About Rise of the imagiNATION

We are an eclectic collective of current or former TFA art and music teachers in the Mississippi Delta region. Our mission is to provide a single go-to place for lesson plans, resources and practical tips to use in classrooms on a daily basis. We are excited to connect with a larger community of art teachers and bloggers as well as other TFAers to close the art(s) and creativity gap found in so many districts across the nation.

You Be You

Today we have a guest post from a wonderful AR 2nd Year, Allie McCormick!  She will be discussing how she learned to leverage her talents and interests for the good of her classroom.  Her refection is a part of the project/best practice-share we hosted for AR corps members as February’s Learning Team.  Enjoy!

Last year, as a first year teacher, I found myself perpetually frustrated with my students’ inability to express themselves visually. It seemed like no matter what I did, they would always reach for words before imagery in their efforts to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Obviously, this deference to words bothered me most when it came to their artwork. But I also felt strongly that in order for my students to access the imaginative and creative potential of their minds, they needed to be constantly vigilant in regards to opportunities for visual expression.

Then, at the beginning of this year, after reading Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist,” it occurred to me that I wasn’t practicing what I preached. In his book, Kleon employs hand-drawn graphs, flow charts, and other similar—highly visual—presentations of information to communicate his main ideas. Meanwhile, I was exclusively presenting my students with boring, unappealing computer-generated documents and handouts. Suspecting that my students would respond to similar visual presentations of information, and accepting that doing so would essentially force me to capitalize on every opportunity to model the process of “being visual,” I began “drawing” all of my classroom handouts and have not looked back.

Although a little more involved logistically speaking (I have to scan all of my handouts using an app on my phone in order to post them on my school’s website), my handwritten materials have had a dramatic impact on my students. Now, the work they receive from me—be it guided notes or a worksheet on color theory—is visual and engaging. The best example of the growth I’ve seen lies in my students’ artist statements. At the beginning of the year, I presented the “rubric” with which I would be grading their artist statements all year—a non-linear, highly visual kind of flowchart that breaks down all the requested components of a successful artist statement. My reasoning for this rubric are twofold: For one, the rubric in and of itself models the way in which I would ideally like to see my students write in my classroom—extremely visually. And for another, it makes the requirements of the artist statement accessible to non-linear thinkers and those students who are highly visual (aka those who do not follow written or oral direction super well). Additionally, the actual sheet upon which students are to write their statements is incredibly malleable to their individual vision.

Artist Statements

So far, the results have been spectacular. My students are engaging with their artwork (in terms of it’s conceptual meaning, emotional significance and technical merits) in a meaningful, personal way. And many are taking incredible ownership of the presentation of this information, often visually referencing the project upon which they are reflecting.

The main reason I believe handwriting has been so successful in my classroom is because it’s incredibly authentic to who I am as a person, and thus who I am as a teacher. In my experience, students—at least my students—can smell disingenuousness on me from a mile away. It makes sense that because I shut down and turn off when presented with a visually unappealing document, but find joy in the challenge of being as visual and creative as possible in my efforts to communicate, my students do, too.

Similarly, I believe my students’ ability to sense my personal level of investment in any particular lesson or subject is the reason behind my initial failures engaging them with art history. As an artist and an academic, I have never been the least bit interested in conventional art history. If I’m being completely honest, I just don’t find any joy in the traditional approach to contextualizing artwork. And as a first year teacher, my apathy was wildly apparent to my students.  As a result, the art history component of my classroom quickly fell by the wayside in favor of technical instruction and studio time. So in the spirit of being true to who I am and capitalizing on my ability to invest my students in that which I love, I totally reframed the role of art history in my classroom. And thus, “Inspirational Wednesday” was born.

Inspirational Wednesday

It began with an in-depth conversation surrounding native Arkansasan artist Shea Hembrey and his qualifications for “good art.” According to Hembrey, all art can be understood in reference to three h’s: head (or conceptual meaning), heart (emotional meaning), and hand (technical skill). This is now the lens through which my students engage with all art, including their own work and the work of their peers. This is in no small part because it is the truest, most personally authentic approach I’ve found to engaging with art history. And as a result, at least for now, each Wednesday, as I present a new visual artist to my students for their consideration, my students are engaging with the work of professionals as they do their own, bridging the disconnect between art history and creation.

