Teaching Writing About Art
Teaching the art of writing requires a different set of skills (and more time) than teaching survey art history, but your art history students need strong writing skills to succeed with the written assignments you set them.
What can you do to support strong student writing?
- At the start of the semester, make all your writing handouts available to students. Here are some sample handouts on how to write a thesis, a short style guide for written assignments, and a grading rubrics. An “observation prompts” handout that will guide note-taking at the museum is available on the here. We also suggest you check out posts in the AHTR Weekly categories “Assignments” and “Writing About Art”
- Make use of the writing center or other student support services at your institution. Early in the semester, invite Writing Center staff to present their services briefly during a lecture, and direct students of all ability levels to take drafts of their work to the WC. Helpful writing resources are also accessible online for students and faculty
- Set low-stakes writing assignments regularly in class. Perhaps the first 5 minutes of each class could be set aside for a brief written formal analysis of one of the objects you’ll discuss together that lesson. Instead of lengthy grading, when students hand in these assignments, use a simple check/check plus/check minus system for feedback, and ask those who seem to struggle to meet with you in-person during your office hour or attend the writing center.
- Create time in the syllabus (often difficult in a fast-paced survey) to go over some of the basics of writing and language arts. You may find this Power Point useful as a template for your lesson in class.
- Encourage students to form peer partnerships or peer writing groups outside of class time where they can swap their final drafts with each other for feedback on content and structure. Peer review can be tricky (students are not often equipped to give precise feedback on issues of grammar or accurate historical information), but asking them to read examples of other work gives them a context for their own, and fosters collegiality.
- Actively offer students time during your office hour to go over drafts of their writing, or brainstorming thesis or content ideas for their assignment.
- Please share your own great writing about art resources in the comments below!