Jan 4, 2013

Posted by | 37 Comments

Do You Use Teacher Samples?

Today I’d love to chat about perhaps one of the most controversial topics in art education. The teacher sample.


Before I tell you which side of the fence I fall on, let’s dig a little deeper into the heart of the issue. Proponents of teacher samples believe that it is important for students to see a finished example so that they have a big picture idea of where the project is headed. They view the sample as a visual resource for students. Teachers that object to samples believe that it stifles students’ creativity. All of the student work ends up looking like the teacher’s. Opponents of teacher samples also feel that a sample done by a teacher provides an unrealistic standard to live up to, causing frustration for students that can’t make their work look “right.”

With all of the good reasons for NOT providing a teacher sample, you may be surprised to find that I fall into the other camp. I like providing a teacher sample. Here is my reasoning.

I feel like my teacher sample serves a few important purposes:

1. Making a teacher sample allows me to work out any kinks in the lesson before I begin it with students. It’s difficult to teach something you haven’t tried yourself.

2. I mentioned the second reason I like using a teacher sample above; a finished sample lets students see the big picture before they begin. I feel like this is especially important when students are starting a project that will last for several weeks.

3. I believe that it is important for students to see me not only as a teacher but also as an artist. On my whiteboard, I have a space for each grade level where I hang my teacher samples for all current lessons. When students enter the room, they can quickly glance at the board to see what we are working on that day. They also love to see and ask about what other grade levels are working on, which makes them excited about projects they will get to do as they get older.

sampleboard copy

One final reason that I like to use teacher samples is that it has brought about some great discussions dealing with creativity and ability with my students. Since I often present students with historical and contemporary artwork during lessons, they are now used to viewing artwork as a resource rather than as something to copy. That is true whether they are looking at a Picasso, a teacher sample, or an example of another students’ work. In addition, the question, “Mrs. Heyn, how are you so good at art?” opens up a great discussion about dedication and practice.

So, I’d love to know.

Which side of the fence do you fall on?

Teacher sample or no teacher sample? Let’s talk!

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  • Bryan Kugiyama

    Great topic, Jessica. I just finished a course in my undergraduate art education program that addressed this issue. I personally feel it depends on the type of lesson in whether it calls for a teacher’s sample or not. I think more open-ended art lessons where imaginative expression is more important than artistic technical skills, doesn’t necessarily need a teacher’s sample. My target age group to teach are the early childhood years, and I think for K-2nd grade especially, it is important to foster the child’s natural artistic development as these are the formative years of how they will view and think about art and their personal artmaking for the rest of their school years/life. I 100% agree with your first reason, I think all art teachers (if the time permits), should create/try out every art lesson before they teach it, but how about doing a demo in class and leaving the product partially finished? By introducing an art lesson and leaving the product partially finished, students will understand the foundation of the project and will allow their own natural creative directions to form the rest of the project. Of course, during the lesson the teacher could work on and eventually finish the product along with the students, as this will also help remind the teacher of any potential artmaking “roadblocks” along the way for their students.These are just my thoughts, and I am really thrilled that you brought up such an important (on-going) topic for art educators! Thank you!!

    • Jessica Balsley

      Thanks to Amanda for this topic, she is the writer for this article! Great discussion! I like your suggestion of working along with the students as they work (if the chaos of the art room will permit it, I know it can be done) – Kids really appreciate this gesture and it teaches a lot, as you mentioned.

    • Amanda Heyn

      Hi Bryan,

      I totally agree with your idea that it depends on the project. For example, I recently did a lesson with my first graders about inventions, in which I felt a sample would have been stifling. I also love your idea of working alongside the students.

  • Ms Novak

    I agree it depends on the project – but it also deeply depends on the group of students.

