Dispensing Materials and Clean Up in the Middle School Art Room

My classroom

My day by the numbers:

980  # of students taking Art yearly
245  # of students taking Art quarterly
035  # of students per class (approximate)
006  # of classes I teach daily
004  # of preps (2 6thgrades, 2 7th grades, 1 8th grade, 1 honors)
003  # of minutes between classes
090  # of minutes of daily planning (during 3rd period when students each lunch)
My days as an Art teacher incredibly busy and I bet yours is too.  The Connections teachers (Art, PE, Music, Business Education, and Drama) at my school teach six periods a day; the so-called “academic” teachers teach four periods a day.  While I would like to bemoan this fact, I’m also proud to offer Art to as many students as possible. . .And, am not interesting in complaining overmuch lest anyone think cutting “that annoying Art teacher” might be a good idea.
My methods of dispensing materials and cleaning up aren’t flawless, but I like to think it is an area of strength.  Strangely enough, I honed my materials management while teaching at the private school.  If you remember, I was sometimes teaching two classes of elementary students and one class of high school students at the same time in the same classroom.  While the total number of students in the classroom never exceeded 45, the various levels forced me to teach a bit of autonomy.
classroom at the private school with third graders and high school kids working
 Yay Autonomy! I love thee so much.
I have an open shelf system in my classroom wherein I store all sorts of materials that are “open use” for students.  “Open use” means the students may go and grab a basket of those materials anytime s/he may wish (as long as movement around the classroom is allowed).  It saves me a lot of time and trouble as we are all familiar with the litany of requests for markers, crayons, pencils, erasers, etc. etc. etc. It also teaches autonomy, as the shelves and the baskets are labeled.  When we clean up, I just say: “please return all materials to their proper shelves,” and typically that happens. Magic!
open use area at the private school
open use shelves in my current classroom
labeled shelves with baskets
glue in the open use area
Storage bins/baskets are your friends.
The baskets I use for my “open use” materials were donated to my classroom. You can use old Tupperware containers etc. etc. I got lucky. The restaurant my husband worked at ordered a bunch of plastic baskets for serving food. The restaurant decided they didn’t like the baskets, and my quick-thinking husband asked if he could have them (knew I married him for a reason!). I have over 100 different colored/sized baskets.  I have eight tables in my art classroom, and I have eight baskets of any material in the “open use” shelves or that I hand-out.
When we use special materials, I have different ways of dispensing those materials:
  -If I have worksheets and/or paper based items to hand-out, I prepare folders with those materials and have an early arriving student put them on each table.
-If I have a special mark-making material to hand-out, I make it part of my warm-up. As students walk in, they see my projector, and I will have something like “Come in, please get a [material] from the [location], please sit in your assigned seat, what is the definition of [art term] in your own words?”
-If I am handing out a “controlled material” like Sharpies (I’m insane about them), X-Acto blades, etc. I usually wait until the class begins and walk around and assign those items to students and/or have them visit me to check-out those materials.
glue guns and sticks
-I don’t hand out final draft sheets of paper for any project. Instead, I keep a large cardboard paper box in the back of my classroom. I place final draft paper in the box for students to get when they finish sketches. You know they don’t sketch if you give them the final draft paper first! My students are used to this procedure and almost never ask me about final draft paper (hallelujah!).
The friggin’ pencil sharpener!
Oh Lawd Help Me. I hate (HATE!) hearing the sound of the electric pencil-sharpener!  I know they make quiet electric sharpeners, but they are expensive and Art students kill/overheat/insert-crayons-into sharpeners so fast. At the private school, I had two X-Acto pencil sharpeners; they were the best I’ve ever had.  If you are going to go the electric pencil sharpener route, get X-Acto and avoid Bostic (I have killed SO MANY Bostics!).  Anyway, I’m done with the electric sharpeners; I prefer the old-school wall-mounted ones. So, I went around my school and collected (with my Stanley drill) all of the unused/unloved wall-mounted pencil sharpeners. Then, I had my husband (again, love that guy) re-install the sharpeners in four corners of my classroom. Each table has an assigned sharpener they are to visit. It keeps the sharpener line down, and it prevents all the “socializing” that seems to accumulate around the sharpener.
how I dealt with pencil sharpening in the private school (no wall mounts available)
 Clean-up (is hard to do).
The best clean-up starts with a little bit of prevention. Whenever I introduce a new material and/or use something like paintbrushes, I review how to clean and store those materials. I also warn against misuse by explaining it will lead to a more rigorous clean-up. That way, when it comes time to clean-up there isn’t an exhaustive explanation (that kids won’t listen to) about cleaning up; I just remind the students (“Remember, store paintbrushes bristles-up!”).
I typically allow for 5 minutes of clean-up in 7th and 8thgrade, and 8 minutes of clean up in the 6th grade.  Clean-up in my classroom looks chaotic. It also seems as if every time an administrator wants to observe me, it is clean-up time.  Once, I nervously explained to an administrator that the kids were on-task, and the admin said: “Obviously! It is busy, but good!”
So, well, sometimes, chaos works.
wash yo’ hands!
 Here is my very general procedure for clean-up
1.       I clap out a pattern and/or use another “attention getting” strategy
2.       Once I have the attention of everyone (no sinks, sharpeners, etc.) I address the class “When I count-down you will. . .”
3.       I go through 3-4 specialized commands according to the task at hand (put all wet artwork on the drying rack, all dry material on your storage shelf etc. etc.).
4.       I assign “helpers” to make sure special tasks are accomplished (collecting worksheets, return of water-cups, making sure no fingers are smashed in the drying rack etc. etc.)
5.       Always save hand-washing/personal-grooming for last. “I will not spray your table until it and the floor around it is bare; you don’t want to wash your hands and then clean the table!” I also shame those who try to wash first and give them some really unpleasant clean up task (pick up all the trash!).
6.       The last command is always: “I will know you are cleaned up and ready to go because you are seated.”
7.       Then, I walk around the room and supervise the clean-up.
8.       I tend to do a lot of talking, loud-speaking, and reiteration during clean-up. That’s okay.
I do not perform any part clean-up (when kids are in the room) unless there is some overwhelming circumstance. I do walk around and spray tables with a diluted soap solution, and students know to dry it with paper towels (it is a general class procedure).  I always tell the students: “These are your supplies, your tables, and your room; if you want them nice, you will participate in keeping them nice.”
When the bell rings, I dismiss the class according to the table who finished clean-up first. Students do not leave until their table –not just their mess- is cleaned. If a student sneaks past me (it happens!), during the next class, s/he responsible for the entire table clean-up alone (tablemates love this rule, and love to help enforce it).
Those darling little outliers who refuse to clean-up.
There are always a few outlier kiddos who just don’t want to clean-up, won’t participate, and/or who have issues with clean-up that extend far past the moment.  The first time a kid refuses to clean-up, I give a consequence (cleaning up the table solo next time). If the student continues to refuse to participate, I do a lot of avoiding.  The last thing any teacher needs is to get into a power struggle with a teenager. Teenagers will do anything to win a battle of wills; I am only allowed to ethically do so much.  I also don’t want to lose ground with the rest of the students for not addressing defiance, and I don’t have time in five minutes of clean-up to deal with active, rude, defiant behavior.
So, when kids habitually refuse to clean-up, I do one of two things. I ignore students who refuse to clean-up and are not disruptive; I take their non-participation out of their conduct grade (and call home to alert the guardians). If other students complain, I tell those students, “Yes, Student A is refusing to clean-up and his/her grade is suffering.” If a student habitually refuses to clean-up and is disruptive, I dock their conduct grade, and assign them a serious escalating consequence (call home, detention, administrative referral).  I’m continuously surprised at how friends will often encourage a non-compliant student to get on board.
What kinds of methods do you use during clean-up in your art-room?

