“As Teachers, we choose our words and, in the process, construct the classroom worlds for our students and ourselves.” Peter Johnston, Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives
Developing dialogic teaching and learning is not easy. Dialogue is not predictable and requires vulnerability on both the part of the teacher, as well as the learner. It’s a two-way street and power is shared. The teacher must stand in front of a group of people and be able to stomach uncertainty and wade through awkward silences. The learner risks just as much speaking up and becoming the center of attention while risking being misunderstood or saying the wrong thing. We believe that when we bring together our different points of view, we build more complex understandings of the world and ourselves. But we all have to trust each other that we’ve come together in the interest of a common goal - transformation.
In my experience as a student, teacher, and observer via roles like being a university supervisor for student teachers, far too many classrooms are monologic rather than dialogic. What’s the difference? “The difference...can be thought of as a shift from asking whether something is true to asking when something might be true.” Therefore in the dialogic classroom, students must rely on inquiry, critical thinking, and creativity in making good judgements. When we focus on trivial facts rather than dynamic mindsets, our students suffer in a number of ways. It becomes easy for the teacher to rely on the lowest common denominator, such as memorizing or reproducing the color wheel, and in turn students learn that knowledge is about being right or wrong and that you can either be smart or dumb. This makes them ultimately less resilient and able to overcome challenges in the future, not to mention distorted views of self. When we dialogue with our students, we are embracing active engagement and growth, as well as acknowledging the often contextual and conditional reality in which we all live.
I’ve seen classrooms where students were not allowed to talk with each other, even in the art room, even while working on projects and sitting in groups. I’ve seen classrooms where students did not discuss art, theirs or anyone else’s. I’ve seen classes where students respond to canned, disconnected questions with canned, disconnected answers. Such classrooms break my heart. I have struggled through many a class in my (long) college career where the teacher abused their captive audience and where it seemed the only voice the professor was interested in hearing was their own. This is not just monologic - it’s anti-democratic. And I’m sick of such behaviors being justified by “benevolent dictators.” And it’s all too easy to slide down the slippery slope of student compliance. In “Calling for Response-ability in Our Classrooms” by Maureen Boyd, she states:
“What do we really mean when we say, “You’re not listening to me”? In the constrained world of the public school classroom, with its lopsided power relations, it really means, “You need to do what I am telling you to do. You need to comply.”
But of course there are many wonderful classrooms as well that are full of engaged learners (including the teachers)! I’ve seen classes where students engaged with each other and their teachers, cooperating in the pursuit of curiosity and understanding. Boyd calls this kind of talk “response-able.” She states, “Response-able teacher talk practices cultivate student exploration and articulation as they frame and connect material to local experiences and student funds of knowledge, guide critical exploration, and cultivate openness to perspectives.” Additionally, there is evidence that the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important characteristics for a teacher to have.
Guiding teachers towards becoming dialogic with their students has become my passion as a teacher educator. At my last position as the coordinator and sole professor of a regional university’s art education program, I redesigned our Elementary Methods course to almost entirely focus on talking about art. As I saw it, being able to talk about and lead discussions surrounding art is an essential skill for every art teacher. Despite identifying as an artist myself, I tend to agree with Dr. Terry Barrett, author of Talking About Student Art (the textbook for my course), when he says “learning to talk thoughtfully about art is especially valuable, perhaps more valuable than learning to make art.” Or course I believe making is important! But, in my current position, when I think of whether or not classroom teachers will be more likely to look at and talk with their students about images or get out art materials and engage their students with authentic artmaking, I would wager that they will be willing to provide many more opportunities to talk and look together than make for their students.
I don’t expect my early-childhood teachers to become art teachers. I do hope that they will become fearless classroom teachers that are more open to making with their students, more supportive of creativity broadly, and will talk more frequently and thoughtfully with their students about images and objects in general. It is my belief that learning to dialogue with art will transfer to other areas of their teaching and gradually lead to more them becoming more dialogic in their own teaching generally. I know there will be plenty of pressures to not engage their students in dialogue - test scores and pacing guides for a couple of examples. But above all, I want them to be brave by resisting the temptation to talk at their students. Not engaging students in discussion, I believe, is a fear-based pedagogy. Art, like teaching, requires vulnerability and risk at its core. So how do we become braver? We practice.
