TAB vs Choice

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As TAB (Teaching FOR Artistic Behavior ) and Choice both gain traction in art rooms across the country, I have been reading more and more posts on various Facebook Groups about teachers’ experiences, questions, queries, and various other complaints.  One thing that I have been noticing lately is that some people think TAB and Choice are one in the same and they are interchangeable…like tissue and Kleenex or Xerox and  a photocopier.  I am writing this post to say they are not the same.  I am going to short, and sweet, and get right to it.

While they have similarities and while there is much choice in a TAB classroom, just because a teacher offers choice in his/her classroom, it doesn’t make her or him a TAB teacher.

What makes TAB different from choice is the purpose of what is being taught.  It is not about letting students choose what materials to use in an artwork.  It is about teaching students how to think.  It is about teaching an understanding of the artistic process and the design process, AND about how to use them.  It is about letting the students be the artists, letting them make the decisions, and letting them fail and figure out how to grow/move on from there.

And, while sometimes a TAB teacher may set limitations such as theme or a big idea or what stations are open, the student is still the main artist.  The student is the one who interprets things, does the research, does the exploration, creates the artworks, reflects, revises, and then decides when it is finished, and even it is successful.

Offering your students some choices, but still not letting them actually drive the boat doesn’t mean you are TAB.  If you don’t have those thinking and behaving goals in mind for you students, you aren’t TAB, yet.

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t become TAB.   And, I am not trying to exclude anyone who is TAB interested.  I think it would be wonderful to have as many TAB teachers as possible teaching and leading our students.  That would be, as they say, amazeballs.  But, I also feel that if the pedagogy is going to spread, what is and what isn’t TAB should be understood.  TAB is not something you can decide to do on a whim.  You need to do your research on it.  You need to do your homework.  And, the site I linked above, and again now (TAB) is a good place to start.  I also recommend the book Engaging Learners Through Artmaking by Katherine Douglas and Diane Jaquith, and the eBook  Choice without Chaos by Anne Bedrick.  These are great books.  Coming soon is a book called The Open Artroom by Melissa Purtee and Ian Sands (I think that is their title.)  This book will be geared towards secondary art TAB teachers.

I do hope you will join us on this wonderful journey of helping students navigate the road to becoming artists.  The more the merrier.

 

NAEA 17: New York City Reflections

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When I arrived in the city, it had been too long…almost 7 years….and so much had changed.  Even though I had lived in the city for many years, I had never actually stayed in Manhattan, so I was pretty psyched for that.  And, to stay in midtown…oh the excitement. I arrived at JFK, and took the airtrain to the subway to get to our hotel.  The first thing we did that day was check into the conference so I could get my badge and the bag of crap that I didn’t need or want.  I mean really, who needs a paper-thin bag full of magazines and other things that weren’t eco-friendly.  Unfortunately, I had to carry that around for the rest of the afternoon, but I digress.

imag9930.jpg    We then headed over to the MOMA.  I was a little bummed that I didn’t get a discount with my badge like I did last year in Chicago. (And if I was supposed to…. ::sad face::) But, no big deal…the MOMA was fantastic.  I hadn’t been to the museum since it was in its old location, many moons ago.  The new location is great, and so much bigger.  I am a fan of modern art, so I really enjoyed this visit.  It even sparked a discussion between my friend and fellow TABber, Hillary, about craftsmanship.  We were both noticing the same things about the paintings and sculptures of famous artists; things that made us question why we ask our students to paint/color/draw a certain way when these artists wouldn’t pass that “craftsmanship poster” that is floating around.  We are in the midst of discussion of a proposal about it for Seattle…

That evening we ate Mexican outside.  Made me long for the days I lived in the city.  I am glad we had a chance to eat outside because this would be the almost the last time we could…thanks Obama for inventing global warming.  It turned imag9974.jpgwicked cold while we were there.  This Texan implant wasn’t having it.  Anyway, that night we went to Times Square.  Man, totally not the same as I remembered.  When did it turn into a 24-hour sunlight extravaganza?!

Enough about all that touristy stuff.  I really should be writing about the conference and sessions and all that artsy stuff. Thursday morning started off as a dud.  We went to the first general session, which was the keynote speaker, Jeff Koons.  Boring.  I don’t like his work, and I find he is so boring to listen to.  He was quiet toned and just wasn’t what an estimated crowd of 7000 members needed to jump-start their conference.  We left.  If only Tim Gunn could come and speak again….

Over the next three days I went to several sessions on TAB/choice. img_20170316_173427.jpgTwo were by 2 different men, both with wicked cool mustaches.  In fact, I scribbled their mustaches in my notes.  Both men were interesting and full of information that I already knew.  I guess that is what happens as you move up the high school TAB ladder.  One thing that I did take away from Andrew McKee’s (red mustache) presentation was the “style book”.  It’s basically a place to save ideas, get ideas of what they like, are into, etc.  So the students can pull from that when they create their work.  I mean I have my Pinterest page that I refer to often when I create my work, but I don’t “require” my students to do that.  I think it might be helpful to incorporate something like this in my art 2 classes next year…and also maybe my ceramics classes.

