Teaching with Contemporary Art


Illustration by Deirdre O’Sullivan

More than ever it’s important to do ourself a big favor by documenting our work with students. Whether we’re sharing video of students engaged in a particular unit of study with parents, utilizing photos when building portfolios, or displaying works of art through a digital gallery, keeping a digital camera and video camera close by can be a wonderful habit to fall into… if you’re not already doing so.

About once a week I will walk through our hallways and take photos of colleagues’ work with their classes (see Deirdre’s photo above). I will also occasionally take candid shots of students at work or even teachers doing a demonstration in the classrooms. Sometimes I will ask students to take the video camera and record a reflection about their work or interview a classmate. Many of these photographs and videos make their way to a variety of places where they get shared, including:

  • The district website and annual calendar
  • Online galleries and an in-school digital gallery
  • Promotional materials for our visual arts department
  • Professional development workshops
  • Parent workshops
  • Teacher portfolios
  • Online class web pages

Everyone has a system that works for them and mine includes keeping folders of student work on the computer in order to share work from alumni with students I’m currently teaching. I will also keep folders on my desktop that are full of visual examples for each of the units I teach. As the unit progresses, I share a few examples at a time in order to steer clear of overwhelming my classes.

At different points writing this column over the years I have suggested positive routines and rhythms we want to embrace as contemporary art educators. Documenting our work regularly through photographs and video can be used as a tool for reflection, assessment, and best of all, celebration.