One idea for teaching linear perspective: 
8th grade Surrealist drawing by Meagan, student artwork from Mrs. Nichols' classroom

This article is a follow up to "Linear Perspective; How Do You Teach It?" Here I have listed ideas from other teachers - call me crazy, but I love to study other art teachers' methods of instruction!  I read a book once, The Teaching Gapwhere the authors compared the way math teachers taught 8th graders in Japan, Germany, and the U.S.A. In Japan, the teachers spent many hours working together to come up with the BEST way to teach a specific concept. The group watched one of their members teach the lesson, then they would re-group to discuss and analyze how effective it was. These teachers would have another member of the group teach the same lesson AGAIN, to a different group of students, and then analyze the effectiveness of that lesson.

How cool would it be if art teachers could team up this way, collectively figuring out the BEST way to teach otherwise challenging concepts like linear perspective and observational drawing? My supervisor, Stacia Jacks, wrote a grant a few years ago that provided a way for us to visit each other in our classrooms to observe and learn from each other. That was one of the best professional development experiences I have had!

This year, it just isn't possible to take a day off work to go observe another art teacher teach linear perspective. However, after posting the article below, I heard from a few other art teachers about what they do to solve the linear perspective conundrum:

  • On the blog, Primarily Art With Mrs. Depp, the teacher scaffolds the lesson by using a series of dots to help the kids learn to draw lines with the ruler. This is a wonderful article by Sheryl Depp!
  • Laura Bailey tried using graph paper for her 6th grade students to practice keeping their horizontal and vertical lines straight - brilliant!

  • Mohammad Dolatabadi suggested I use YouTube videos - I looked but initially couldn't find one that would capture middle school kids' attention. However, I did eventually find a great list of videos that Amy Zschaber (artfulartsyamy.com) has included in her article, Teaching Perspective in Creative and Engaging Manners. This one is pretty good, too: "Behind the Scenes With David Hockney; with Penn and Teller."

  • I also found this YouTube video (iDraw) on the excellent blog by Alexandria Quinn called "Come To The Art Side; Thursday Think Tank - 1 Point Perspective," where she had her middle school students create a large perspective mural out of masking tape! This video below is a time-lapsed demonstration of an artist drawing an alley in 1-point perspective:

  • Stacia Jacks suggested I differentiate my instruction, keeping it simple for 6th grade by just having them do "simple optical illusions using perspective points so they get used to using the ruler and measuring correctly."  Then, the kids who are ready for a challenge can do the "Imaginary Room" drawing while the others can just finish their optical illusion "Floating Form" design. 
  • Drawing from Mr. Beau Brown's classroom
     Middle school art teacher Beau Brown does a one-point perspective "Building" or "Town" project for his 6th graders where they draw:
    "three buildings, one below, one above and one that crosses the horizon line. The check list: 3 buildings like they went over. A pathway going to the vanishing point. A row of the same objects going to the VP. A sign in perspective saying the name of their town. 10 objects of their choice." He also says, "The majority gets it.
    You will have some that understand that the slanted lines that point to the VP is what makes depth, but they get confused when you tell them that things are supposed to be smaller in the background. And you get giants  walking next to skyscrapers.  Lol" (Mr. Brown also attached a brilliant Power Point presentation that he created and if I could I would upload it to this website - I can only upload videos and pictures at this time...)
    Name perspective lesson
  • Jennifer Ellis, a high school art teacher, told me she has done this "Op-Art Name" lesson with younger kids and it seemed to work most of the time. She also reminded me that sometimes it is just the group of kids! 
  • Casey Williamson, who has an exploratory class for only a few weeks with 6th grade, said that she doesn't teach perspective to 6th graders at all - only 7th and 8th graders! I laughed out loud when I read her email - why exactly have I been pulling my hair out trying to get mine to understand the concepts when I could just wait a year! 
  • Finally, Kendell Stewart writes, "Tylenol...and good rest at night.  It is also difficult to teach at the high school level." Very funny, Mr. Stewart!
After I posted the below article ("Linear Perspective, How Do You Teach It?") about my struggles with teaching 6th graders, I paired each student with a peer helper and taught the entire lesson again; basically starting from scratch. (Half of the class previously understood the concepts, the other half did not.) I told the helpers that they wouldn't need to draw anything; their job was to watch their "trainee" to make sure s/he followed my directions. At the end of the 30 minute class every single student was able to construct a box correctly. (This was after watching the teacher draw one line at a time and WITH another student to help them!)

I think a lot of it relates to a simple inability to grasp abstract concepts. I believe some 6th graders (possibly) are just not developmentally ready to learn linear perspective in a more complex way. (The fact that 2/3 of the kids didn't have art in elementary school is a huge factor, too!) 

I have seen elementary art teacher blogs where they show the kids the vanishing point and horizon line and the students copy the teacher's drawing of a road exactly. Although this exercise is valuable, that is not what I am talking about here. I want my students to truly understand and be able to use the concept in increasingly complex ways, not to just copy a drawing. 

