The Many Faces of Mona

We all know that teaching is a tough job.  It is hard work that comes with many stresses. In the end the reward is great, but sometimes it’s tough to see on a daily basis.  In order to keep myself sane and crack a few smiles on the faces of those silly little children that walk through my door every day, I like to do a little something that puts a personal touch in the room once in a while.  My subject, Mona.

Mona picstitchShe gets dressed up for holidays, seasons, testing, and any other excuse I can think of.  Above are a few examples of Mona from last year.  There is no real reason for doing it other than it makes me happy and it makes my kids happy, which therefore, makes it absolutely worth it.  I highly recommend finding a way to put a smile on your face each day.  Whether it be Mona or grumpy cat (yes, I now have this as a poster in my classroom…) the more you have fun, the more enjoyable you will find your job. Grumpy Cat

October’s a tough month people, go into it prepared.

P.S. If it’s one of those days where you are really struggling to find the joy, just watch Kid President.  That boy is amazing.



I figured before I share anything else, I better share the guiding force behind the workings of my classroom.  That way, you have a clear foundation for what my students and I are aiming toward in the coming year.


So, there it is folks.  It is a work in progress every year, always being tweaked and changed to share a better picture of what I want my kids to really take away from their time in my room.  As you can see, this year I went with the theme of, “Be in your right mind!” (even though they decided to put out new research about the holistic functioning of the brain like a day after I put this up…darn scientists. Anyway…) Since switching to TAB, my focus has really turned away from product and is very much grounded in planning and process.  I just want my kids to believe that they have really cool ideas. Because they do. And it’s awesome.

“In art class, we will be in our RIGHT MINDS!” We will create original works of art with confidence but we will know that art is not only about making things.  It is about learning how to think in new ways and explore new solutions to problems both big and small.  In art class we show respect to each other, to our space, and to our time because we know that to waste time means to waste our potential and no one in their right mind would risk that!”

I have contemplated adding, “We will be able to lead ourselves and will take ownership of our minds and actions”  to the end. Like I said, it is ever-changing.

This student friendly version was whittled down from this document outlining the nuts and bolts of what it is I want my students to be able to do and say.  2013-2014 Vision

As an added bonus, I really love the overall picture for humanities classes that Jacob outlined this year.  His thoughtfulness and holistic approach has been really inspiring to my vision and the content I plan to teach in my classroom this year.  See part of his humanities vision below!

As Humanities teachers, we cultivate students who are…

… confident participants in their cultural and historical context that can articulate and explain the significance of their own as well as others’ identities and believe in their voice within their community, state, nation, and world.

… creative thinkers that can express their own thoughts and ideas in new and original forms, arguing and advocating for their own perspectives. They make decisions that demonstrate strong intellectual opinions, expressing their unique point of view.

… critical thinkers that can problem-solve around challenges and mistakes, and can make deep analytical statements. They uncover the implicit themes, arguments, and ideas within and across cultures, texts, artworks, performance pieces, or languages, and determine how – and why – these are being conveyed.

… life-long scholars that express constant curiosity about the world and people around them. They hunger for continued growth, seeking opportunities that further their development, challenging themselves, taking risks, generating original and creative ideas, demonstrating outstanding technical skills, and learning from mistakes.

Diagnostics and Tracking

Soooooo I HATED the idea of testing and tracking elementary students’ work my first few years in teaching. I refused. I was told I had to. I whined about it. (500 students, how am I supposed to track 500 students?!?!? And a diagnostic in art? Please, I see them once a week. I am not wasting my time giving a test.)  I was a pain. But, I’m going to tell you a secret. This year, I did it voluntarily.  Whaaaaat? I know.

If we go back on over to my Things to Consider Fixing list, you will notice that I wanted to be better at returning work and having the kiddos more aware of their progress.  Which means…I need to be aware of their progress. Like, solidly.  So, I buckled down and created a skills-based diagnostic and stole some individual trackers from the great Jacob Carroll, that I altered to meet my needs, and voila, a system is underway.  I figured I would share a few of my new documents and systems with you in case you too have been a skeptic and need a little boost to get started.

So first, the diagnostic(s)


Third Grade Diagnostic

For my first day, I gave these to the kids after I went over expectations.  But then I realized that did not work and they left a ton blank (which you can see in the tracker later).  So, I switched up my game plan and decided to give it to them as Do Nows over the course of the first month.  I had the third graders do the drawings on their own and then read through the bottom 3 questions.  For the 4th-6th graders I had them do page 1 on week 1, page 2, week 2 and will continue on with that next week.  I was hoping to have them out of the way sooner but this seems to be a more effective way to get actual answers so I’ll go with it…

Once they have all of the questions done, I will go through and grade them, recording each skill in my classroom tracker.  I use a pretty basic one that I just manually do all kinds of stuff to because that is what works for me (see below) but there is also one found at that is really wonderful if you like the visuals.

2013-2014 Tracker1

After that, I am having the kids record their diagnostic score (3rd is only recording their drawing level which is based on this cognitive growth rubric 2011.ECEArt.CognitiveGrowthRubric and 4th-6th will be the actual number of points they got correct on the test) on the top section of their personal growth tracker which is stapled into their portfolio.