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I went to a very interesting Raku session, which of course now has me wanting to write a grant for a raku kiln.  Thursday afternoon I went to an MCAD session on drawing as thinking.  We basically spent the 50 minute session doing a bunch of drawing warm-ups. It was a nice break, and it left me with some great exercises to bring into my classes next year as we move into block schedule.

The rest of my session were, like I stated above, choice/TAB sessions.  While the sessions were fabulous, (I’m looking at you Cynthia Gaub, Joy Schulz, and Melissa Purtee), I felt a little empty.  And, it’s nothing against my colleagues.  I am just looking for something more…something more than what I already know and am 100% agreement with.  I am looking for more than an intro to what TAB/choice is. I want something for those of us who have been doing it a while.  I hope that makes sense.  I did have an “a-ha moment” during Joy’s session.  For years, I thought Joy had this magical way of pulling greatness from her students.  After sitting through her session, I get it now.  She is so organized and her analytical side really affects how she works with her students.

The final session I want to talk about was a super-session.  It starred Katherine Douglas, Anne Thulson, Sharif Bey, and Olivia Gude.  It was amazing.  These four leaders really hit it out of the park.

These were my lasting thoughts from the session:

~Do we intervene: how, where, when, why, how much (OG)
~concept=something we use; not something to possess (OG)
~2 sentence curriculum: what do artists do? the child is the artist (KD)
~art supplies are materials; concepts are materials (can’t remember if this was OG, I think so)
~How do we keep students in that magical place as they get older? (OG)
~we have the capacity to exist in many art worlds (OG) [personally for me, this meant a lot]
~Sometimes LESS can be liberating (OG)
~We’re getting lost….ON PURPOSE (OG)

I know it seems that Olivia gave me much to think about, but Kathy always gives me much to think about…I wouldn’t be here without her.  Anne gave an activity to try for next year when we talk about “artists observe”.  It will get my students out of my classroom and really looking at the small, mundane details around them.  And Sharif…oh Sharif….we are kindred souls and I think we should totally hang out.

imag9999.jpgWhile I enjoyed the sessions I went to, I did think the selection, for me anyway, was limited.  I don’t understand how imag9987_1.jpgsessions are selected.  I don’t understand how they choose to schedule which ones and when.  I also don’t understand why so few TAB/choice sessions are offered, when clearly, year after year, the sessions offered are packed–which was another downside to conference in NYC…small rooms…or at least those rooms that held popular topics were small.  And, rooms that held research sessions (no offense to research) were in these huge rooms with few attendees.  And when I say TAB sessions were packed, I mean, way over room/safety capacity, on the floor seating, out the door, room temp went up 15 degrees packed.  NAEA needs to work on this.  It is just ridiculous.  I pay a lot of money, out-of-pocket, to attend the national conference.  I want to get my money’s worth.

imag0028.jpgMy favorite part of the conference is always the part where I get to see and hang out with my TAB/Choice mentors, colleagues, and friends.  I even got to meet some new friends whom I have only seen on the interwebs.  I want to thank Kathy and Diane for setting up the amazing dinner we had Friday night.  And, thanks Diane for making me not sit with Hillary and Liz.  It was fabulous to get to chat with Melissa, Joy,Cynthia, and Anne for a while.  Spending time with those that get it, and get me, is always a good time.

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I hope to make it to Seattle next year.  Cynthia promises it will be a fabulous time.  So, hopefully, at least one of the sessions I propose or co-propose will be accepted.  And, maybe someone will help me write a grant and/or convince my school to pay for it…I just can’t afford another year.

Printmaking Exploration

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Printmaking Exploration

I decided to start the second semester off with some good old exploration.  I was going to jump right into my “Artists Steal” unit (appropriated from Apex HS), but then I changed my mind and thought we needed to get messy for a week and a half.

We don’t have a printing press at school, so that limits what we can do.  However, that didn’t stop me from coming up with 6 different techniques involving making prints.  I got this idea from Cynthia Gaub and her art around the room activities.  The students would be asked to explore 5 out of 6 techniques and reflect on each technique.

I set up the counter with the 6 different “stations”.  We would learn about block prints (with EZ cut), collograph, stamping, styrofoam plates, monoprinting, and faux screen printing.  I laid out the week and a half in a short PowerPoint, explaining I would only do demos for cutting blocks, inking plates/pulling prints, using the gelatin plate for monoprints, and how to set up the screen for screen prints.  For the other techniques, the students would have to rely on the example cards I had created the year before.  Some of it required some thought on their part on interpretation of the card.

The students were asked to reflect on their findings of each technique.  They could either write their answers in their journals/sketchbooks or they could start a new BlendSpace lesson and reflect there.  I gave the students 7 questions to choose from…they have to answer question #1, then pick 4 from the remaining 6.