2 thoughts on “Dispensing Materials and Clean Up in the Middle School Art Room”

  1. I had pull-out bins in my classroom, with markers, crayons, colored pencils, masking tape, scissors, staplers, oil pastels, glue sticks, and much much more, that the kids could go to to find what they needed on their own. From the time they entered my classroom starting in kindergarten, they began to learn where to find this stuff so they didn't need to ask. In the highest bins are exacto and utility knives, charcoal, and other items that I didn't want the younger kids to be able to reach (heck, even I had to stand on a chair to reach them!) The stuff NOT in the bins: paints of any kind, liquid glues, clay, plaster bandage, papier-mache goo, etc. These are the things that I only wanted out for use when I wanted them out!I also, similarly to you, had kids do ALL cleanup. I am appalled sometimes when teachers talk about having a sink full of brushes at the end of the day. WHAT? I feel part of art instruction is learning how to take care of the materials.

  2. This is a GOD SEND to me. I will be teaching art next year and while i have a million ideas for the art iteself this kind of thing is NOT my forte. I am making a colorful poster that will say this”These are your supplies, your tables, and your room; if you want them nice, you will participate in keeping them nice.” (I will footnote you! 🙂 Can you recommend a good source for how to care for your art materials? Stuff like the best way to clean a paint brush with different paints etc? How to store materials so they don't dry out or harden or whatever else can go wrong? What you do to tempera paint when it gets thick and gloppy? Can you just add water? Paint thinner? Throw it away? So many questions and no one to ask…

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