Color as a Classroom Tool

In my previous article I wrote about the differences I see between teaching “the how” (a focus on process) versus teaching “the what” (teaching toward product). By breaking it down “the how” into sub-categories, I have become able to interweave it into my teaching style. One such sub-category for me has involved learning about and then incorporating students’ learning styles into my teaching process.

When I begin a residency I introduce myself, and then I ask the students to introduce themselves. With thirty kids in a classroom, I will not likely remember all their names over an eight-week residency. Still, I have them tell me their first names, and then I ask them to tell me their favorite color. As I watch the kids I notice their faces as they think about “What is my favorite color?” Some of the kids know right off the bat what their favorite color is, but for the more introverted students, they take a few minutes to pause before they answer. The information I gain in my observations here is valuable to me, because I’m only in the classroom for eight weeks and I need to assess learning styles as quickly as I can.

When the children come into my class they get to choose where they would like to sit. It’s always amazing to me that the kids who like similar colors also seem to have a tendency to sit next to each other. When I learn about the children and who they sit next to, I can later decide to move children around for to create better learning opportunities.

For example, in one classroom I had about eight boys who were sitting at one table. These boys identified red as their favorite color. The color red is a physical color and a concrete color; this means that people who like red need physical action and have difficulty thinking abstractly, according to authors and color theorists Barbara Bowers and Pamela Oslie in their books on color and personality. “Reds” need to think concretely and with their bodies. This group of eight had difficulty when I was making connections to a storybook on which they were basing their drawings. For some of them, this was their first encounter in learning to draw. They found the process difficult because it was a step-by-step process, and they wanted to create good results instantly.

So, in the next lesson I separated the group of “red” students and integrated them with the other students who were “blues” and “purples.” This was effective because each child’s work started to complement the others’ work, and they learned from each other. In my own art making I’m always playing with color juxtaposition, so I see both the aesthetic and social value in this process.

Quilt by third grade students at Oakman Elementary, Detroit, MI

You might be wondering what different colors mean. It would be hard to get into all the nuances of color theory here but, basically, each person tends to be drawn to a color connected to one of the following different dispositions: physical, mental, or emotional. Reds, oranges, yellows, and magentas are in the physical family. The tans and green are in the mental family. Blue, lavender, violet, and indigo are in the emotional family. More specifically, an “orange” person likes to defy reality through their body, and may be somewhat of a daredevil – and a loner. In the emotional category, the color lavender connects with someone who is a daydreamer and has a wonderful imagination, and may have difficulty with reality.


p class=”MsoNormal”>I have found this “color consciousness” to be an aesthetic and effective approach in my teaching. By better understanding my students and their choices, I am better able to adapt to them and teach in an authentic and exciting way.  I find that this understanding impacts not only my students but awakens the process of teaching in a whole new way for me. The more I can connect to I am as an artist and to the art of teaching, the more focused I am on “the How.”

Leave a Reply