Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.17.24Alexander Lisman Checks for Understanding in his Visual Arts Class

Just because you taught it does not mean they learned it…


We’ve had quite a few requests lately for examples of Teach Like a Champion techniques in Arts classes so it’s my pleasure to share this clip of Eagle Ridge Academy (Brighton, Colorado) art teacher Alexander Lisman’s Checking for Understanding in which he uses Active Observation and intentional feedback.

Let’s set the scene. Alexander’s students are working on drawings… or, well, that’s how a lot of teachers might have framed it, even to students. And if the objective is an activity–to ‘complete a drawing’–it’s hard to give feedback that teaches much. “Good job.” “I like it.” Keep going.” Those are lovely things but they don’t help students improve their skills. Much better to teach a technique and then help students see how to apply it as they create. The objectives here are clear.

In fact what we love most is how Alexander tells his students the three key things he’s looking for as he walks around and gives feedback:

  1. he’s looking at the whether their line drawing correctly includes a horizon line and a vanishing point;
  2. he’s looking at correct pencil usage, using a range of pencils properly to create shadow and line;
  3. he’s looking at shading, at a combination of form shadow, cast shadow and highlights.


We love the way he spells them out to students: Here’s what I’ll be looking for. This directs their attention as they draw and causes them to focus on the skills even before he gives any feedback. Not only is his class now an exercise in focused mastery of technique, but Alexander has created a structure that reminds himself of what to give students feedback on.

And we love how disciplined he is to look for those things!



As he walks around you’ll notice how all of his feedback is about the things he’s been teaching. You can tell because my colleague John Costello color coded the subtitles (brilliant!) to show how the feedback Alexander gives aligns to his learning objectives.

This not only helps his students to focus on intentionally applying the things they’ve learned but it causes HIM to pay attention to them and to be more aware of their mastery of those skills. In fact just after this video ended he stopped class to suggest that students draw an arrow on their paper to remind them of the direction of light so their shadowing was more effective.

So much of his feedback is positive but it’s not just vaguely positive–good job–but tells them what they did well so they understand it: your deep shadows are really dark. Nice job. He aligns his feedback and his praise clearly to the objective.

I should also note that today’s clip is an example of a growing aspect of our  work — helping schools capture and study, via video, examples of how they implement their PD and coaching priorities. In collaboration with Eagle Ridge , our Consulting & Partnership team led by Hilary Lewis, Rob Richard, and Jen Rugani spent multiple days sharing techniques and helping the school tape and study their work. This clip is just one of many highlights.


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