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.