Practicing bravery was exactly what I wanted from my students for their midterm assignment. More explicitly, I wanted them to practice conversation, specifically involving art in some way. The assignment was Two Conversations, one with a loved one and the other with a stranger or acquaintance. Both conversations would involve art in some way, either looking or making, but both would require talking. This would be many of their first experiences planning and/or leading an art experience which is why I wanted them to have someone they’re close with to be a friendly audience. However they need to operate at the edge of their comfort zones, hence asking them engage someone they know little if at all. I explained that they could think of their mini-lesson plan which they’ll be creating for their final project as simply scaling up their conversations from one-on-one to a group while maintaining that conversational style. In 3-6 pages, double-spaced, I asked them to explain who they chose and what they did and reflect on the experience, comparing and contrasting the two conversations, while thinking about what they might change, what they learned and felt, and what specific characteristics of creativity they explored.
One thing I was not expecting was just how much I would enjoy reading their reflections! I was so impressed with them all - their thoughtfulness, their risk-taking, their ambition, and their self-awareness. Their writing seemed to flow naturally as they considered how their plans had unfolded and how they might apply this experience to their future classrooms and students! My biggest problem was trying not to give them too much feedback as I enjoyed their reflections so thoroughly and I wanted to dialogue with each of them at length! Again, I must do better practicing less is more with my descriptive feedback. I was so proud of all of them and it was so self-affirming to see what I perceived as our efforts in class and my efforts behind the scenes paying off. Probably a third or so of the group opted to make art with folks which really impressed me, since I know most of them don’t have much experience making. Most of all, it was touching to see them strengthening their bonds with family, friends, and partners while forming new relationships and friendships with friends of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers, all because of a midterm! How often can anyone say that? So many saw the power of art in action! Now that they know they can do it, I believe that ‘proof-of-concept’ will carry over to their final lessons and I can’t wait to see how they impress me!
As I wrote about in a previous post, I like to play with data. Data can come from a number of sources and in a number of forms. So after I responded to all of my student’s midterms, I became curious about the story inside of the stories. What words or ideas occurred most frequently in their reflections, for example? And what, if any, story did my feedback tell? I turned again to the website Wordsift.org. The story it revealed was fascinating!
When all of their combined 32,099 words were reduced to the 25 most frequently occurring words in their responses, “conversation” and “art” were the frontrunners unsurprisingly. Next “question” was very frequent, followed by “thought” and “think.” After those, words like “asked,” “person,” “make,” “like,” “see,” “different,” “interesting,” “experience,” “know,” “activity,” “time,” and “felt” were most prevalent. Can you see a story? The story I see is one where inquiry is emphasized and that joins actions like making with feeling, looking, and thinking through experiences interacting with people that were both different and interesting. When I expanded the number of words from 25 to 75, I felt that the additional words supported my initial story. Do you agree or disagree?
Next I analyzed my own descriptive feedback. I utilize some common phrases and questions but each response is unique and personalized, so I wondered what story I might be telling the entire class. What were the results? Of the 25 most frequent words in my feedback, “think,” “art,” and “like” were top. Those words were followed by “experience,” “well,” “thank,” “great,” and “thought.” Next were words including “looking,” “student,” “person,” “other,” “maybe,” and “might.” Others were “enjoyed,” “sharing,” “idea,” likely,” “writing,” “someone,” “proud,” and “reflection.” What story do these words tell you? For me, they tell me that I’m encouraging in my use of language but also pushing students to consider various possibilities and conditional knowledge. I can also see my students and I using several of the same words, suggesting we’re effectively speaking the same language. My words to emphasize the interaction and construction of knowledge between people. Again, I increased the number of words from 25 to 75 to see if more information would contradict or verify my first account. For me it did, painting a more detailed portrait of what I suspected. Does that match the story you saw?
Together the world I’m creating with my students is one that prioritizes people over content and active construction and exchange of shared knowledge over impersonal, standardized transmission. We are building a space for thinking and feeling and above all, dialogue. A place where we can be heard and seen and all of this through and with art and artmaking. Many people say art is a language. I disagree. Language is language and art is art. T-shirts communicate but they aren’t a language. Art is a medium - but not just a medium for us to only look at, but a medium through which we can interact and learn to talk with each other as well. I believe that when we talk about and make art, we learn perhaps more about ourselves and each other than we do about the objects themselves.
While I continue to struggle with the demands of my first completely dialogic classroom, I see the rewards so clearly now and I believe there are more on the way for me, but even moreso for my students.