I think it all kind of boils down to the following, the unofficial mantra of my classroom: attitude dictates outcome. It wasn’t a thought I was able to concisely articulate until my second year of teaching, and yet it has always been present in my teaching of visual art.  My attitude dictates the attitudes of my students; my students’ attitudes dictate the quality of their artwork. If I’m not invested in something, or if it’s not genuine to who I am as a person, my students will pick up on it in skinny minute and tune out. For me, handwritten documents and “Inspirational Wednesday” are two of the ways I’ve found to make my classroom more authentic to who I am. To be sure, I’m not advocating that teacher’s should nix anything in their curriculum that doesn’t immediately gel with who they are. Rather that, as teachers, we should be true to the artist within and find a way to take ownership of and adapt everything we do in way that is authentic to our individual truth. 

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Why Art?

Often when you teach art, people both outside and inside the school ask, “why art?”  They say things like “the students you/we teach need to know how to read, they are behind, they need math, why are you teaching them art?”  At times, this can be a difficult question to answer.  You sometimes question yourself.  You can give the typical, “it helps them express themselves” or “it is a place for students who might not necessarily succeed in other classes to excel” which are true and important sentiments but I needed more solid counter statements to provide; more reason to be able to convince myself and others that what I was doing was important.  When no one else steps foot into your classroom because it’s not a tested subject, when classroom teachers keep kids back to finish “more important work,” when you feel yourself feeling unsettled when you read a kid’s written response to something, and when you yourself start to question, why art?  Why teach art in the Delta where schools are failing and sixth graders are reading at a first grade level?  Why should I not completely sacrifice my class time to submit to the wills of those who would like to see it become a class where we merely read and write, perhaps with an artistic theme?  Why not turn it into the same kind of test-prep that abounds during the rest of the school day?  Remind yourself that every kid deserves the opportunity to have an art class.  Just because they are behind in reading, doesn’t mean they should be neglected the chance to learn other subjects.  Art is not only done with the hand, but also with the heart and the head.  So much of what we do is not only important for emotions but it is important for cognitive development.  We have the power to provide a kind of natural learning.  In my opinion, art classes can be a model of what the entire educational system has the potential to be.

When playing with this idea, I am constantly drawn to the idea of learning as play or exploration.  Elliot W. Eisner in his book, The Arts and the Creation of Mind, says that,

The arts have an important role to play in refining our sensory system and cultivating our imaginitive abilities.  Indeed, the arts provide a kind of permission to pursue qualitative experience in a particularly focused way and to engage in the constructive exploration of what the imaginative process may engender.  In this sense, the arts, in all their manifestations, are close in attitude to play.

It is the same idea that Teacher Tom expresses in his blog, time and time again.  When you give kids the opportunity to learn, they will.  Naturally.  In his post entitled Why I Teach the Way I Do, Teacher Tom explains

The idea of a play-based education challenges the conventional wisdom about what teaching is. Whereas the traditional idea is of a teacher standing in front of a room of attentive learners, lecturing, correcting, grading, and testing, the role of a teacher in a play-based model (sometimes referred to by more academic sounding names like “inquiry-based” or “experienced-based”) is to, in effect, create an environment in which children can freely engage with materials, ideas, and people, that is to play with them, and from that play construct their own, personalized education.

Giving up control is scary and, in most of our schools, frowned upon in the greater sense.  But we as art teachers most often have the freedom to support some form of this organic learning.  We can present kids with a challenge, give them tools, and watch them try.  We can question them to push their thinking further, and we can provide them opportunities to edit, grow, and then document their thoughts, emotions, physical creations, and reflections.

If we head back over to Eisner, he proposes various cognitive functions that the arts encourage.

