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How Art Teachers Institute Distance Learning

Shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders have made teaching tougher than ever. (Tell you something you don’t already know, right?) But how do art teachers institute distance learning when their classes have such a physical component?

For example, many of the classes at Arts Academy in the Woods in Fraser, Michigan, involve materials, group activities, and even an audience. Meeting these requirements in a digital environment is no easy feat.

Still, teachers of drama, music, visual arts, and dance all across the country have had to get creative. Which, fortunately, they’re good at doing.

How Art Teachers Institute Distance Learning 

Each area of discipline in the arts is faced with different challenges when it comes to distance learning. So we’ll take a look at some of the inspiring ways teachers across the country have risen to the challenge in the name of art.

Visual Arts

For visual artists, one of the fundamental issues is the lack of art supplies. So teachers had to quickly assess what projects would be possible given the limited supplies. Some educators have even mailed boxes of basic art supplies.

Then, of course, there’s the idea of creating art with what you already have. To encourage their creativity, teachers have challenged students to use basic household materials as their supplies.

For instance, creating clay from pantry supplies or repurposing styrofoam containers for printmaking purposes. Art can be produced from just about any found object from trash to food to laundry – you name it.

One educator even had the wonderful idea of having her students create a found-object color wheel. By gathering and/or photographing items of different hues, they gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between colors. 

“I’ve also been encouraging the use of unconventional materials since the beginning of the school year, so that is nothing new,” says AAW teacher Nathanial Ketchum. “But it’s one thing to say, ‘You can use this ketchup and dryer lint to make your art,’ and another for students to feel comfortable and secure using unconventional materials creatively or playfully… or to conceive of an idea that can utilize those materials. That is the art teacher’s struggle.”

And the struggle is real.


In the case of the arts that require an audience, it’s been tough for arts academy high school students who were in the midst of working on a performance only to lose the opportunity to showcase their efforts.

At one California middle school, a theater teacher was working with her students to perform The Little Mermaid before school closed. Obviously they won’t be able to perform the show as planned. But instead, she’s having them create lyrics for the songs about their experience in quarantine.

The truth is, teamwork and collaboration in performance-based classes and rehearsals are tough to re-create online. Even so, another teacher decided that the show must go on. 

Much like the cast of Saturday Night Live has managed to do, her students are going to do it online. They gather in a Google meet a few times per week to rehearse or play improv games. They’re also given assignments to create costumes from household materials.


Meanwhile, a music teacher is finding innovative ways to teach his students more than just the notes and rhythms they already know. He sends sheet music without titles for his students to learn. They record themselves playing it and then try to guess what the song is.

They end up spending one week learning the piece, and the following week recording their performance. This has worked out so well that he’s considering incorporating it into the curriculum once in-person schooling resumes.

Striking That Balance

The first few weeks of quarantine were especially tough for art teachers at arts academy middle schools and high schools. They knew that their students would be pressed for time trying to balance their end-of-the-year academic exams with projects and performances that now seemed out of reach.

In addition, some high school students in different parts of the country had to take jobs as essential workers in order to help out their families. This decreased the amount of time they could commit to their art studies.

Still, as with everything else during this pandemic shutdown, it’s been a matter of staying connected and figuring it out as we go.

Art Teachers Institute Distance Learning through Connection

The vast majority of art teachers have stayed connected with their students. Whether it’s through a virtual video chat, a phone call or an email, they stay abreast of the additional challenges art students face during this time.

“Some students need and want more challenges to achieve personal goals and I’ve been trying to work with them one-on-one,” says Ketchum. “But I firmly believe that what is most important for the majority of students is to keep them in the practice of making things for themselves no matter the quality of the techniques, subject matter, or concentration and time they put into it. So I am providing positive feedback for any sort of creative effort they make – no matter how small.”

In addition, educators are also constantly introducing new materials and resources that students can access online or in their homes. This allows them a break from their core academic coursework and stay connected with what makes them really thrive.

For example, one theater teacher was thrilled to learn about a musical that has been specifically designed for distance learning. Students record themselves performing individual monologues. When played in succession with other monologues, they create a complete storyline.

Whatever the case, keeping the fire of creativity going is key. As Ketchum says, “I want them to make art the way that they are most comfortable making art: for themselves, at their own pace and based on their own standards and needs. That is the spirit I want to foster, as a visual arts teacher, until we can regroup and go at it again next year!”

Learning through This Pandemic

When all is said and done, everyone will likely come away from this experience having learned new lessons. 

In the meantime, we applaud how our art teachers institute distance learning during this difficult time, as well as how the students of Arts Academy in the Woods continue to persevere.

And if you want to take advantage of the great education our school has to offer, contact us today. Creativity is everything these days. 


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