Here is a link to my day 7 outline
So I’m going to talk about meetings - WAIT! STOP RUNNING AWAY! This is going to be interesting, I promise! Because this is the best I’ve felt assessing my students’ progress in a long time! Do you hear that?! Assessment. Felt. Good. Now do you want to hear more? Read on, dear reader!
My favorite part of this week was definitely conducting midpoint meetings with my students. It was such a pleasure getting to meet with each student and check-in, even if it is only for 15 minutes! I still have about a third or fourth of the class left for next week due to “fall break” which is something that doesn’t really apply to teachers or grad students I suspect. I was really worried about these meetings before they started because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay within the time limit I set. Time is a struggle for me as you already know. Additionally in the past, when I would meet and advise art education students, our meetings would regularly last 30 minutes plus because their journey through their courses and program requirements were so complicated and because I was determined that they would leave as informed as possible, unlike the adviser I had while an undergrad who made it clear she didn’t enjoy seeing students and mostly left us blowing in the wind on our own. It’s a terrible feeling. I saw that on more than one occasion, namely advisers who expected students to know what they didn’t know. I was so excited (and pleasantly surprised) that we were able to move through our meetings efficiently without any traffic jams!
This wasn’t luck, however. I did several things to make sure we made the most of our short time. First, I created a midpoint meeting agenda of 5 items we had to cover. I always tell students not to give students more than “a handful” of things to think about or do at any given time and since we have 5 fingers on our hands 5 items must be more than enough. Any more is asking for trouble (but this is anecdotal and arbitrary on my part - 5 is not a magic number but it is a concrete visual). The agenda’s items were:
I printed out one for each student and for myself and filled them out and checked them off as we progressed. At the end of the meeting, I asked each student to sign to confirm what we had covered those points. This gave us structure and allowed us to move expeditiously while practicing good habits with students, in this case always having something to take notes with at meetings, and committing to decisions, hence the signatures.
Second, I took a page out of Terry Barrett’s playbook, or so I’ve heard, and told students that if they didn’t come prepared for the meeting that we would have to reschedule. If they’re not ready to meet, why meet? How would I know if they’re prepared to meet, you ask? They had to bring a form filled out that I had emailed them and handed out in class. Set your students up for as much success as possible by printing the important or easy things out for them so they have both online and analog and no excuses.
The form I gave them was what I’m calling their “Creative Growth Goal.” It asked them to identify a creative lesson (Eisner), habit (Project Zero), or disposition (Columbus Museum of Art) they would like to work on and show growth in by the end of the semester (about 8 weeks from now). And no one forgot to bring it so far! My students are so on top of everything! I can hardly believe I didn’t have to be the bad guy...yet. We all know that if you set consequences - you have to follow through. But I typically explain I don’t like being put in that position but it’s not my call - its theirs.
This form set us up for two important conversations: A) thinking about their mini-lessons they’ll be preparing for their final; and B) how they will be assessed overall in the course. I explain that there are two widely accepted ways to evaluate student progress in education. One is growth and the other is mastery. I describe how their mini-lesson will be where they will demonstrate mastery, because they will have multiple opportunities to receive feedback, reflect, and revise BEFORE they perform. We’ll be grouping up to talk about ideas next class. The upcoming midterm is practice since it involves two one-on-one conversations involving art looking or making in someway. The draft of the lesson plan will be practice. Even presenting it to the entire class will still be practice technically since it will be with adults and not children and it’s the first time they’ve tried to integrate art probably. It will nevertheless be a “performance” that will make it more real and allow them to “play the whole game”. The final polished product will be the art-integrated lesson plan which they will hopefully carry into their teaching careers. I wonder if I can check in with them somehow and find out if they use it again? How many teachers use the lesson plans they create in undergrad? I further explain that I use a one-point (yes or no) ‘rubric’ for mastery so - Did they integrate art? Did they integrate it authentically? Did they hit these important mechanical parts of a lesson plan? Yes. Yes. Yes. Mastery.