He attests that the arts:

  • help us learn to notice the world
  • promote our awareness of aspects of the world we had not experienced consciously before
  • grant permission to engage the imagination as a means for exploring new possibilities
  • invite the development of a disposition to tolerate ambiguity, explore what is uncertain, and exercise judgement free from prescriptive rules and procedures
  • stabilize what would otherwise be evanescent
  • help us discover what it is we are capable of experiencing or the contours of our emotional selves

As we go into this home stretch and begin to plan our final units and projects to round out the year, I challenge you to keep in mind that you are important to the wholistic and foundational development of the minds of children.  Think about how your projects or challenges target the cognitive functions above.  Push kids to talk about their art more throughout the whole creation process.  Expose them to inspiration and help them build an artistic language that helps them express how art effects them.  These are not easy tasks but when your classroom is engaged in these manners, there is no stopping the potential that our kids have.  Reading, writing and arithmetic are great but they are no match for the whole undiscovered world.

Rise up,

Mel

P.S. Here are the units I have coming up:

Unit 4: Curbside Couture (inspired by this event at the Clinton Library) Kids will be challenged to create something (anything) that can be worn and will be exposed to fiber arts including weaving and sewing.

Unit 5: Black History – we were asked to make something for the program so, something we will make…for this, kids will be exposed to various printmaking techniques and we will look at traditional African prints as well as artwork by a soon to be determined modern printmaker who is preferably either Black or uses Black subject matter.

Unit 6: The Magic of Texture – Still working on the details of this one but I want to somehow hit atmospheric perspective and texture techniques…perhaps some drawing and painting lessons as well as a 3D twist in the sculpture studio.  Looking for art suggestions if you have any!

Unit 7: Final Project: Also in the works – I will do a follow up post when I get this together completely!

Dream School

Lately I have been a bit discouraged with our school culture and the lack of investment and ownership our students show in ASIS.  While stewing on the matter and brainstorming what I could do about it, I decided to tie my next unit on perspective into the idea of school investment.  I was hoping to spark a little thought on the subject AND fit the writing across the curriculum requirement into a lesson that still worked on what we needed to accomplish in regards to art standards.  Whew.  After some internet searching and brain racking, I settled upon taking a time-out from TAB for this stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and doing a 3 part lesson with all grades.

Part 1:  Presenting a lesson on one-point perspective (my 5th and 6th graders needed review on this anyway since it is one of the areas we struggled with in the diagnostic).  I am using a Prezi I had stumbled upon last year and tweaked – find the link here – that highlights one-point perspective and vanishing points.  It helps students understand this idea of perspective vs reality and gets them comfortable with the way things look as they go off into the distance (meeting at the vanishing point, things getting smaller, etc.)  I have students find the vanishing point and discuss the characteristics of many photos/drawings that demonstrate one-point perspective.  Once they seem pretty comfortable, I am giving them clip boards, paper, and a pencil and we are heading into the hallway to draw the school as it is.  I am having students look down the hallway and notice what happens as things get further away, highlighting size and the vanishing point idea in real life.  I am then demonstrating how to get started and leaving them to work.  I have found that behavior tends to be better in this situation because it is something new and exciting as well as an accomplish-able task.  See a few third and fifth grade examples from the start of our drawings below – they didn’t quite finish in the 15 minutes but they have a pretty solid start.

Third Grade Example 2 3rd Grade Example 1 Fifth Grade Example 2 Fifth Grade Example 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2:  Part 2 is where I focus on writing and tying in the investment piece.  In this lesson, students will be (this is happening next week) given a survey and graphic organizer that asks about our school now and their dream school. I have them reflect on the positives and negatives of school as it is.  We will then discuss what a school is for, what should happen there, and what needs to be in place for it to be considered a school.  Students will have a writing prompt to explain what their ideal school environment would consist of.  They will be expected to highlight classes that are offered, what students and teachers are doing, what the halls look like, lunch menus etc. in order to paint a vivid image of their dream school.  Copies of the survey, graphic organizer and writing prompt can be found below.

Dream School Survey   Dream School Graphic Organizer   Dream School Writing Prompt

Part 3: In the final 2 lessons, students will go back to the idea of one point perspective, but this time, will be choosing symbols to represent what they conceptualized as their dream school.  I will do a mini-lesson on symbols and we will brainstorm some ideas together to get them started; then it is back in the students hands.  They will set up a general perspective hallway drawing and then add the things that make it THEIR school.  At the end of day one, I will have students do a group share at their tables in order to get feedback as to whether or not their symbols are coming across clearly.  I am not quite sure what format I want this to be in yet, but I am thinking just a simple discussion with guiding questions may do.  Day 2 of Part 3, will be finalizing, adding color, and displaying. I am going to have students mount the picture of their school next to their writing prompt on black paper which we will hang in the hallway after break!

