Integrating the Arts — Rachel Silverman's Art Class

By Ruth Manna on March 2, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Last month my post featured 3rd grade teacher Jennifer Upright, whose positive outlook infuses her classroom, and this month I visited art teacher Rachel Silverman. Rachel Silverman, a third-year art teacher at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary, in Shelburne Falls, MA, believes "the future of elementary arts education is its connection to other subject areas. Giving art a context interweaves it into life.”

In Rachel’s studio, her students revisit topics they’ve studied in other classes and explore their new knowledge through art. Students use their imaginations as they make choices, express themselves, and solve problems. Rachel fosters the development of critical thinking skills among her students. She focuses on “noticing and reflecting on art, not judging.”

A rotating book display features books on social studies topics, artists, and illustrators, as well as books from various literary genres.


Examples of Art Integration

The best way to understand how Rachel connects art to other subjects is through the thoughtful projects she assigns her students. Below you can see some of the amazing work done by her students in grades 2–6.

Rachel told students a Native American tale entitled "Salmon Boy." Then students created salmon in the style of Northwest Native Americans. The use of a limited color palette was challenging. (Grade 5)

A lesson about making secondary colors from primary colors was also a science lesson about tropical fish. (Grade 2)

During Black History Month, students learned about Kenya and portrayed African elephants in their natural habitats. (Grade 2)


Tessellations = art + math. (Grade 6)


A Third Year Teacher

As a beginning teacher, Rachel is still deciding how to structure her classes. She believes structure is helpful to some students, so she limits the scope of projects and gives students a variety of launching points. Her specific, detailed directions, modeling, and exemplars build success for all students. Rachel said, “I still feel like a new teacher. I’m refining what I teach, how I teach, the order I teach it in, and how to synch my lessons with the curriculum.”

Rachel grew up in a family full of educators, which may account for her easy confidence. She is a natural-born teacher, who makes juggling the responsibilities and personalities in a class look easy.


Amazing Classroom Management

Art studios can be chaotic! Rachel has a classroom management system that’s sophisticated, and it works! Below are two of Rachel’s handmade posters that illustrate her classroom management strategies. 

Open Studio — All Rachel’s art classes have opportunities to earn Open Studio time through positive behavior. Open Studio is a group reward. This privilege is earned by following behavioral expectations at the beginning and end of each class.

Thinking Chair — Rachel’s Thinking Chair is a reminder designed to stop minor disruptive behavior without taking time from the rest of the class. It’s “an opportunity to pull it together and move on feeling good and clear. It’s mostly really successful.” Students can be directed to this chair verbally or nonverbally. A student in the Thinking Chair is still responsible for listening to directions so she can fully participate when she rejoins the class.

Rachel Silverman grew up in New Hampshire. A graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, she majored in studio art. The position of art teacher was one Rachel envisioned herself filling. “Just being an artist wasn’t enough for me. Teaching makes art more powerful.”

—Ruth Manna


Your art projects are inspiring Rachel. Ruth, I like the idea of sharing terrific ideas from terrific teachers.

Fantastic teacher, mother and daughter as well

I would be super impressed even if she weren't my niece! I would buy almost all of the art work done by her 5th graders. I love the non judgmental idea of the thinking chair, in place of time out too. What a beautiful person. The children and school are very lucky to have her.

well um rachel is an exceptionally good teacher probably one of the best I know

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