Growth, I explain, will be their “creative growth goal.” I want to be able to put a “creative growth mindset” into practice. I use the metaphor of exercise - a la Dweck’s growth mindset intervention where she refers to the brain (or intelligence) as a muscle. I say that if I walk into a gym, I sure as heck don’t want someone coming up to me to tell me what part of my body I need to work on! I can make that decision myself and they should too! I want them to have ownership over what skill they want to learn. I have no expectation for how much growth or what that growth should look like. My only expectation is that there is growth, regardless of whether it is leaps and bounds! Just like with exercise, we have to be as honest as possible about where we are and where we end up and we have to hold ourselves accountable, but maybe with a little help from a coach or teacher in this case. And whatever you decide to work on, why not work on it together with your students? If I was teaching a workout class, I would definitely be moving and exercising along with my students - not standing still and yelling at them. I’m working on vulnerability and I create conditions for students to work on their vulnerability as well.
Having framed the way they’ll be assessed in the course and making connections, we begin talking about specifics and I try to help them by providing different methods for how they might work on their goal, just like how a trainer might identify various exercises to help someone reach their athletic goal. I want to plant seeds. I tell them how important it is not to overfeed your students by giving too much direction or too many specifics because that can take ownership away from the student. On the other hand, no advice can leave students feeling adrift, confused, or frustrated. It’s a line you have to walk for yourself.
We checked-in on their upcoming midterms quickly to try to resolve any confusion that might escalate their stress and affect their work. Things always come up during these conversations and I’m always really interested in how different students can construe things in different ways than I might intend or how little miscommunications occur or how students can identify areas that need clarification or fixing for next time. I learned a lot about the course their eyes. I’m often gobsmacked at teachers who act like confusion is not a necessary and vital part of learning.
While uncertainty is built into the course, students have only so much tolerance for ambiguity and it can be a big stressor if left unattended. So my goal was for each student to walk out knowing whether or not they were “on target” or off target and what they needed to do to get back on track. We went through any late or missing assignments. I explained that by de-emphasizing grading, I’m not scoring their work, but I am checking it off. If they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to mindfully, then I’ve checked it off, provided feedback, and they are “on target.” I found I learned a great deal about their lives and challenges and that they learned more about my specific expectations and we “lifted the hood” together on how assessment works in the class. I told them that if an assignment was checked off that I had everything that I needed. If it wasn’t, I let them know why specifically in my feedback. One of my goals this semester is total transparency.
My goal is not to tell you you’re a number or a letter, because you’re not, I say. You’re a person and we can do better than that as teachers. My goal is for you to have a clear understanding of where you stand in regard to your own growth and mastery in this course as I’ve observed it and how to move forward. For most students, I was able to gladly tell them just to keep on doing what they’ve been doing because it is working. They’ve managed their time well, despite many personal, work, and other academic obligations. They’ve responded to material thoughtfully in their responses and engaged with material during class in projects and discussions as well as with their classmates.
There were some notes given but most were merely explanations of why I might not call on a student repeatedly to make ample space for other students to speak up or asking students to speak up a little bit more. What a blessing to be able to give students notes like that! I thought about how lucky I was to engage students in dialogue through our written responses and feedback, creating that feedback loop, so that I know how deeply they are engaging with material and how thoughtfully they are reflecting and how many connections they are making even when they don’t speak up much in class! Seeing their thinking makes me a much more confident teacher. I know who is engaging and who might phone it in. I mention this to at least one student, just how grateful I am to be able to see their thinking that other teachers and classes might miss! This is why dialoguing with our students is so critical! Our students are multi-dimensional - not just their presence in class but all the rest of the time between classes as well! How do you make their learning visible as Harvard’s Project Zero Shari Tishman asks? Response journals / portfolios is such a powerful way for me!
One takeaway I leave several students with is just how much I believe it is important that you make time to meet with your students, even if it’s just a quick check-in. EVERY student. No matter how big your classes get, every student deserves some of your time and an opportunity for a one-on-one connection with their teacher on a human level. Those student-teacher relationships are crucial for building trust and communication for learning. I feel as though these meetings have gone a long way so far towards strengthening my relationships with my students this semester.
Do you think I’m crazy? I’ve been meeting with students individually throughout all my courses for the last few years of teaching art education, education, and studio art classes but then again I’ve had the luxury of being able to meet both in and outside of class time. For those of you with younger students, I know you don’t have that luxury of meeting kids outside of class. You might only see your students a few times a month sadly! But can you take just one class session, maybe even if it is only once a semester, to meet face-to-face with everyone for a little check-in while the rest of class work on something together? 5 minutes? 2 minutes? What can you accomplish even in just one minute? If you imagine an elevator ride together? How could you creatively overcome your own unique challenges and obstacles? Do you already do this but differently? Am I asking too much or can we make “one-on-one-for-everyone” a reality?