I am excited to see what kids’ perspectives are on a dream school and hope that it sparks interest and discussion of what we need to work toward in order to make their dreams come true.  Many of our students do not realize that they have the power and ability to be a catalyst for change.  I am hoping this project gets at least some of them thinking in that direction.  I know planning it and starting in the early stages has rejuvenated some of my excitement about what I and students can be doing to be a part of a positive environment.

Rise up!

Mel

The Art of Motivation

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Arkansas Art Educators Conference in Little Rock.  It is always such a joy to interact with so many others in my field, considering we are generally a pretty isolated bunch.  Each year I walk away with new tools, new connections, new skills, and a renewed sense of excitement about this work. This year there was one presentation that really stood out and I thought I would share some of its lessons with you.

The session was called, Issues and Theories in Motivating Students in the Art Room and was lead by Dr. Jeoffrey Grubbs, an educator and researcher at UALR. The session write up claimed that, “motivation is one of the least discussed topics in teaching and yet it constantly impacts students and teachers every day.  This presentation addresses nine motivational truths explained in ways that can be applied in an art classroom.”  Seventy-five people were packed into a tiny room, sitting on the floor and straining their necks to learn about this important piece of our daily work, and Dr. Grubbs did not disappoint.  This session really gave me a refreshed perspective on how to look at challenging students and re-grounded me in the art of motivation.

His truths

  1.  Everyone can be motivated
  2. Students are always motivated by something (whether it be you, peer approval, the seeking of attention, etc, actions are always motivated by some internal or external factors)
  3. Motivation is a relatively constant behavior.
  4. Rewards and punishment will have temporary impact, but do not encourage increased growth for the long term.
  5. Competition only motivates the students who think they can be winners.
  6. Achievement in one area in a student’s life can lead them to believe they can be successful in others.
  7. Increasing an individual’s sense of self efficacy – or perception of the ability to succeed – will increase motivation.  For us this means presenting learning materials so students can understand them, implementing and encouraging collaboration, and helping students to believe that high performance is an acquirable skill.
  8. Clear communication of expected outcomes increases motivation.  (explicit instructions, sharing learning goals, all that stuff they tell us to do – it’s real.)
  9. A teacher’s constructively encouraged language increases motivation.  We need to reduce the fear of learning and failure.

He also discussed a person’s motivational needs which include:

  • Physical Needs (food, shelter, safety and experience)
  • Cognitive Needs (understand/know, structure/order, and collect/create)
  • Psychological Needs (self-respect, express emotions, autonomy, and give/receive love)
  • Relational Needs (belonging, communication, esteem of others, relationship goals, status goals and responsibility goals)

The discussion of all of these made me realize that in order to catch those tricky kids, we need to find what is behind their motivation and get on board.  If a kid does better with a classroom job, perhaps they are driven by responsibility goals.  The class clown is likely operating with status goals in mind or is motivated by attention.  Kids who like to collaborate could be longing for a sense of belonging or may have a low sense of self efficacy and therefore need other students for support until they can build their confidence.  In turn, the only way to find out what each student’s motivators are, is through observation and relationship building.  We need to know more about our students so that we can figure out what makes them tick.  When you see 500 students a week, this can be a daunting task.  But I say start small.  I challenge you to choose one of your tough kids and try to find out his or her motivation.  What gets them going.  Then start to brainstorm ways to encourage that motivation but with the goal of academic/classroom advancement.  If a student is motivated by the attention of his or her peers, how can you enlist their help?  If he or she has a fear of failure, how can you start small and encourage them as they grow?  If you think about it in the frame of motivation, those challenging kids come back down to earth and become normal humans, operating themselves through human nature and needs.  And they become reachable.

Ms. Bradshaw, why did you give me a C?!?!

