by Jamie Hernandez, Elementary Division Head Art Teacher
When the theme for this year’s mini-unit was announced as Silent Meeting, I thought it would be too abstract to integrate into the elementary school arts curriculum in a meaningful way. However, I really wanted to participate, and suddenly I realized it wasn’t as abstract as I thought. Silence was actually a beautifully simple idea.
I decided to start every art class I teach this year with a four-minute silent drawing exercise. On the first day of class I gave each student a sketchbook and talked with them about how we would be using it in the art room. Similar to their weekly silent meeting in the meeting room, students would be given a query, or question, that they would answer through drawing. They could use crayons, pencils, or markers for their drawings and only pictures, not words, for their answers.
When we compared how many pages were in our sketchbooks and how many weeks are in the school year, the numbers were practically the same, which meant every page in the book would be necessary. I emphasized that we could use only one page per drawing and asked the students what their options were if they made a mistake. “We can erase” was the most common response. “We can cross it out” was a popular second, and “turn it into something else” was a third. We discussed the last option and how it could be a great exercise in problem solving.
When my students enter the art room each week, their sketchbooks are ready for them at their seats. This has established a much-needed routine in the art room. The queries have ranged from “What is your favorite art material?” to “Where or when do you feel most peaceful in school?” For those students that do not share during formal silent meeting because they struggle to find words to express themselves, or those who are just too timid, the silent drawings are a way for everyone to answer in their books and have the opportunity to share in a small group. This has helped students transition easily into the art room, calm their bodies, and do a warm-up art activity, all while connecting to silence and encouraging thoughtful reflections.
The goal of the silent drawing exercise is to help students understand how integral art is to a complete education. It encourages them to observe and engage the world around them and leads to a better understanding of themselves as individuals. This and other creative exercises encourage and nurture a sense of personal identity, which ultimately benefits the role that each student plays in the larger community.