Hopefully I’ll talk about what happened in class this past week in my next post. This post I think is long enough already. It was a great class looking at and talking about art together while thinking about “sticky” ideas and systematic creativity. But I was SO EXCITED getting to connect with my students and - guess what -THIS WAS AN ASSESSMENT! THIS IS WHAT ASSESSMENT CAN LOOK LIKE! THIS IS WHAT ASSESSMENT CAN FEEL LIKE, PEOPLE! DO YOU HEAR ME? ASSESSMENT FELT GOOD! In our Internet age, where more empathy and eye-contact are regularly called for - where we say we miss human connection - spending some face-time with your students and other humans is more valuable than ever. It’s priceless. Humans, like creativity, depend on connection. Community too requires connection and requires that we treat each individual within our community with dignity. Meetings do not have to suck! Pass it on! :)
Here is a link to my day 6 outline (we did about half - the rest was aspirational)
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Today was all about process! This past week I was hit with a double-whammy of getting sick and an unexpected personal crisis so there went that feeling of being on top of my workload I mentioned last week. That was fast! Several deadlines converged on me at once and so I found myself in that position no teachers like - feeling like I was letting down my students. We often have tough choices as teachers and at times we must implement curriculum triage. It’s true that there is never time to do all the things we would like. There is only so much one can do, and I think teachers especially, are generally pretty self-critical when it comes to accepting the reality of “good enough”. So could I use this as a teachable moment for my students?
On the first day of the semester, I had planned on discussing the term “curriculum” with the class, especially since it’s in the course title, but it didn’t make the cut due to time. Now seemed might be an appropriate time. That’s because “curriculum” comes from Greek, meaning “race track.” This is how I start class. I mention that there are different sorts of race tracks: a line, a circle, and others, like a spiral. A school year can seem like a race track. There is a beginning and an end. Hopefully we are racing ourselves and not each other (part of my assessment rationale). At this point in the semester, some of us are starting to feel it, aren’t we? We’re starting to get just a little tired. But we have to hang in there and take care of ourselves so we can make it to the finish line. I don’t know if I like the idea of a race track though. Everyone starts at different places. And not everyone is trying to get to the same place. Some of our tracks are straight and smooth at times, and some of ours are curvier, more difficult, with more obstacles, sometimes based on who we are, where we’re from, what we look like, and who we love. For me, the most important point is that we’re always moving forward. If we stumble over an obstacle, we get back up and keep moving.
For me, I mention that being sick and a personal issue were two too many obstacles for me this past week and it put me in a position where I feel like I let them down. We’re all trying to get better, but we all make mistakes or don’t accomplish what we hoped to. But we have to forgive ourselves as well as ask for forgiveness. As teachers we make choices all the time and those choices become our curriculum. We can’t do everything we want to. I had to make an impossible choice between five things. I chose to schedule our midpoint meetings, so that everyone could confirm in class today, complete and submit materials for a deadline for an upcoming conference I’m presenting at, and write my outline for class so that I wouldn’t be panicking in the morning - every teacher knows that feeling. What I had to sacrifice were my personally imposed but publicly accountable deadlines of completing my weekly blog post on time and completing my feedback for their last responses. I hope you can forgive me for not being able to give you feedback yet. I will soon. But life and teaching are all about making choices. Was there a right and wrong choice in my case? No. There were many options and I had to use my best judgment. What more can anyone do? It’s all about the process and having opportunities to make decisions and to see how they play out. That is our theme today as we’re going to be exploring process and making process-based art where you’ll all be experimenting and transforming!
I introduce “monoprinting” or “monotyping” with a brief PowerPoint presentation explaining the process and showing some examples, both photos and some examples I’ve brought, of monoprints I’ve made myself and with children in various settings. View presentation here. One of their prompts as they entered this morning was to Google the terms so hopefully some of them had already seen some examples. Monoprints for me are especially process based, encouraging looseness and experimentation with a variety of methods. Each print is unique yet students often follow tangents and utilize repetition to explore subject matter in depth. I ask them to make connections to the processes of the Art 21 artists they chose and to create at least one print inspired by their work or life. Still trying to make as many connections as possible. I share my struggle with the students about the amount of time necessary for authentic art making and I tell them that we will only be making today so there is no need to feel rushed to display or talk about your work. Today is all about taking your time and engaging with the process. I tell them that they can even stay after class if they want (one student takes me up on it for just a few minutes).
