Suggestions for Teaching Youths with Behavior Disorders


Derived from Clements, R ., & Clements, C. (1990). Teaching exceptional students in the regular high school art classroom B. Little (Ed.). Secondary art education: An anthology of issues (pp. 163-183). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.





Behavior disorders are those that are disruptive in class. These students already consider themselves inferior and their behaviors reinforce this characteristic. They especially feel no good at art. Art teachers may contribute to this sense of inferiority by setting goals too high. Students also occasionally strive for unrealistic goals or remember their self-effacing "loser" role and destroy their efforts. Then they redirect their frustrations to other students and downgrade their attempts as junk.


Give students prequestionnaires to determine their individual experiences and interests. Ask what art museums they have visited, their favorite art materials or projects. Determine their favorite artists and cartoonists. With interests in visual and popular culture, discuss theme parks and the latest film or video game. The more you know about your students, hopefully, the better prepared you are in relating to them.


At the beginning of the school year, make procedures clear and art supplies minimal, with a few alternatives. Count all art supplies and write directions on the board or on handouts, or in the computer. Direct a student volunteer to orally read class rules. Arrange seating to reflect order. After students learn the organization of the class and room, later offer more alternatives, freedom and fun. Stress that making artwork is hard work too.


Teachers need to stress that each student Is unique and should "make our his/her own way." Accept diverse solutions as "different way of thinking about the problem." For example, "You used earthy colors that suggest the desert where you live." Remind students of their past successes as encouragement. Avoid publicly praising these students who dislike this kind of attention: instead a short private confirmation is enough.


Sometimes students with other disabilities can exhibit behavior aberrations as well. Their negative attitudes impede their disabilities. Even gifted students may be the intellect behind class mischief.


Consider art materials that offer resistance or physical challenges to help students relieve emotional tensions. They can work out their aggression on the material, for example, wood or linoleum carving, clay, or metalwork. Tools such as hammers, knives, and gouges suggest vocational authority. Invite a welder to class to demonstrate sculptural techniques and explain the profession.


Arrange projects that invite repetition also offer structure that is calming. For example, painting a kaleidoscopic radial design or shield or making protection badges for soldiers can alleviate tension. Keeping them busy with these special community projects, such as "bowls for the homeless" will give them a sense of contribution. Students can use these objects in a series as public banners as well. These students can also use computers to search for alternative ideas and related artists.


Substitute a material or tool when a student persists in abusing it. Instead of stressing the negative, highlight the technical difference as in stamping paint rather than splashing it or folding clay instead of throwing it. Such practices are diversionary yet instructive when accompanied by a good cultural reason as in Japanese pottery or painting. These subtle practices avoid the potential waste of art supplies and damage of tools as well.


A stimulating project that offers viscous materials (paper mache) and macho smashing with a bat as well as hidden treasures is paper mache piñatas. Piñata making requires group cooperation in careful layering of paper, attention to qualities of dryness and strength, and artistic design and decoration of the piece. Suggest that students contribute sweets, make trinkets for the piñata, and give their piñata to group of less fortunate children for a party.


Short circuit disturbances by arrangement a quiet corner in your classroom where an angry student can "cool off." Set up a "terrarium" or fish tank that these students can oversee and care for. Students can also make their own tanks with by cutting plastic bottles. Stress the importance of earth or water arts. Caring for small helpless creatures just may instigate a child to care for him/herself and others. Ask students for their advice in handling a problem, the problem at hand or another one.


Offer tangible rewards, such as using engraving paper or an issue of Scholastic Arts magazine of their choice. Use a contract that clearly stipulates the task quantity, time, conditions, and quality. For example, "Using clay, I will make a coil pot of even thickness (1/4-1/2"), with a trimmed bottom and rim by April 15, in exchange I shall gain the privilege of using the pottery wheel for two classes." Such rewards of using special materials, working on public exhibitions, or preparing supplies may stimulate deviant students' interests. Other rewards as listening to music with an earplug, run an errand, arrange the bulletin board, being artist of the month, stack the ceramic kiln, operate the computer equipment, or suggest the next class project are sample solutions. Most teaching is a negotiation or compromise. Teachers should introduce such solutions gradually.


Stress expression and reflection as more important than impulsive action. Art projects can offer youth with behavior disorders a voice for their frustrations. Ask the student whom he/she is angry with and/or why they are using art as a form of revenge. Suggest that they express their anger in the artwork and write about it. Students in art classes learn that it's "OK" to be different. Offering opportunities to discuss such differences are also importance. Creating an object is objectifying one's frustration and pain and leads to healing. Disabled youth are by far better off mainstreamed in classes along with children that offer a range of behavioral models and solutions from which to choose. Art helps shattered minds as well as shattered bodies.