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Social Emotional Learning in Art

social emotional learning in art - a group of kids with backpacks on and their arms in the air

Your art class is more than increasing skills and making pictures. When your students come to you, they have a place to express their emotions and ideas throughout, learn to manage their art projects, self-evaluate their progress, cooperate with others, critique art, and problem-solve until they’ve created a work of art that they are proud of.

I turned each of these areas of SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) into “I can” statements so that it’s easy for teachers and students to understand all of the SEL that takes place in the art room.

SEL IN ART and what to include in your teaching.

1) Self – Awareness –

I can recognize my feelings and thoughts through making art. I have a “growth mindset” when making art and can accept where I am in my artistic journey.

You can encourage students to express themselves through art by giving them projects that have personal connections to their lives. One way to do this is by finding a contemporary artist that makes art that expresses life experiences. Then invite students to find their own life experiences that inspire them to make art.

While studying the artist, a valuable component is showing the struggles the artist overcame to become a success and the mindset needed to keep going when faced with rejection or disappointment in how a piece turns out. This is a perfect illustration of an artistic journey and how it is not always easy. Whether students continue with their artistic journey for the rest of their lives or not, they can appreciate the analogy of being on a journey to reach their goals.

You can also show students how color choices and formal elements such as lines and shape can affect the message or mood of a work of art. A fun lesson for that is Fish with Feelings. I also have a blog post that will give you some technique ideas for making your fish. Art Technique Ideas for Fish with Feeling

2) Self-Management –

I can manage stress through making art and while making art.

Drawing and making art can be a great way to relieve stress. One way to help students do this is to teach them a style of drawing that doesn’t need to look “perfect”. Something that they can do that gets them in a “flow” of creating.

One example of this is making Zentangles. Zentagles start with an abstract scribble or wandering line. Next, students fill each area with patterns. These patterns can be easy or complex. Students can make the patterns up or find pattern examples to copy or adapt. The repetitive nature of adding the patterns to a Zentangle can be very relaxing and can help students experience “Flow”, or the feeling of not being aware of time passing because you are in an artistic zone.

When I was teaching, I encouraged my students to get in the “art zone”. The “art zone” was a state of mind where they can tune out distractions and focus on their art. When they are in the “art zone” time may seem to pass quicker than normal and they feel relaxed.

Teach a lesson about “I-Statements” to help your students express their feeling in a healthy way. You can learn more about “I-Statements” in this blog post.

3) Self-Management –

I can learn to manage my tasks through making art by setting goals and identifying the steps I need to take to meet my goals.

Making an art project can help students see how a big task can be broken down into many small steps. In the beginning, it’s the art teacher that directs this process by showing students samples of a finished project and then talking about the steps that they will be doing together to get to the finished art. Doing a couple of teacher-directed projects each year helps students be successful in completing a project that they don’t have the background knowledge to break into steps. This helps build their self-esteem and confidence.

It’s also good to balance this with a project(s) where students decide the steps they need to take to complete their art. I like to give students some boundaries such as a “big idea” or question to answer through their art. And choices of media that are available to them. Giving students boundaries helps keep them from getting stuck spinning their wheels getting started. Boundaries can also result in more creative solutions.

Giving students a rubric at the beginning of the lesson is a great way to talk about the goals for the lesson and the steps they will need to complete. You can make rubrics easily with this Rubric Kit.

4) Social Awareness –

I can gain empathy and respect for others through the study of their art. I can appreciate different styles of art and different points of view expressed in the art of others.

One way to do this with students is to study contemporary artists that create art that reflects their culture and life experiences. Leading students in an art critique about the work of this artist that is respectful and allows a variety of interpretations and feeling about the art will help students learn to do this outside the art classroom. Modeling this kind of discourse that is respectful of the thoughts and views of others helps them value and appreciate more than one point of view.

You can use this fun (and free) Ping Pong Critique activity to help give your students some things to talk about during the critique.

5) Relationship Skills –

I can cooperate with others and communicate with compassion. I can listen to others and offer help when needed.

When students have an opportunity to give suggestions and feedback to each other, they learn valuable communication skills. Art teachers can model how to do this and have a couple of mock critiques to help students find the words they need to communicate with compassion. Students will also learn the value of listening and learning from others.

6) Responsible Decision Making –

Making – I can problem-solve when making art and reflect on my work when finished. I can make good decisions about my personal behavior and social interactions. 

Having student self-assess is critical to teaching problem-solving skills. Art teachers can encourage self-assessment by using rubrics that ask students to check in with their progress before going on to the next step. Rubrics that include writing will get students to think about WHY they rated themselves at a particular level of achievement. You can read more about assessment in these blog posts:

Art Assessment that Involves Students

Assessment for Learning in Art

Getting Students to Self-Assess in Art

You can learn even more ways to incorporate Social and Emotional Learning into your teaching by taking this assessment by the American Institute for Research and implementing some new practices where you want to improve.

Click on this image to get a free copy of this infographic.

Remind yourself and others of the social and emotional benefits of art. This is a great graphic to include in parent newsletters or display in your room.

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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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I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art.


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