I lead them to the back and walk them through a demo of monoprinting with the materials available. I introduce the tools and supplies and ideas lie writing backwards and making a mask. I should find a video online for absent students or consider creating my own. One of my weak areas is making in class content available for students that miss class. Next semester this will be so much easier with all of the structure online already in place! And I’ve been wanting to make videos for a while but I’ve usually got other things on my plate.
Everyone jumps right in and the classroom has a real studio atmosphere today. Students were busy exploring, trying things, gathering equipment, sharing ideas, and complimenting each other. Each student was trying something different with a variety of approaches and colors and ideas. I bet this was a very different experience for these students and I can’t wait to read their reactions.
We never remember to say everything we want to say, do we? One thing I wish I had emphasized is that a big part of process art is challenging oneself and, similar to physical exercise, pushing oneself and going beyond their comfort zone and moving forward even when they begin to get tired, feel resistance, and want to stop. Usually in art classes, especially at the intro level, students need to work on mental discipline and can get distracted and chatty with their neighbors. That was not the case today thankfully! However,I think one student was only engaged in the process for maybe 20 minutes or so and I’m wondering what they will say about the experience in their response. Should I worry? Ideally, in an art class, especially one that is choice-based, there is no “finished.” But we all get tired and are interested in some proejcts more than others. For the most part, everyone seemed to be thoroughly engaged in the process and it wasn’t until after about 45 or 50 minutes students gradually began cleaning up and returning to the other side of the classroom. I was hoping they all might work right through ‘the bell’ but it wasn’t to be. One can dream. We were pretty much done with 20 minutes left but I spent a little extra time getting cleaned up and so we had 10 minutes at the end to review just a couple of points from the short article on art-integration they had read the for class today. FINALLY, we had at least touched on all the readings they had been assigned!
After class, I was able to go through and provide the late feedback to their responses. The time seemed to go by efficiently and I was also able to go through some late submissions and comment on their posts about the Art 21 artists they selected on the class discussion board. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the students and their interests and it was helpful for me as well because it introduced me to Art 21 artists I wasn’t aware of and helped me brush up on some others. I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed like everyone was able to connect with a contemporary artist! I could see me giving this assignment each semester and continuing to make connections to contemporary artists. It made me realize how beneficial it can be to create assignments were you and your students are able to learn together! This prevented commenting from becoming tedious and reinforced that we were all making connections.
Today I also very briefly introduced the final art-integrated lesson guidelines but mentioned that we would go over it in more detail next class and we previewed their next assignments. I’m especially excited to be discussing Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath which discusses why some ideas thrive and others die. This book was recommended to me by my mentor Craig Roland and I’ve found it to be one of the more important books I’ve read I believe. I feel like making ideas “sticky” should be the primary concern of every teacher, though to thinking of what your students will remember years down the road seems somehow nostalgic or at least counter to current concepts of data-driven and corporatized learning. This will be my first time discussing Made to Stick with education students so I’m looking forward to hearing their reactions!
I can’t wait for our midpoint meetings next week! Despite all of the planning I’ve put into this course already, I had still struggled up until very recently as to how exactly we would proceed for our all important face-to-face meetings and how we would be defining growth for them. I had a eureka moment the other day and I’ve decided that I will ask them to select two habits, dispositions, or lessons from the previous documents on the benefits and characteristics of creativity and artists that they’d like to focus on for improvement. I will have to create a template, but I will ask them to identify the 2 skills, why they want to work on it, and how they will will go about improving. I think this choice will be empowering and reinforce the important benefits of creative and art-based learning. Therefore, to encourage a “creative growth mindset” AND to help them better identify the benefits and characteristics of creativity, we will practice adopting some ourselves!
On a bit of a side note, I don’t see why we can’t evaluate growth and mastery in the same course, but maybe I just don’t know enough about assessment. For mastery, of course, they will be planning and leading an authentic art-integration experience which they’ll receive feedback on and be able to revise and improve to meet the standards established in the categories of the template for instruction and authentic art-integration. To plan, we’ll be using the SUCCESs model to evaluate their ideas for their lesson and make sure they are “sticky,” which we’ll talk about next time - see template. We’ll also be using the SUCCESs model to discuss the artworks they are posting for their assignment, namely identifying the “stickiest” artwork or image in the world. I think this will be a good window into talking about art together.