    I often don’t finish teacher examples — have too many classes and too many projects to actually finish examples – besides even when I do finish one I demonstrate things and end up with a bunch of half finished one anyway.
    I find what works best for my students and I (with a few exceptions) is that we do a class brainstorming picture together. So no matter what we are making I do the demonstration based on their ideas – this way kids can borrow ideas from the example without it feeling like they are copying the teacher. I also make sure to make a point with my students that theirs should NOT look like mine (I have even gone as far as having students start over that copy the example we did as a class). Letting students know that they can use ideas but NOT the whole thing gives the kids that need a little extra encouragement some support but also keeps kids from flat out copying.

    If I have a class that as a whole is stuck on making theirs like mine – I erase our class example off the board.

    • Amanda Heyn

      Yes! I love brainstorming with the class so that we create an example together. I use that technique for many of my projects. I agree that it helps students get ideas without feeling like they’re copying. I too have had students start over if it looks just like mine, but since we talk about creativity and originality so much, I find that the number of students that copy has gone way, way down.

      • Ms Novak

        Agreed! Most of my students at this point don’t even hesitate to run with their own ideas because it is what I expect. When I get new students that aren’t use to that the group brainstorm example is a great way for them to step into projects feeling comfortable and successful.

  • Jessica Balsley

    I believe in both methods, and it all depends upon the project. One nice solution I’ve found that is a “happy medium” is to take photos of past class’s artwork from the pervious year. Then, I put them at the end of the Power Point I used to introduce the new lesson to a fresh group. This way, the examples are from students their age and skill level, but still provide motivation and a concrete sample of what I am looking for (quality wise) to move the project forward. Giving students a big picture idea of where the project is going, plus show a variety of “right answers” that other students their age have come up with seemed to work very well.

    • Stephanie

      This is what I do, too! I teach High School so it is a tiny bit different, but I show a variety of past Drawing and Painting 1 students’ work to current Drawing and Painting 1 students. I make sure to show many different outcomes to encourage creativity. It seems “do-able” when I say “this is from last year’s MIHS Drawing and Painting 1 students”

    • Ms. Novak

      Agreed! I do this more so with clay projects that are sometimes overwhelming for students to start. Giving them ideas from other students in the past helps them jump start while also having realistic goals.

    • Alice Gentili

      This is what I do, too. I also show student work in progress as we begin subsequent classes, reminding the class what the next steps are while assessing what has already been done. I like this, too, because it allows them to see that they all work at a different pace and they can see what others are doing, which may spark an idea. That being said, I make a sample as a trial before teaching the lesson just to work the bugs out. Great topic for discussion!

  • Vicky Siegel

    I love this topic, too. I always make a teacher example. When people ask me if I do my own artwork, I respond that during the school year I make my teacher examples, but in the summer I make my own artwork! It is still my outlet either way! Making an example is a way for me to know what works or doesn’t, what size paper will work, or which supplies to get ready. But- when we start the project and brainstorm, my example is ALWAYS different. I turn the paper a different way, use student ideas, etc., and then always tell the students that all of our work should be different! I love holding up other students’ work, too, midway through projects, or show the next class work from the class before. That way students know what their peers are capable of doing, and they also gain to ideas.

  • Sue

    Nope always student examples….If none available I in list friends and family.

    • Amanda Heyn

      I bet your friends and family have a lot of fun! :)

  • RWS

    It depends on the project. Sometimes it helps to demonstrate (and show mistakes along the way…the kids LOVE catching me “cheat” while demonstrating a blind contour drawing and seeing how hard it is for me to do a continuous line drawing. I show how it’s OK to make a mistake and keep going. I completely agree that MOST projects should be attempted in private so you know the process/pitfalls and then can use your class time instructing instead of demonstrating. I NEVER show student examples because kids are unique and don’t like to be compared to anyone. If I do a demo (for say a foam-paper printing lesson so they can feel how deep my grooves are), I don’t do the same subject matter and I hide or chuck my example immediately, otherwise kids ALWAYS try to copy my attempt instead of using their own imaginations. In some cases, (like paper sculpture techniques like paper curls, making cones and attachments) we do the project together and they remember and learn, instead of just watching and forgetting.

    • Amanda Heyn

      I agree about making mistakes in front of them. I like showing them that mistakes are just a part of the process, especially with drawing. Erasing is just part of the process!

