Effective learning progresses primarily from building on prior knowledge. You have to know how to add before multiplying, learn letter sounds before forming words. When children use prior knowledge to learn new things, they realize the point of their learning and the concepts make sense to them. When teachers take the time to evaluate what students already know, they can more effectively construct new experiences and make connections between prior and new knowledge. This philosophy is called Constructivism in teaching lingo.
Think about a time when you needed to learn something new at your job or hobby, how to use a tech gadget, cook a new recipe, put your Ikea furniture together. Go through the many steps involved in learning that new thing and you will realize that you learned it one step at a time, building upon each step. Imagine doing any of those steps out of order, and consider how confusing that would be.
This beautiful leaf printing art experience is an excellent example of Constructivism at work.
In past years I have taught leaf printing in a conventional way – paint a leaf and press it on a piece of paper. This has been a very nice project with good looking results, but this year I wanted to change it up in order to allow students to use their prior experiences to learn new ones, creating deeper learning through larger connections.
This class had just finished a monoprinting project, where they learned the process of painting a surface, creating lines with various tools, and pressing a piece of paper on top to make a print. I built on that knowledge with this leaf printing art experience.
Each student has a piece of plexiglass, mine are 8 x 10 inches. They paint the glass however they want with tempera paint in fall colors. Then they use the same line tools from their previous printmaking experience to create lines in the paint. Since they had done this before, they were adept at holding and manipulating the tools to create the type of lines they wanted.
The new part of this experience was placing a leaf on top of the paint before pressing the paper down to make a print. We speculated at what this added element would do to the print. It does not matter if their guess was right, it matters that they are using their cognitive processes to propose a possible outcome.
When the children pulled their prints (which is the term for when you peel the paper off), they saw a white leaf on a colored background. We talked about how the leaf acts as a mask, keeping the paint that is under it from printing onto the paper. I had the students do several prints, and each time they were more inventive. Each child evaluated all their prints, proudly chose their best print to mount and made a delightful frame around it with sticks and rocks.
Building on prior knowledge is the best way to guide effective learning in any subject. This leaf printing art experience allowed students to use their current knowledge to create new knowledge, employ higher cognitive functions of predicting and cause and effect, express themselves artistically and exude pride in their work. That is what art should do.