Another realization I had is that Doodles can be notes taken while students go through the readings as well! This should help students with their Doodles - and I’ll be interested in hearing about their experiences with the sketchbook at their meetings. Any sketching, planning, brainstorming, or notetaking works, but not the projects because those get covered by the responses.
I hope I can make time next class for students to go back into their monoprints, but as usual we have a full plate as we’ll be getting into talking about artwork for the first time, discussing how to make their ideas “sticky” and just getting into more depth with their final art-integration projects. But it is is so typical that teachers plan artmaking and exercises as one shots so it would be important to give them an opportunity to continue experimenting and to go deeper. We’ll see!
Here is a link to my day 5 outline
Time has been a monkey on my back this semester. Sometimes it has felt more like a 500 pound gorilla. I know that every teacher can relate to that.
Today was the first day of class this semester where I felt the blissful relief that can only come from that distinct sensation of a missing monkey. I’m not saying this to boast or to rub it in. I more or less fell backwards into it. I attribute this sensation to two things. First, the content my students chose to throw overboard last week has definitely lightened our load and freed up some breathing room. I’m grateful for the dispassion (I’ve found that students are almost always happy to do one less thing) with which they brought down the guillotine that ultimately liberated us (mostly me) by sharing control over the curriculum. Second, due to necessity, I had to come up with a way to discuss three different readings in one day!
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity that grad school allows me. For me, that is space and time. Grad school for my MFA did the same thing. I love space and time. I teach only one class right now. I have 29 students. That’s it. I have access to those two priceless resources that are forbidden from so many teachers in America. Time and space are vital for reflecting upon and improving our teaching practice as well as planning content, managing feedback, and collaborating with other teachers. There are too many teachers, especially in art where we might teach every student in a school of 500 (often more) students in a single week and where many professional still in the 21st century do not have planning time. Perhaps in a future post I will bring in research regarding the amount of time teachers have in the US compared to other countries, as well as compared across contexts and communities. Suffice it to say, our teachers need time to think and space to breathe. Our policies and trends typically do the opposite. But that is a topic for another post.
Never forgetting the classroom reminds me to ask, “How do teachers do authentic assessment in the real-world?” Teachers can have multiple monkeys on their backs already. Limited time and space, limited resources, high stakes testing, teacher evaluations, pressure from administrators and parents, etc. The idea of going against the grading grain, even for good reasons and because of good evidence, can seem like just like a hill too far. Is that what you are thinking, dear reader? I woudn’t blame you.
But what about just one class? Could you try it with just one group? Just to try it? Especially in art, shouldn’t we be experimenting? Taking risks? Trying something new?
Here’s one method that might help you streamline the process, which is a method I had stumbled upon myself somewhat during this last round of feedback: The Literate Teacher’s Manifesto.
So the theme today was “CONNECTIONS” (remember the three assignments I mentioned?) The first connection was back to the Creative Speakers they had chosen. Around the room I posted photos of the various speakers.
Ken Robinson TED
Theaster Gates TED
Cindy Foley TEDx
Michael Townsend TEDx
Beau Lotto Big Think
Sadly, no one chose to watch:
JP Sears TEDx
I asked the students to go to the photo of the person (or their favorite) they had viewed. Within their groups, I asked them to discuss amongst themselves and summarize the video, sharing any quotes or major points they made and why it was important. Within the first round, the students themselves made connections with the other groups as they shared.
8 Habits of Thinking Learned by Artists
10 Lessons the Arts Teach
Thinking Like An Artist
The second connection I asked them to make, while they were connecting with each other, was to one of the three handouts they had received the last class and identify one habit, disposition, or benefit respectively they thought that speaker most represented and share. Some groups switched speakers and some stayed the same. Third connection: which drawing stage, a la Craig Roland’s Young In Art article, did they think their speaker most represented - scribble (feeling), pre-symbolic (meaning), symbolic (communication), and crisis of realism (???). This made them think a little bit harder I think. Voila! Connections!
