About Sarah DeWitt Brooks

I am an elementary art teacher for grades K-6 in Northern Virginia. I am trying to find the balance between creating lessons that are personally meaningful to my students while teaching and reinforcing 21st century skills and visual art skills and techniques. I am also interested in integrating technology for instruction and student artmaking in my classroom. On the side, I am a mixed media artist dabbling in drawing, painting, printmaking, art journaling and digital photography.

Introducing Project-Based Learning in the Art Room: Sixth Grade Yearbook Cover Design

This year our school has embraced project-based learning with open arms. It has been so exciting to see our school district embracing creativity and critical thinking more and more. Teachers are being encouraged to transform their classrooms into places where students own their learning and are challenged to find solutions to real world problems. 

As art teachers, we are lucky to have a leg up in the creativity department. We have been challenging our students to solve artmaking problems with creativity all along! I have found that making a few simple tweaks to my lessons makes them even more engaging to my students.

In project-based learning, students are presented with a guiding question that initiates the inquiry process. Each year my sixth graders are challenged with designing an original yearbook cover design. This year I presented this lesson using the project-based learning framework. Students were asked how they could, as graphic designers, design an original yearbook cover that represents the collective identity of Oakton Elementary students.Next, students generated a list of Need to Knows that included things like: What is a graphic designer? What materials can we use? How do we represent Oakton students? What size is the design? How will we use the computer while creating our designs? These questions guided us through the rest of the project. Each week I delivered instruction that addressed the Need to Knows that the students had created. I provided basic information regarding the basic requirements for the assignment such as size, media, and deadlines, but the specific content and imagery was left up to my students to generate, within the framework of the challenge. Since our yearbook cover needs to represent our school as a whole, collective student identity was a seamless fit with our grade level big idea of Identity. During a round robin brainstorming session, students collaborated to generate lists of ideas that represent our school. I collected all of these ideas and used them to create a Wordle that illustrated our most common ideas, and we discussed the importance of selecting ideas that were recognizeable symbols for our school. We also discussed the potential of using less obvious ideas to create more original responses to the challenge. 

The following week I invited a guest artist to talk to my students about graphic design. Our visiting artist Anna Dunn taught students the definition of graphic design, shared her portfolio of work, and participated in a Q & A session where students had the opportunity to ask questions that helped them understand their own roles as graphic designers more clearly. While I could have taught a lesson on graphic design myself, having a “real artist” instead of your art teacher talk about the design process was much more engaging and meaningful to my students. Mrs. Dunn confirmed all that I have taught my students about creating thumbnail sketches, making revisions, and refining ideas throughout the artmaking process. Student buy-in was higher this year than I have seen in the past, and students were eager to start sketching and working on their final designs.While students worked on their thumbnail sketches, Mrs. Dunn consulted with students on their thumbnail sketches, encouraging students to develop more than one thumbnail, and providing critiques that assisted with final revisions.Students had the choice of two-dimensional materials including colored pencil, crayon, markers, and cut paper. I encouraged students to choose the media they felt was their strongest, or the one with which they felt most comfortable.After two weeks working on their illustrations in and out of art class, I gave a brief introduction to Google Drawings. I created a blank 8.5 x 11 template and shared it via Google Classroom, then demonstrated how students could photograph and upload their image to Google Drive using an iPad, We then open the image in Google Drawings where they experimented with font style, color, size, and placement to complete their graphic design. Students had one class period to make the final edits to their designs and submitted them to me digitally through Google Classroom. Five finalists were selected from each sixth grade class and submitted to the yearbook editor. These were then narrowed down to four back cover runners up and one front cover winner. Additional images will be included throughout the pages of the finished yearbook.I was so proud of my students for their diligence and hard work throughout the project. I also felt proud to see how thoughtfully they engaged in the inquiry process to create unique solutions to the challenge. Students were proud of their fellow classmates and are excited to see the final outcome when they receive their printed yearbooks in the spring.

2nd Grade-People at Work Part 2

My second graders finished their community worker collages last week. A few of these are the completed version of the backgrounds In my last post, but I’ve included a few extras because I love them so much. 

Second graders are really starting to understand the concept of overlapping now that they have built their artwork in two separate layers. I was proud to see how many students used overlapping in the backgrounds of their collages before we even added the figure. 

Art Teacher

Scientist

PE Teacher

Crossing Guard

Music Teacher

Librarian

Soccer Coach

Postal Service Worker

Landscaper

Librarian

Mrs. Brooks-art teacher!

2nd Grade People at Work-Collage Background

My second graders have been working on a collage that shows a community helper and where they work in our community. Last week we sketched, and today we created the background of our collages, which shows the place our selected community helper could be found. Can you guess which community helpers we will be making next week, based on their backgrounds?


art teacher, mailman, pizza delivery person, librarian, office administrator, landscaper, librarian.

3rd Grade Portraits of Our Friends

I have been out for doctors appointments and professional development meetings, so I’ve had a sub in the art room multiple times this week. My  third graders were so successful drawing portraits while partnered up with their classmates that I decided to continue the lesson with my other third grade class today. I called this a “Show What You Know” moment-students had to show why they know about facial proportions and crayon craftsmanship without any intervention from me. Each student worked with their face partner at their table, looking carefully and paying close attention to the details that made their friend unique. The next time I have a sub, they will work to complete a background for their portrait that tells more about their friend. Love this lesson so much and enjoyed watching my students work so carefully to do their best portrait drawing.