica Bermiss, third-grade teacher; MaryFrancis Perkins, visual arts teacher
  • Number of students: 600
  • Demographic information: The student population is 33 percent Caucasian, 33 percent African-American, and 33 percent Hispanic.

Ridgeway School is located about 30 miles northwest of New York City. Ridgeway is a Child Development Project school that emphasizes children’s intellectual, moral, and ethical development. The school’s theme of “global understanding” addresses issues relating to diversity and the environment.

Educators support students’ roles as producers of their own knowledge in this caring community of learners. The school uses a “thinking curriculum” in which knowledge and thinking are intertwined. Teachers use the Balanced Literacy approach to teach reading and writing and offer students hands-on experiences in mathematics and science. Classroom activities are designed to foster creativity, a sense of community, mutual respect among children, and an understanding of the world in which they live. Hallways and classrooms are organized and decorated to celebrate students’ work in the arts and academic subjects.

Information provided by Ridgeway Elementary School. Current as of May 2002.

Who Should Watch This Program

Showcasing teaching practices and classroom management ideas from two experienced visual art specialists, “Teaching Visual Art” is a strong professional development tool for both classroom and specialist teachers. Other audiences for this program might include:

  • curriculum or arts project planners, to expand their ideas about integrating visual art into other subject areas and to demonstrate how art specialists apply standards to their curriculum;
  • visiting artists or a local arts organizations, to lead off a brainstorming session on collaborative visual art projects with your school; and
  • school board members, parent groups, and potential funders, to demonstrate how visual art can be used to engage children, promote inquiry, and enhance learning in other academic subjects.

Before Watching

In this program, both classes are carefully planned and structured in their content and teaching practices:

  • Pamela Mancini gives students clear and specific guidelines for creating their portraits. She keeps a detailed record of each lesson and maintains portfolios of each student’s work so she can assess their progress.
  • MaryFrances Perkins aligns mask-making with academic subject matter, including vocabulary, social studies, and geometry. She and the students refer to a checklist posted on the ceiling to verify that they use all the space on the paper, work neatly, add detail, and follow instructions.

Consider how planning and structure are important in a visual art class. How does order promote creativity?

What are some other examples of how structure in these two classrooms impacts students’ work?



Pamela Mancini
Pamela Mancini has a bachelor’s degree in art education with a minor in psychology and a master’s degree in art education, both from Southern Connecticut State University. Initially, she taught art to grades seven and eight. After staying home for 14 years to raise three children, she returned to education in 1997 to teach kindergarten through grade six.

Q. How often do you work with each class? Do you check what the students are doing in other subjects and coordinate your art lessons?

A. I meet with students one time each week for 50 minutes. I keep a copy of each grade level’s curriculum with my own art curriculum guide. When I plan lessons, I include this information to encourage interdisciplinary learning. I also encourage teachers to keep me informed of new activities or special projects so that I may help reinforce learning with a hands-on activity in art.

Q. What standards were addressed in the portrait class? How could you assess students’ progress in picking up clues through observation?

A. In the portraiture lesson, students were required to recognize and discuss emotional qualities in artwork. They were asked to look closely at two different portraits and discuss what they could learn about the artist. Details gave clues as to the time period, mood, social status, and artist’s style and ability. Discussion of works of art by two or more artists — comparison, contrast, and critical analysis — was another standard addressed.

Students were asked to create a portrait that portrayed a mood or feeling, using color to help in the expression. They were asked to include details to give the portrait a place in time. Several choices of materials were available, as another standard includes making decisions and choosing materials and techniques when creating a work of art.

To assess students’ progress as they worked, I would look for details — facial expressions, smiles, frowns, an open mouth — that would help tell the mood. Other details, such as clothing styles and logos on clothing, helped to set a time period. Adding color came later but helped to express the overall mood. As students worked, I often stopped the class. I would hold one piece up and discuss what we can see or learn “so far” from the work in progress.

Q. Do you have the opportunity to work with other visual art specialists? If so, how? Please describe your school’s Artist Writers Workshop.

A. I am the only visual art specialist in my school. I get together monthly with seven other elementary art teachers in town to share ideas. We do this on a voluntary basis on our own time.

The Artist Writers Workshop (AWW) program in our town was started six or seven years ago and was based on a program developed by Karen Ernst, author of Picturing Learning: Artists & Writers in the Classroom. Several art teachers participate, along with several classroom teachers who attended an informational workshop. At Helen Street School, for AWW, I meet with students every other week for a double block of time (110 minutes). I rotate classes throughout the year, grades two to six.

We start with either a story or by looking at a famous work of art. We discuss, then use this information for our creative inspiration. Students have a choice of materials and artistic style but often have a theme to think about. We listen to music while creating and while writing. The writing process takes 15 to 20 minutes and may include poetry, a narrative or a reflective piece about their artwork. The last 20 minutes are used to share artwork and writing, with students asking for responses from other students about their work.

Arts Education Standards

Visual Arts

    • Content Standard 1 — Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Achievement Standards for Grades K-4

      • Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories
    • Content Standard 4 — Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and culture

Achievement Standards for Grades K-4

      • Identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places
    • Content Standard 5 — Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

Achievement Standards for Grades K-4

    • Understand there are different responses to specific artworks

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.