Stuff is given back to them through this little system that I developed (student helpers pass out the papers in their teacher’s clip) and progress is recorded once a month as a Do Now.


Finally, they will also use these personal trackers to keep tabs on their project scores once we get started with TAB stuff and will take the same test I gave at the beginning of the year as a summative so they can see how (hopefully) awesome they are growth wise!

Phew. That was a lot. But hopefully a good look at how I am tackling a widely misunderstood but helpful-once-you-use-it classroom strategy.


Art History Resources

Hello and Happy Weekend!

A few AR teachers had asked for some easy, art history resources so I have made a quick list of a few sites, books, and apps that I have found useful.  This is far from comprehensive but I think would be more than enough to get someone started.  Hopefully it can be a bit helpful and as always, feel free to comment below with additional suggestions!


Traditional Works

The Getty


Google Art Project

The Art History Archive


Contemporary Artists


The Jealous Curator

The Wooster Collective (street art)

Kind of a fun new list about teaching contemporary art comparatively with traditional art



REALLY Helpful

Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland

The Art Teacher’s Book of Lists by Helen D. Hume

Visually Nice

Children’s Book of Art by DK Publishing

Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary by Andrew Graham-Dixon

Curriculum/Pacing-ish Stuff

Blueprint for the Arts (NY Dept of Ed)

Core Knowledge Sequence

Arts and the Common Core Mapping Project

Ipad and Iphone Apps

Art Authority – like a little museum in your phone. Can search by artist, subject or movement.

Musee de Lourve – highlighted works from the museum

Art History – terminology, definitions, historical groups and institutions pertaining to the study of art

Art History Test – Virtual Flash Cards for Art History

Love Art – The app from the National Gallery in London

Apps For Individual Artists Works (I’m sure there are more but…you know…)

DaVinci HD

Renoir Gallery HD


Vincent Van Gogh


Room for Improvement

So at the end of last year, with my switch to Choice Based learning and added grade levels, there were a few things that had been causing frustration and/or I just thought could go better for the coming school year.  I made a list of those things and then throughout the summer, as a solution popped into my head or was stumbled upon through pinterest or awesome blogs, books, etc., I filled in the area under that problem and planned the solution into my management plan, long term plan or room decs for this year.

I thought it may be helpful to share my problem-solving process with you to a. hopefully help someone out who may be experiencing similar problems (or at least commiserate) or  b. steal some of your awesome alternative solutions! (comment below with helpful-hints!) Today I’ll share my initial document and then the 1st solution in action!

You can find the unedited, no-frills, brainstorm pdf file below.

Things to Consider Fixing for Next Year…  

Solution #1

The first thing on that list had to do with volume control.  My kids were being productive (for the most part) and having meaningful conversations, but they were just too loud.  So, the music teacher and I decided to collaborate and do the same volume control tracker in both of our rooms, using volume levels as a verbal and visual guide for students.  With this handy tool we can easily say “during your Do Now, you should be at a volume level 0, meaning you are silently working until the bell rings.”  On the left side of the tracker there is an “our goal” arrow and on the right side there is a “we are here” arrow.  My sound monitors for the day will be in charge of moving the arrows to the appropriate positions.  We are still brainstorming rewards but classes with the most greens will earn some kind of prize at the end of a quarter…kids come tomorrow so we’ll see how it works!


(please ignore the fact that our school did not order laminating paper for this year so my tracker is currently housed in sheet protectors…)

School year #4, here we come.

A New School Year, A New Purpose

Hi, and welcome!

My name is Melanie and I taught K-4 art my first two years of teaching, K-6 last year and will be 3-6 this year.  I have stayed in the same district in Arkansas but have occupied 3 different classrooms, ranging from hole-in-the-wall-small and sinkless to an old home-ec room with a decent amount of space and lots of storage (praise all that is good)! I am originally from Wisconsin and wandered down to Arkansas when Teach for America told me to in 2010.  I stereotypically love the Packers and cheese and miss snow dearly come January, but I am also finding a place in my heart for porch sitting and the sounds of cicadas and Blues here in the Delta.  I majored in Studio Art with an emphasis in Weaving and a minor in Anthropology and still love all things fiber arts and culture.  When not teaching, I love to make art and/or music, explore Memphis, trail hike with my pup, and grow/cook delicious food.


This blog was previously used for a specific course that myself and a music teacher led as professional development for Teach for America corps members as part of Professional Saturdays.  I am now transitioning to using it as a way to communicate to art teachers in the Mississippi Delta and Arkansas regions as a leader in content or “Learning Team Leader”.  I want this to be a place where I can show the struggles and successes of my classroom and hopefully address the questions and concerns of others in my field.  I am still very much an active learner myself as this is merely my 4th year teaching and my first full year using the TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) model.  I will share my thought processes as I make changes to (hopefully) make my classroom better, continue to utilize the things that work and discard the things that don’t.  Please let me know if there is a way that I can support you more fully as we start this new school year!

Let’s be a catalyst for the rise of the imagiNATION!