With the quarter at a close and the reveal of their 9 week grades, students are finally seeing how the parts of their efforts in art add up.  As we have gone through the previous weeks, I have tried to make sure students understood the make-up of their grade; how many points things were worth, how one mistake on one project would not be their downfall, how not turning in a project at all might be, and how to make sure they were growing on their rubric.  However, it isn’t until they see that first report card that things kind of all come together.  I would like to work toward that happening more when it comes to individual projects as well, but for now, the report card is the ultimate showing of their hard work or lack-there-of.  This is the first year that I have had students tracking their progress in personal trackers (see the post Diagnostics and Tracking for details) and it is proving to be very useful in student understanding of growth and data.  However, there is always room for improvement and I hope this system continues to expand in detail and frequency so students are consistently invested in their grades and growth as artists.  I want them to be recording their daily participation points – perhaps in some kind of exit activity – and figuring out how to have them track mastery of objectives and/or elements along the way.  I will be brainstorming this for the coming semester so any ideas are very welcome!  The more urgent issue however, is once in a while, I still have students ask “Ms. Bradshaw why did you give me a C on this!?!?”  rather than understanding clearly how the rubric works and being invested in the fact that they earn their grades and I am merely there to record them and point them in the direction of growth.  In order to move closer to that I think 3 things need to be done:

1.  Students need to more clearly understand and be invested in the rubric.  I think this will come with repetition, review, and by breaking down and focusing on rubric rows.  Every time we do a project we need to go over the rubric before and after.  I think I will have them choose which rubric row will accompany our challenge each unit to up the critical thinking skills we are focusing on this year.

2. Students need to better understand the classroom expectations for independent projects. This will be helped by the rubric review pre-project and break down of rubric rows so expectations can be layed out for each category.  I think also encouraging students to move beyond the “scribble stage” in studios would contribute to growth in this area.  Students created great plans for projects at the beginning of this unit but I would say only about 15% of students stuck with their plan in any way.  I need to figure out a way to promote problem solving in order to create their way-cool ideas rather than making another gun out of toilet paper rolls because the kid next to them did and it looked kind of cool.  I had way too many last minute projects turned in this time around.

3. Students need to feel ownership of their projects and effort and operate with a growth mindset. The final piece comes down to investment.  If students are invested in their work and take ownership of it, they are more likely to see themselves as earning their grade rather than me giving it to them.  I need to impart on them a drive and value of hard work so that students are turning in their best work rather than a last minute piece just to have something in.  Students should be focused on getting better with each piece rather than seeing them all as separate entities.

This is far from a perfect (or complete) plan but I think if I am mindful of these three components and work toward improving them, students’ personal investment in their grades will increase.  I want to continue to improve the quality of student data tracking and the consistency in which we track.  When students become comfortable with the process, it allows for deeper conversation about why and how this can help them in both art class and how this can be transferred to other aspects of their school career and lives.  Hopefully…

The Balance

work

That pretty much sums up life as a teacher.  Or at least my life as a teacher.  Especially in October, in the week after i just spent 4 days in the homeland for the beautiful wedding of my friend.  There is so much catching up to do!  As I was trying to decide what to blog about this week, my roommate received an e-mail from a friend that lay within the same vein.  He is in his first year teaching (TFA also) in Baltimore.  This was his message:

question…when u go home, or during ur first year….did all u think about was ur kids? i like cant separate school and home, its driving me nuts. like i went for a jog and blasted music and i still thought about them. I need a psychologist.

So, as a house, we brainstormed.  I realized that I had had similar feelings, as had my roommates and we came up with a response to his concern which I have decided may be helpful to one of you.

First, we decided this was a standard feeling.  It is very difficult to separate work and life in your first year teaching, and especially in your first year teaching in TFA.  This is partly due to the extremely high expectations that are set upon us and partly due to the fact that most people who join are passionate about what they are doing and generally type A perfectionists.  Throw high expectations mixed with failing conditions our way and we’re bound to be stressed and obsessive.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Second, because of this, it is difficult and perhaps impossible to turn off your thoughts about work.  However, it is important to find a way to make those thoughts positive or at least less stress inducing.  In my roommate’s words, “It’s about self care because you seriously will drive yourself nuts or burnout and drop out if you cant find a way to live your own life separate from teaching.” 