  • Art on my hands

    I always make a teacher sample. I want to work the project myself to get a feel for how I might present it to my students as well as working out the kinks or adding my own personal twist or extension. I don’t always share the teacher example and when I do it is often after the student works are completed.

    • Amanda Heyn

      I like the idea of showing your example after the kids are finished with theirs!

  • Mrs.C

    I always make a teacher example. I agree that it helps to work out the kinks in the lesson and helps me to plan out how I am going to teach the lesson. It helps the students to see the end result of what we are going to do. I also do step by step examples so they can see where we will be after a class( it will take several classes for us to finish) I have been having this same conversation with a fellow blogger recently, Mrs.Impey from Art Room 104. When a student likes something I have done in my example I let them “share” my idea but they also need to put their own creative spin on it. I see it as being the same as all of us arty bloggers sharing ideas and inspiration with each other! Great discussion! :)

  • Mrs. Slinkman

    I always make an example of the project for myself, to plan out how I will teach the lesson and what problems the students might run into along the way, but I do not always show it to my classes. If the lesson includes new media or a specific technique I always demonstrate for my students. If I do share my example with them, I never leave it up for them to see as they work, as I have learned that they like to copy. I also will show them a variety of examples, including student samples. I always make it clear that these are examples, and that their work should be their own.

  • Vicky

    I have used both teacher samples and student samples. The main reason for me to do a sample is to iron out any kinks or problems and allow students to see the big picture to help them know where they are headed. Sometimes we get into a discussion with comparing and contrasting the student sample with the teacher sample, pointing out positives and negatives for both. I believe this practice really helps students to realize that their product will be unique and does not have to be “perfect”.

    • Amanda Heyn

      I agree, Vicky! It’s so important for kids to see that there are so many ways to do something “right.”

  • Chris

    For most elementary lessons that have any complexity, I have a teacher sample. If it is something I need to demonstrate, I make the demonstration sample different from the original teacher sample. Over time,some lessons now have a variety of teacher samples. I do not leave them up while students are working.

    At the high school level, I try to have student examples &/or visuals of professional art work. I sometimes have teacher samples, but not always the whole project. I try not to show just one example, whether teacher or student made. In ceramics I have a collection of tiles showing different decorating
    techniques. These are not finished works, just samples of the technique. I demonstrate as well, especially new skills or techniques.

    • Amanda Heyn

      I love that you mentioned you make your demonstration sample different from your teacher sample. I do that as well. I think it really helps kids see that there are many ways to solve the same problem!

  • Nina

    I always make a teacher sample so I know the steps I want students to follow. I do have a debate currently with myself about showing the example to students. This is only my second year teaching and I have yet to decide my opinion on the matter. I work with a high amount of ESOL level students often I find that because of the language barrier they will copy line for line my example. So I have started walking away from displaying teacher examples. This has its drawbacks of students not always grasping criteria but, none of my students copy my example. I guess if I really had to say if I am for teacher samples or not I would say it depends highly on the population of students I am teaching.

  • Peggy

    I just read all the comments. I have been teaching middle school students for 15 years. I do use teacher samples for almost all my lessons. However, I do not always show the students a finished project at the beginning. Sometimes they are well into the steps required before I show them the finished project. I actually just had to work this exact concept out this last week. I had 2 different groups of students who were starting a new lesson. One of the groups has a lot of difficulty seeing the whole and do much better with a step-by-step approach. They did not see the teacher sample first, as they would have been overwhelmed. The other group is very good at looking at the whole and then figuring out how to get there. They saw the sample first. So, I guess I rely on what I know about my kids.

    • Jessica Balsley

      It sounds like you are a great teacher – very responsive to student needs and realistic about what kids can handle. Thanks for sharing!

  • Teresa

    samples are a must…to just describe without a finished project often times does not inspire the students.. I seldom have leftover student samples as they take them with them. A project I am ready to present of Sedufo cloth I had the opportunity to take photos and a bit of video of art educators at a workshop (AZ Art Ed. Conference). I think it is great to show that all though all of us were given the same assignment we did not copy and that even adults enjoy learning!

