How to Differentiate Instruction in Art

4 Student Mindsets

Let’s take a practical look at how to differentiate instruction while teaching a drawing lesson based on 4 different mindsets you will probably find in your art classroom.

We all strive to create confident drawers and art makers through our instruction, but let’s be honest. Our students have a wide range of mindsets about art and drawing, especially at the beginning of the year. So how you get started with that first drawing lesson can make or break the confidence your students have throughout the remainder of the class.

I’m going to divide art students into 4 groups and talk about 4 different ways to motivate students based on their mindset or approach to drawing. This method is not meant to label students. Students’ mindsets might change throughout a project or vary according to the type of media they are using. This is a teaching strategy to help you diagnose where your students’ mindset might become an obstacle and provide the activities and resources that best fit their needs.

Some students have a hard time getting started and hesitate to draw due to a lack of confidence; some cannot decide what to draw because they have too many ideas and are afraid of making the wrong choice. And there are those students who enjoy drawing as long as they have step-by-step instructions that give them a predictable result. And some students want to do something different no matter what topic you give them. They want to change the lesson or do it in their own way. These are all examples of the kinds of mindsets you might find in your students.

It’s Not Just About Skill

These mindsets don’t always go along with their ability or skill level. For example, students with high ability have trouble getting started due to decision paralysis. They share the same fear of making mistakes as students who struggle with their motor skills or lack training. Another example is highly creative students have a wide range of skills (if we define “skills” as fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to draw realistically.)

I want to show you different ways to motivate students based on their mindset about drawing and use my Fall Roll A Doodle lesson as an example lesson and show you how I differentiate the lesson in 4 different ways to meet the needs of students.

1) Hesitant Students

Students can be hesitant to get started for various reasons, but it generally boils down to a lack of confidence. For some students, their lack of confidence stems from perfectionism and the fear of making a mistake. In others, it comes from a lack of drawing experience. However, the solution can be the same for both groups and involves giving students a project with variable outcomes and a focus on ideas instead of technique.

Another approach is to provide students with a drawing game or activity that can serve as an ice breaker to get students started in a fun way. For these students, playing a Roll A Doodle game is the perfect way for them to get started making a doodle drawing. Rolling the dice takes the pressure off, deciding what to draw, then students who need a little drawing help can refer to the step-by-step drawing pages to help them do each drawing. Students with higher drawing abilities might not need to look at the step-by-step drawing pages.

Another way to get Hesitant Students started is with a starter page that has part of the drawing begun. You’ll find several options in the Roll A Doodle sets, for example, a simple line frame with the words “Hello Fall” in the center of the page. Students can start with this page rather than a blank page to help them not be afraid to make the first mark. See samples of starter pages in the Fall Roll A Doodle lesson.

2) Comfort Seekers

The Comfort Seeker is that student that’s always asking, “Is this right?” The nice thing about doing a doodle drawing with them is that I give you a step-by-step approach to doing a lesson with a very creative and individual outcome. I break a doodle drawing down into layers that students can do to ensure that they fill the page. But what they put into the drawing is entirely up to them.

The students comfortable with having rules and more explicit directions will appreciate knowing the steps for a doodle drawing. For these students, you might give them the step-by-step drawing pages and ask them to add 6-8 images to their page. They might enjoy the Roll A Draw game, or they might already see some things that catch their eyes and want to make all their own choices. Either way is acceptable.

The Roll-A-Draw lessons include a variety of step-by-step examples so that students can see various outcomes that follow the same progression of drawing steps. I’ve also made a checklist and rubric. This will not only help the Comfort Seekers, but ALL students can check their progress and stay on track using either a rubric or checklist.

3) Outside-the-Box Thinkers

Some students have different ideas about how they want to do an art project or what to include in their drawing. Embrace their mindset by letting them take the doodle drawing in a different direction. You can use the same basic structure to help your Outside-the-Box Thinkers stay on track and learn how to make a doodle drawing while letting them explore different subject matter to add to the doodle drawing.