With this we moved on to the experiential learning portion of the class, which I’ve enjoyed doing with classes for years to help them remember the stages of drawing as well as empathize with young learners. We begin by turning the lights down and playing calm or light upbeat music. I ask the student to grab crayons and the tables are covered with craft paper. I invite them to close their eyes, to imagine themselves as only one or two years old. Hold the crayon as if you were one or two. Sit or rest your body like you are one or two. Slowly, start to move the crayon and feel the mark you’re making. Try to imagine wonder as you see a line behind your hadn, not realizing why or who it’s happening. Or try to feel the paper and the table through the crayon all the way up their shoulders. We highlight some of the features of the scribbling phase. Eventually we transition into more meaningful scribbles and shapes, change the music tempo to experiment with different movements, then we grow another year or two and move into the pre-symbolic phase. There students are asked to imagine their family or someone they love and to instead of seeing them, to imagine them as just a shape, maybe with some lines for arms or legs. What shapes would make their faces? How would they be floating on the page? What other shapes might be around them? And so on. We then move into the symbolic stage and I ask the students to imagine themselves as six or seven. They’ve watched cartoons. Read books. They know things! Now they have a visual vocabulary with symbols for things like “love” and “happy.” Draw a picture that shows something you did recently that you really enjoyed or an activity that is important to you. I then asked them to use their drawing to share their interests with each other. Afterwards, they grow up to be eight or older, and here they become self-aware, self-conscious, and “wobbly” (see Fecho “wobble”). They need scaffolding.
Or at least this is what I wish I had said, but I’m sure I wasn’t as eloquent and left a lot of this out in real life.
I thought about asking them to draw a still life two ways - one without instruction and then the next using the blind contour method. I thought this might convey a distinct feeling of accomplishment or at least show them how much their drawing could change or how much more they could see with just a little bit of instruction and have two different feeling experiences to compare and contrast. At the last minute, I decided not to pull the trigger and went with a Mark Kistler inspired drawing exercise (although Mark probably would’ve been underwhelmed with my boring example of a snowman for building and shading spheres instead of a cool alien or something). I provided a brief demo of basic shading on a sphere and provided pastels and black paper. Then I realized that the pastels and black paper made the pastel look like light kinda more than shadow. *sigh* Art teacher problems. I used the boring snowman to show them how to construct a more complicated shape by stacking spheres and mentioned details and left them to it. We displayed our shading exercises as our very first student gallery of the semester!
I’m very interested to hear what they got out of the “crisis of realism” portion of stages experience. I’ve experimented with that stage in a number of ways - trying a still life drawing, trying to draw a face upside down from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I also wondered if I shouldn’t have them create a metaphorical drawing, as mentioned in the Young In Art, but I wanted to give them some structure for their drawings. We could chat about them briefly next class but I don’t really think we have the time since they will respond to it in their online responses which I should begin calling their portfolio.
The last round of responses were the last ones written without having seen my feedback style already so I expect to start seeing dividends of my feedback soon and struggles keeping up now that we’ll be approaching mid-semester. I’ve found so far that reading the responses and providing feedback of my own takes about the same time as traditionally grading a project, so at this point it feels a bit like a project a week. I’m not sure if that will continue or if I’ll get much more efficient in one semester. I am really looking forward to next semester when a lot of the structure of this course is already built and semester-hardened, tested in battle. And soon we’ll be having our midpoint meetings and I’m really looking forward to meeting with each of the students for about 15 minutes each to go over their progress and discuss their goals the strengths and weaknesses they want to work on. I’ll ask each one in advance to select a creative goal they’d like to accomplish by the end of the semester and talk about their midterm assignment and any missing work as well. Check-in. I honestly have no idea how I’ll keep the conversation to just fifteen minutes! I used the website Doodle.com so that the students could let me know when they’re available and I can schedule them. I’ll be excited to report back after our talks!
One question I wondered today was whether the artwork they make in class should count as their “Doodle” for the week. They didn’t have time to doodle in class really since we were working on the 4 stages experiences and discussing material but on the other hand those exercises weren’t really “Doodles.” I almost said they can count but let’s see what the doodles look like this week and possibly after the next class when most of it is going to be art making. How can they incorporate their sketchbooks?
Here is a link to my outline.
I'll mostly be blogging about my experiences teaching. I teach a class online right now called Teaching K12 Art Online where I'll be exploring art online with art teachers. I also currently teach a (formerly?) face-to-face course called Visual Culture: Investigating Diversity & Social Justice which is an art, critical writing, and research course for undergrads. Before this, I taught a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers where I was experimenting with cooperative & creative teaching integrating art and "going gradeless" with preservice early childhood education majors.