  • Lynn73

    I have taught all grade levels, k-12, and have always made teacher examples. Like so may others it gives me a chance to wrap my brain around what I am asking of my students and to work out any kinks or direction clarifications. Selfishly I make them because usually the projects I teach are ones I would have wanted to do myself. Sometimes, though, I will make a new example right alongside my students…they enjoy watching me draw, and it shows them that I am still an artist with a skill to practice and new things to learn! =].

  • Kristen

    For me it depends on the lesson. I often do demonstrations on how to begin, and then often will continue to work right along with them but a step or two ahead so they can get an idea of where things are going, but usually I do show student examples. Unless I am starting a project that I have never done before, I like to show examples of really well done work by other students. Although this may create a level that some might not be able to reach, I feel that it shows my students the quality of work that I am expecting from them and gives them something to reach for. I feel they put more effort into the work because they are striving to meet my high expectations. I teach high school art though and would probably do that differently if I taught lower grades. Although I do feel there is much to learn from the “process”, I also do expect my students to work hard to create well done finished pieces.

    In all honesty, sometimes I don’t create a teacher example because I know that I have better student examples. I don’t excel at every genre of art, so there may be certain areas that we cover where I know a past students work will serve better to show the quality and skill of that work that I am looking for. Again, I know that all students are not at the skill level to achieve that, but my goal is to push them to at least try to reach that level, while also making them feel proud for accomplishing whatever skill level they reach, as long as they tried their hardest.

  • Sara Gmitro

    I love this strategy! I struggled with samples for a few years until deciding that student samples worked out best. I make a slideshow of various student projects, from high to low, and then the students use the objectives to identify some things that worked or didn’t work. By looking at the work of their peers, my middle-schoolers are able to loosen up a bit and not get so fixated on the “right answer”. Thanks for all the comments!

    • Amanda Heyn

      Sara, what a great idea to have students discuss a range of solutions!

  • Susan

    I always use teacher samples, let be realistic…if you are teaching in [most] public school situations you have potentially 500+++ kiddos and you see them one time a week (if there is no field trip, assembly or vacation day). There is not always a lot of time for experimentation. You have a curriculum to be accomplished. Giving the students a vision for the end helps them work towards that goal!

  • Carolina Elizabeth

    I absolutely agree. I wish more teachers felt that way. Another reason I use my samples, is that I don’t like collecting too much stuff and I feel guilt free when throwing away my own samples.

    • Amanda Heyn

      Great point, Carolina.

  • Jayne

    It is fine to have a teacher sample and/or a student sample. Student’s who copy may need to copy for awhile. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with copying, I used to but I don’t anymore. I don’t encourage copying but I do give my students the freedom to copy (I’m just really lucky because I teach high school and it has never been a problem). It is great if students feel confident enough to express themselves in their own way but for some students it takes them awhile. Sometimes I think students are harder on themselves if they look at any amazing student sample that seems unattainable to them, but they can give themselves a break if the teacher did it.

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  • Lisa Willing

    I almost always show examples. If not mine then that of a past pupil and sometimes both. I fully believe in setting the standard high and my pupils usually always produce better than I expected. I have tried without showing them and was no where near as pleased with the results. I find even with the samples their artwork comes out different and very individual with only a few exceptions. I usually start the project in front of them as a demo showing techniques and use of the media and then pull out a few completed works to show them how they can go in different directions with the project. If a project is repeated I keep the past samples and I go on to complete the demonstration pieces as the children like to see me work and I go adding onto it as I introduce it to the other 3 classes of that year. I also truly believe the children need to see the teacher as an artist and yes I am often asked how did I get to be so good. Practice ! Great topic!

  • Kjones

    I try to give a lot of art history examples that are relevant if possible- usually more so to show possibilities of media. Often I also work while they are working.

    I have noticed that when I show my example before they start that they do tend to mimic what I have made. I want them to have to think about their own ideas. I think it also depends on the grade and level of ability.