Early Finishers – Art Ed Bloggers Network

My report card always said, ‘Jim finishes first and then disrupts the other students’.  – Jim Carrey

The theme of this Art Ed Bloggers Network shared topic this month (my first) is Early Finishers. I think Jim Carrey’s quote above is what comes to mind when we think about our students finishing their projects before the other students, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, starting and finishing projects is the regular routine in an art room, and it is not realistic to expect all students to finish their projects at the same time, not if there is creativity involved. I believe every project or lesson in an art room should have extensions just as it should have accommodations for those students who need them. Because of this, I struggle a little with the term, “Early Finishers”.

But first – a little disclaimer: I believe no two art classrooms should be alike. There are many ways to teach art – from product-based, choice-based, and project-based, to a blend of all of them plus more. As art educators, we have unique situations based on our building culture, community culture, student demographics, curricular expectations, and our own artistic passions. Given that most of us write our own curriculum, there is no reason we should all teach the same way.

My own situation is created by a building culture where we educators teach our own subjects with little cross-curricular interaction, a supportive suburban/rural community, standards-based curricular expectations, and my background in fine arts (painting) with a former career in graphic design and prepress printing operations. Plus, I have a proclivity toward technology, whether creating artwork, animation, or video with the iPad or 3D printing with one of the three printers in my classroom. As a former regular educator (third and fourth grade) where science and social students were my favored subjects to teach (okay, and cursive 😆) I find myself bringing those subjects into my teaching quite often. I’m also a big S.T.E.A.M. fan. Along with all of that, we are a 1:1 iPad school, where each student is equipped with an iPad for school and home. Thus, my art program is a blend of many approaches and each one has a role in a well-rounded contemporary art education.


I’m hoping to share some solutions and ideas in this post and I expect to do so based on the art medium or process in use at the time. Take clay, for instance. At this time, our middle school is the only school in the district with a working kiln and ceramics program. It is our goal to have all of our students create at least one clay piece each semester. Students, parents, teachers – we all love clay. Case in point, I still display my son’s school clay pieces in the dining room. And he is nearly 30 years old.

Clay completely takes over the art room as hundreds of pieces are created. “Early Finishers” are a godsend when the whole class is working with clay and EVERYONE needs to wash their hands at a limited number of sinks. Many art rooms have only one sink and some have none – I’m fortunate to have three. Those who are first to finish are first to clean up and can help others or then monitor the sink area, making sure it is kept clean. They can also help to keep the glazes restocked and paintbrushes refreshed when the whole class is painting the clay.

Hundreds of clay pieces

Tradigital Art

When the whole class is working with traditional art media to complete classic visual art exercises such as self portraits, there can be a pretty big gap between finish times as students all work at different paces. In a 1:1 device situation, an engaging extension is to complete the self-portrait or drawing on the iPad using a sketching program such as Autodesk Sketchbook.

My students recently completed Mandalas on the cover of their handmade sketchbooks. The Mandalas were detailed and time consuming, and the pace depended on each student’s addition of detail. Recreating the Mandala on the iPad using Autodesk Sketchbook was a logical and challenging extension for them.

Mandala with marker by Peyton P.
Digital Mandala by Peyton P.


No matter what we are doing, when students finish their projects and have spare time, they always have their handmade sketchbooks to work in, whether finishing work or starting new independent projects.

The Every Day Drawing Challenge is terrific for this, because with 365 prompts, one never runs out of inspiration. Colored pencils in pencil boxes are always easily accessible for this work. Here is the full year of the Every Day Drawing Challenge – free and downloadable.

Sharing Sites

Just last week, students were creating artwork and lighting it up with LEDs (paper circuits). As they finished, they worked with a partner to make videos describing the project to upload to Flipgrid. Here is an example – this is Armaan:

When students finished up this project, they had choices including sketchbook work, helping peers make their videos, helping peers make their paper circuit connections, or going to the FlipGrid page and watching their classmates’ videos. I enabled “liking” on this page, and I could have also enabled commenting. Here is a link to the FlipGrid page: Light-Up Artwork


When the classroom is in full-choice mode, everyone is working at their own pace and early finishing happens all the time, so much so that the concept of Early Finishers doesn’t exist. Fortunately, there are always centers students may visit to start a new project. The key is to have different materials available for exploration. This doesn’t have to be extreme, simple drawing options are often enough.

I’m going to be very honest here and state that “free drawing” is rarely successful in my situation. Typically it nets quickly drawn cliché imagery and a lot of wasted paper. Instead, my students keep a list of their interests inside the cover of her/his sketchbook from which they draw inspiration. The Every Day Drawing Challenge is helpful here as well.

A simple 3D option that doesn’t have to take too much time is sculpture with never-dry plastiline clay, provided as single serving chunks  in a plastic tub. The scene below is of a holiday living room – a collaboration by a couple of students.


Speaking of collaboration, sometimes we start a big collaborative project that students can work on together to complete as they finish up projects. Murals made with collage are a great collaborative effort, as is group weaving if working with fiber at the time.

Rainbow Collage

iPad Apps

Not working is never an option in my art classroom and with hands-on materials and iPads at our disposal, there is always something to work with. Each semester, my students complete at least one design for 3D printing using Morphi. Therefore, that app is available all the time for them along with Autodesk Sketchbook as mentioned above.

Ethan H. Castle

I find it is more effective to have a short list of permitted apps, because it doesn’t take long for iPad exploration to devolve to game playing and messaging. The third app on my short list is Doodlematic, with which kids can create their own game using the app with paper and markers.

Project Based Learning

Lastly, when my fifth and sixth grade students are engaged in project-based learning within cooperative learning groups, there is usually a time frame designed for each section of the project. One of the most valuable parts of the process is in the meetings between the groups and me or meetings between groups for feedback. If one group is “done, done, done,” they reach out to other groups to see if they can pitch in. This is what it’s like in the workplace, and it’s never to early to learn to help your neighbor.

As I’m wrapping up this post, I can’t help thinking that if the quote above is true, Jim Carrey must have had hurt feelings about his report card comments. I’m hoping his hurried work was accurate and that he is just that bright. If so, it’s a disservice that his learning wasn’t extended or the lessons weren’t differentiated. It’s silly to think small humans all work at the same pace. It’s easy to imagine Jim Carrey daydreaming when behaving well, or disrupting the others when in a mischievous mood. No matter, as time went on and after a hugely successful career in film, Jim turned to painting. The thing about artwork is that it is open ended and completion times vary artist to artist. I’m not sure if Jim Carrey’s work is “good”, but he sure seems happy. Check out this article in ArtNet News.

Check out the thoughts on Early Finishers by other art educators in the Art Ed Bloggers Network:

Art Teacher BlogsThis post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger’s Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the first Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:




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