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How to give a Good Demonstration in Art?

By The Arty Teacher - January 18, 2020
What is a good demonstration in art?  We all know that when we do a demonstration, a large percentage of the class will be able to independently complete the task immediately afterward but there will also be a proportion of the class who will need more help. This smaller percentage will not have been able to retain the information required to complete the task without additional support. Of course, that is what we are there for, and we are happy to give this additional support by working one-to-one with students.

What is a good demonstration in art?  We all know that when we do a demonstration, a large percentage of the class will be able to independently complete the task immediately afterwards but there will also be a proportion of the class who will need more help.

This smaller percentage will not have been able to retain the information required to complete the task without additional support. Of course, that is what we are there for, and we are happy to give this additional support by working one-to-one with students.

But what if we could fine-tune our demonstrations so that more students were able to complete the task without needing this additional support?  How can we improve our demonstrations?  I think it helps to think about what a really good demonstration would include/not include, and what a less successful demonstration might include/not include.

A Less Successful Demonstration

The Task is demonstrated.

Extraneous information is included.

A Good Demonstration

The task is broken into steps

Students are reminded of the steps

No extraneous information

I could have included other things in the ‘Good Demonstration’ list such as the use of subject-specific language but I want to concentrate on the goal of getting the students to leave the demonstration knowing what to do.

It is worth mentioning cognitive load and cognitive load theory at this point.  Cognitive load refers to the used amount of working memory.  Our working memory is very limited and can only hold 4 – 7 chunks of information. We don’t want to overload students working memory and we want them to commit learning to their long term memory.  Cognitive Load Theory is a theory about learning built on the premise that since the brain can only do so many things at once, we should be intentional about what we ask it to do.

During a demonstration, we don’t want to overload a student’s brain with too many steps, we don’t want to distract them with extraneous information and we want to be sure that they start the task clearly knowing what the steps are.  Don’t go off at a tangent about the artist, or let students distract you down a different route.  Just concentrate on the clear steps you want your students to follow. Below are three models you could try for a successful demonstration.  Each requires you to have broken down the task into up to 4 easy to follow steps.  These need to be clear in your mind.

Demonstrate Twice.

A very simple idea is to go through the steps more than once.  Show your class, step by step the different stages.  Number the steps: firstly you… secondly you…  Then tell them that you are going to show them again so that they remember.  Go through the steps a second time.  The repetition and combination of visual and auditory learning will help your students retain the information they need.  This is nothing new.  2,400 years ago Aristotle is credited with saying “Tell them what you are going to say, say it and tell them what you said.”

Silent Demonstration and then Verbalised Demonstration

Tell your students you are going to demonstrate and then get them to describe the steps required to complete the task.  This builds on the idea that students should be focussing on just one thing.  In this instance just watching and taking in what you are doing.  Not even listening at this first stage.  You can then ask your class to describe the demonstration you have just given.  Discussion can really reinforce memory!  Then you demonstrate again, this time verbally breaking the demonstration down into steps.

Demonstration and Questioning

Before you demonstrate, tell your class you are going to ask them to repeat the steps of the demonstration back to you.  Then demonstrate and like above, show your class, step by step the different stages.  Number the steps: firstly you… secondly you…  Then ask your class to tell you the steps they need to go through.  What do you need to do first?  Get them to repeat the steps back to you.  Making them think is always going to help them retain information.  This is my preferred method of demonstrating.

Additionally, whichever method you go for, when your students are doing the task you can keep repeating the steps as you go around and help the students one-to-one.

I’d really love to know if you have a way to demonstrate in art lessons that works for you, that is not described above.  Please comment below.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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8 responses to “How to give a Good Demonstration in Art?”

  1. Bury says:

    What is the demonstration and whole group instructions in teaching art?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi, A demonstration in art is where you gather students around and show them how to use a particular material or technique. You usually break it down into steps to help them succeed. The instructions would be different depending on what you were doing. I hope this helps!

  2. Alan Payne says:

    Cheers Sarah! This is great information as a fellow art teacher. Thanks for challenging me as a first year teacher!

  3. Sonya Tijerina says:

    I use YouTube video and that helps me show each step at a time. It’s very easy to stop/start video and monitor the class by walking around checking on students progress. My biggest class is 18! I’ve never monitored more than that.

    But it might help. It also keeps the teacher available to the students without having to go over to demonstration area over and over.

    Just a thought.

    If the Arty Teacher could create video dems of watercolor art projects that would be awesome!

    Watercolor is my forte. I teach it a lot. Students seem to really love it. Using Jack Richeson moist tempera cakes has been so useful for me (except their black is awfully chalky….I substitute with ivory black). You can use watercolor techniques with their tempera cakes and the color is much more vibrant. I switch to real watercolor paint for my advanced classes.

  4. Cathy says:

    Demonstrating has become more challenging with larger classes now (30 +). I have started using a visualiser camera so that everyone stays in seats but I am not entirely convinced! It’s challenging demonstrating under camera and trying to ensure all students are watching. With this technique they are seeing things second hand which is a shame I feel .

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      It does get more difficult with class size. I think you can only do your best and using a visualiser camera is a good idea.

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