Piaget's theory of children's cognitive development says they cannot reason abstractly (Formal Operational Stage) until the age of 11 or 12 and we all know kids develop at varying rates. For children still in the Concrete Operational Stage (ages 7-11), thinking through a problem requires real, proven, non-hypothetical variables. 

My 6th grade project is to draw a Fantasy Room. I tell the kids to imagine they won a million dollars. If they suddenly became rich, what would they want to put in their rooms? The kids are very creative with their lists, but it is a different story when they try to draw their objects. To construct a bookshelf, sofa, swimming pool, or skateboard ramp out of thin air (from imagination) and make it follow the rules of perspective requires quite a bit of abstract reasoning! (I do show the class how to draw a bed, table, doors, and windows to get them started.) It remains to be seen if these kids will be able to construct a whole room!

In the future, I would LOVE to work with other middle school art teachers to design effective lessons; y'all, those Japanese teachers have inspired me! One way we could do this is via online video. I know that most of us are the only art teacher at our school, but we can video a lesson and talk about it! (videos need not be of students - we do not want to violate any privacy laws, folks...) 

Also, I thought of an idea wherein we could create an email help-line of sorts, where anyone who is interested could ask questions of other art teachers who teach the same grade level and/or demographic. Think about it - if you have a question about a technique, a material, or teaching a concept - you could throw it out into the email help-line and get a variety of perspectives from other experienced art teachers! I just might start one in my district - I am blessed that there are at least 8 other middle school art teachers here and there are more in other neighboring districts.  

What do all of you think? What are some other ideas that would enable us to work together to design effective lessons, despite the fact that we are all working in a different school and do not have the opportunity of walking down the hall to see another art teacher's instructional methods? 

Let's team up! 

**Here is a new Pinterest Board on perspective I  just put together in order to have some creative ideas on hand.

5-12-15 Note: I recently came across a post on the Art Teachers Facebook page by Michele Andrade. She teaches at a private, Christian K-8 school and has an incredible knack for teaching both linear perspective and craftsmanship. She did a one-point perspective room with 5th graders; the quality of these pieces was absolutely incredible, quality that only the best of my middle school kids achieve. Here is what she said about her instruction:
"Students learned about the history of perspective through p.p. and after practice, did a mini lesson called Shapes in Space. I then broke the students into three tiers (beginner, proficient, and advanced) based on their mini lessons. Depending on which level they were, the students were given a list of objects or requirements they needed to include in their final museums. The students always do their very best because they all want to be level 3 (the advanced level). any pencil (graphite or colored). ... I try to get my students to create a smooth surface, hiding their "line direction" by either coloring in circles, or coloring one direction and then going back over their work again in another direction. This technique takes time, but they really appreciate the results in the end. I believe neatness can be achieved by all students so on projects like linear perspective, I really push for it. It definitely makes a difference in these projects. Colored pencil is also my forte, so I give demos and let the students use the professional pencils which gives them the confidence to do good work."

March 29, 2017 note:Stick Figure Art: (this link takes you to Facebook)

 Step by Step One Point Room For Google Classroom Slide Show (this link takes you to the slide show which shows step by step how to draw a room as well as helpful hints and tricks...it is really good!)

The Mathematics of Sidewalk Illusions, by Fumiko Futamura, TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing, teded.com 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Wendy Gilbert said...

"Not all kids are developmentally ready" I think this is the case.

To introduce my kids (6th graders) to linear perspective I do a guided drawing with with them. I will demonstrate how we are going to "connect the dots" - the corner of the shape to the vanishing point and then while they do it, I walk the room. I always have a couple of kids that can't manage the ruler and a couple of kids that can't grasp the concept of "dot to dot" so the lines coming from the geometric shape randomly connect to the horizon line. These same kids had a very hard time when we did a small tessellation project. No matter how many times I showed them how their piece will fit like a puzzle, their traced shapes ended up all over the place. I'm kind of curious how these kids do in math or in PE. Maybe they have a hard time with spacial reasoning overall.

I have my 6th graders for a semester so I do a mini shape and name linear perspective drawing while doing my Elements of Art Unit and them revisit near the end of the semester with a Design Your Dream Room project. In between we do a little building with ceramics, spend a few days drawing outside and then tackle the bigger linear design project. It seems to help.

Just found your blog - so I will be reading and commenting along the way. :)


Yes, I believe I just got a really, really immature group this year. They are still having a hard time with basic classroom procedures. I have never taught such a group of children who could not remember to do a bell ringer when they enter the room. They just sit down and stare into space until prompted to get busy. They aren't disruptive or defiant or lazy, they are just spaced out. I have TWO classes of 6th graders like this! I just hope it isn't a trend :)
Thank you so much for sharing your ideas!