We decided the two big things that helped us, actual ended up being kind of common sense.  1.) find an activity that calms you and de-stresses you and that you enjoy enough to relax about your work-related thoughts (camping, baking, or canoeing worked for me) or 2.) find an activity that you definitely cannot think during, like intense adrenaline-rush activities, such as rock climbing or insanity, or activities that require total focus, like chorus, video games, or painting.  When you are able to take an hour or two out to do these things, it actually refreshes your mind and you are able to tackle your classroom problems in a more positive, efficient, and productive manner.  Often it seems like we don’t have time to take for ourselves but really, in the end, we usually use the time we are given.  If we have an hour to do something, it gets done in an hour.  If we have ten, it gets done in ten.  The third thing I would like to add to the list is also common sense and most of you already probably have a system for, but just in case…prioritize.  Any time I am feeling overwhelmed, I make a list of the things I have to do or want to change.  Cross off the ones I have no power over and then organize the rest into manageable chunks.  Usually, I have done all of this with a very elaborate sticky-note system that my roommate loves to laugh at, but this year I made a grown-up planner system that is working pretty good as well.  I have the long term stuff I have to do across the bottom (broken up into categories) Then have the days at the top where I can split up and prioritize those long term tasks as well as daily stuff like lesson planning.  I attached it as a PDF because I used funky fonts but just shoot me an e-mail if you would like it in .doc form!

Weekly Planner

I didn’t want this to be a post about ideas to de-stress because each person is different and it will take a different thing to get them refocused.  What I wanted, was to let you know that if you are feeling this way you are not alone and it is ok to do that thing that is going to get you recharged and then come back to the task at hand.  Don’t let teaching change you being you.  And with that, I’ll leave you with the wise words of Walt Disney…

Walt

Project Proposals

About halfway through last year, I switched to a choice based model of Art Ed or what many call “TAB” or Teaching for Artistic Behavior.  This means that the students are in control of what they make, rather than the teacher.  If you want more information on this movement, I suggest you check out their website, the yahoo group, TAB-Choice Art Ed and this article by TAB educator, Nan Hathaway   (I will warn you, this article has caused controversy, but I think it paints a pretty good picture of why a lot of teachers have switched).  I thought about it for about two years before making the jump but now that I have, I really like it.  It does however, come with many new challenges.  One thing I am working on is that my kids really love the “scribble stage” of studios or basically that point where you experiment and go all out with reckless abandon.  Who wouldn’t love that…but this year, I wanted them to start thinking more.  Our vision is all about thinking and problem solving.  Though experimentation is important, I wanted to push them further.  In a conversation with the high school teacher in my district, she brought up that she sometimes uses pre-planning worksheets for her regular projects.  She talked about having them do a thumbnail sketch and answer a few questions before getting started.  She e-mailed me her template but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for so I started looking around Pinterest and the TAB yahoo group.  Finally, I came across this worksheet that was made by Nan, the same woman who wrote the article above.

Project Proposal Form

I decided to have students use this before getting started in their choice studio.  I also started giving them unit challenges.  That way, there would be a plan and a purpose.  My Unit 1 Challenge was based on the book “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis.  Last week was the students’ introduction to this new system and, as expected, it was met with mixed reviews.  The kids didn’t love the extra paperwork they were being expected to do, but I do think it gave them a bit of an opportunity to think through their work before getting started.  Below is an example of a proposal from a sixth grade student.

20130929-091112.jpg

That last part is what I fill out as I look at them to let them know if this is a solid plan or if they need to do some work.  He doesn’t have quite everything in the right spot but for his first one, this is pretty good.  Not all were quite that thought out, so I want to keep encouraging kids to go into more detail.  I think if I were to re-do the sheet myself, I would have them draw their project first, then think about materials, and after that match them to a studio.  On this particular sheet, studios come first so I think the kids think about where they like to work rather than what they are making.  So, we’ll be having talk about how to choose your studio(s) next time we do it I think or designing projects to fit the studio you want to work in.  Also, his idea was one from the book (although, knowing this kid he may have come up with it anyway…) so I also want to be encouraging students to think bigger and with even more of their own investments and personal style in mind.

Choice is such a new process to me and there are so many variables, that I think every year will be a bit of an experiment.  Hopefully with this method, I am pushing at least most of the kids to put a bit of thought into their work!