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. 


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!


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 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.