You might overwhelm some Hesitant Students if you asked them to do some research and come up with their own topics for their doodle drawing. However, it might be just what your Outside the Box Thinkers need to motivate them and invest them in the doodle drawing.

Let’s take the Fall Roll A Doodle lesson as an example. Maybe fall brings to mind something other than the traditional fall images. Maybe fall is a time that they compete in a sporting event or video game competition. Perhaps there is a family tradition or religious holiday that they would rather make the focus of their drawing. Let them run with it and do what you can to help them find images to use as reference. Have them notice how the images in a doodle are simplified and combined together with decorative doodles. Then have them substitute their own subject matter into the lesson.

4) Confident Students

Of course, we would all love a class of confident drawers (maybe even just once)! And we can strive to teach students to be more confident drawers. But even confident drawers need your instruction to fit their mindset and learning style.

Confident drawing students love drawing and want to improve their skills. They can become bored and distracted if the lesson is not engaging. They thrive when there is a clear lesson outline and opportunities to stretch their imagination and drawing skills.

Whenever you plan a lesson, be sure to think about how you can extend the lesson to challenge students with highly developed drawing skills.

Some typical ways to extend drawing lessons, including the doodle drawing lessons, is to add more three-dimensional space by using

  • overlap
  • shading
  • shadows
  • perspective lines

Some other ideas for confident students to add to extend any kind of drawing:

  • implied texture
  • dramatic lighting
  • expressions
  • fine details

How to Get Started with ALL Students

Give all students the same beginning introduction to the doodle drawing lesson. Then mention that they are not limited to the images in the Roll A Doodle pages. Most students will naturally stick to the references in front of them; they are easy to use and allow students to focus more on learning to doodle. However, your Outside-the-Box thinkers’ ears will perk up when they hear that they can come up with their own ideas. In no time, their wheels will be turning, and they will approach you with a unique idea that will make the lesson more personal to them.

Summing it Up

I specifically designed Expressive Monkey’s doodle drawing lessons to help you differentiate your lessons for four mindsets in art.

No matter which of the 4 mindsets your students have, there’s a way to encourage them to start a doodle drawing using the Roll A Doodle lessons from Expressive Monkey.

Teachers need to be flexible. For example, you might find that your students’ mindsets are more fluid and fall into different categories for different lessons. Talk to your struggling students to determine which approach best fits their needs. Given the strategies in this post, you have the tools you need to adjust your lessons to meet the needs of your students.

Using the Roll A Doodle lessons, you can hook your Hesitant Drawers with a drawing game or starter page. Reassure your Comfort Seekers that the lessons have steps to guide them and a checklist to keep them on track. Allow your Outside-the-Box Thinkers the freedom to come up with some of their own topics. And challenge your Confident Students with ways to extend the lessons by adding shading or more details.

Keep Ideas for how to Differentiate Instruction Handy

Use this free infographic as a quick reference on how to differentiate your lessons based on student mindset:

Click to download a copy of this page to print and remind you how to differentiate your doodle drawing lessons.

How you can try this idea:

You can see all the pages included in my Fall Roll A Doodle lesson here.

You might also be interested in these doodle drawing lessons for other seasons:

Winter Doodle Drawing Lesson

Spring Doodle Drawing Lesson

Summer Doodle Drawing Lesson

Or get the money-saving Doodle Bundle of Seasons so you can doodle all year long!

mannequin standing next to a white frame with the 3 rules to break inside the frame
Click on the image to get your free download of this infographic!

This infographic is a good reminder that kids, especially reluctant drawers, are in a special place that requires nurturing from their art teachers to cultivate confidence and a love of drawing. This is the perfect time to celebrate their ideas more than their technique and reward their efforts more than their finished product.

You can read more about 3 Rules to Break to Encourage Reluctant Drawers in this blog post.


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Stacey Peters

Stacey Peters

I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art. I'm a former elementary art teacher of 25 years turned business owner. Giving you the tools you need to bring more drawing into your classroom brings me joy.

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