Jan 8, 2014

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Do Students Need to Plan?

As a former project manager, I understand fully the importance of the phases of a project’s life cycle. These include initiation, planning, implementation and closing. These four phases translate very neatly into a model lesson plan. The teacher initiates the lesson by presenting the project and the desired outcome. The students plan out their ideas on paper and then implement their plans by creating final works of art. The closing phase can be anything from a class critique to entering the work in an exhibit.

Most teachers would agree that all these phases are important and necessary, especially the planning phase. This phase provides the student the opportunity to gather ideas and develop thumbnails. Many teachers even dictate the number of ideas the student should write down and subsequent number of thumbnails.


While teachers seemingly understand the value of planning, many students do not. Some students comply with the planning phase, writing their lists and drawing their thumbnails. However, there isn’t a teacher reading this that hasn’t heard  students complain asking why they have to write their ideas down as they already know what they want to do. The students’ resistance begs the question: Is there always a true value to planning? Is it possible that these students are right? Do all students always need to plan?

Many people are natural planners. I myself like to gather my thoughts on paper. I write lists and scribble down ideas that I later assemble into more concrete plans. However, this is a rather abstract method of thinking and many people are more hands on.

Hands on people don’t think on paper but rather think by doing. To ask these types of planners to write down their ideas is an exercise in futility. These type of planners need to physically hold the objects they will be working with. They need to experiment and play with the materials to see what results form. It is through this manipulation that a concrete planner develops ideas.

Furthermore, concrete planners may not prototype at all. They may move directly from the manipulation phase into the development phase, their experiment transforming into their final work.

It is still possible to capture the concrete planners’ idea on paper. To do this, give them time first to play with the materials, then have them go back afterwards and describe the process that led to the final product. Have them explain what they did with the materials, what worked and what did not. This method may provide even more insight into the planning phase of your students’ projects, even if they didn’t plan.


We’d love to know: What kind of planner are you? 

Do you have students plan out projects ahead of time or let them jump right in? 

Do you think there is value to the planning phase, or is it just wasted class time?




IanThis article was written by AOE Team member Ian Sands. Ian is the incredibly creative HS Art Teacher from Apex High in North Carolina. Ian is originally from NYC where he received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts.

About Ian | Ian’s Articles

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  • Lisa

    I do direct my high school students to plan with at least 4 thumbnail sketches. Even if they complain it still does cause them to broaden their thinking which is beneficial in stretching them beyond where they thought they could go. While a few students do go back to their original idea, more students expand or add to that idea and many students end up with a different idea they came up with. I also urge students to continue to make changes in a rough draft of their chosen idea then more changes in the final project. This covers the “plan” by doing method but really it’s not planning, it’s experimenting or editing.
    I have been letting my 4th and 5th graders jump right in after brainstorming and the results are disappointing. Starting this week I will direct these elementary students to make a preliminary sketch in hopes that they make the project with more thought and dedication to meaning and craftsmanship.

  • Paul

    Teaching 3rd, 4th 5th and 6th graders,I always encourage the students to plan their works. Depending on the students I modify the number of sketches / samples / thumbnails, but usually I expect around 3 ideas and then sometimes a draft culmination of the three. The emphasis is for the planning experience to be less painful and more generative, so for some students it might just be a one-to-one discussion.
    I do however sometimes wonder what it would be like to scrap the planning phase. What would the results be like? If one could time travel and repeat the experiment, I am sure it would be quite revealing.
    Our work is not an exact science and as such I am sure this is another of those areas we will continue to wrestle with.