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!

Advertisements

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…

Vision

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.

DSCN3581

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.

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!

DSCN3588

(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.