  1. What was the medium/technique explored?
  2. What qualities/characteristics does the medium/technique have?
  3. What makes the medium/technique different from a similar medium/technique?
  4. What did you like the best about media/technique and why?
  5. What did you like the least about media/technique and why?
  6. What could you use this medium/technique for?
  7. What other information would you like to know about this medium/technique?

My favorite part was reading the variety of questions they had for #7.

  • How is this art? (re: screen printing)
  • Is there an easier way to reverse when doing blocks?
  • Could block printing be done on a larger scale?
  • Was styrofoam printing invented by someone on a budget?
  • Who came up with block printing?
  • How do you add multiple colors?
  • What can you do with the collagraph technique?
  • Why is it called collagraph?
  • What is the right amount of ink?
  • How do you keep ink from getting on certain points on the styrofoam plate?
  • What other tools can be used to dent into the styrofoam?
  • How many layers can you do on a monoprint?
  • Do people really use the collograph technique and make a living with it?
  • How can you draw cleaner in the styrofoam?

Here are my thoughts on this activity:

I really think this could be a good way to explore different ways of printmaking.  While I showed the students some examples of final pieces, I don’t think I really let them know “how” different type of printmaking could be used.  They tend to think that each technique must be used alone and don’t consider mixed media, texture, background, layers, etc.  So, I would figure out a way to bring that into the activity for next year.

When it came to leaving some of the work to them…  relying on the example cards I had created the year before, I was hopeful that they would figure it out…I was wrong…most didn’t and they ended up asking me.  Sometimes they didn’t even try to look at the cards and make some educated guesses at what the process was.  This was frustrating to me as part of my philosophy does have the expectation that the students are responsible for their own learning and that I won’t spoon feed them.  I know they are high school students, but that can’t be their excuse for everything.  I did find myself smiling when I would hear a student asking another student.

I think perhaps I could show some videos or require them to watch a video as part of each station so they could see other artists use the technique or see what it could be used for. Then, they could use that as well for more informed reflections of the techniques.

My other thought, and this happens every year since moving to TAB, is how to get kids to actually use printmaking/stamping in their artwork.  Do they really not like it?  Do they not see it as an artwork?  Do they (the students) see it as too much to add to their process when art making?

I will continue to do this Printmaking Exploration Activity, but I will make some needed adjustments to enhance the learning and the take-aways from the activity.  One adjustment might be some requirement of what they need to create from the prints…so they put more thought into what they are doing.

Since originally writing this, I did have one student revisit monoprints and the gelatin plate.  She really enjoyed the process and was glad she was able to use it again when creating a non-objective piece for our “Artists Don’t Represent” unit.

Artists Communicate

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Our most recent, and final artistic behavior unit, was a closer look at the behavior, Artists Communicate.  This unit was set up a little bit differently than the other units.  We didn’t do as many activities prior to the artwork.  And, this was the first unit where my students created their own original artwork…from conception to artist statement.

We started off with a video on an artwork/installation piece by artist Maxwell Rushton.  As a little background, on Mondays we do what I call “Artist Monday”.  I show a video ranging in length from 3 minutes up to 10 minutes about a current artist.  (Artists Have a Global Awareness of Artmaking) When I choose the video we will watch, I try to keep it in line with the big idea of the current unit.  So, back to Maxwell Rushton.  He created an installation called “Left Out“. It communicates a message about homelessness and our perception of the homeless population.  Students reflected on the video on their BlendSpaces.  Another video I showed over the course of the unit was about Latina printmaker Kirsten Lapore.

One other short activity my students did was a simple sketchbook assignment.  They were asked to break one of their sketchbook pages into 6 boxes.  In each box they had to convey a certain idea–without using the items in the description.  Descriptions included: smell of a fresh baked apple pie, feeling of loneliness, sound of an approaching train, the taste of a hot pepper, the feel of lambskin, and an alarm clock at 5am.  The activity forced students to think of line, shape, and color when creating their sketches.

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We spent a day, which probably was really boring until about half-way thru the slide show when the students got to participate.  I showed a slide show that also touched briefly on planning and research.  (This was the boring part.)  Then we got to the communication part and the slide with 5 photos of artworks.  We discussed what they thought the meaning was.  I talked about what the artist intended.  Then we discussed what the artist did to convey those ideas and messages.

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That night, after a full day of that slideshow, I realized that the works I chose were very heavy with meaning.  I wanted my students to know that artists also communicated other things that weren’t so steeped with deep meaning.  Here is the pinterest board with the images I chose.  I set up Padlet boards for each class, and one by one I would put up an image and the students would chime in with what they thought the artist was saying and how they determined that.  I was impressed with my students.  They really read the images well.  It lead to great discussions.  As things were posted, I would say some things out loud and ask questions.  I could see the students contemplating, then some would reply out loud with their thoughts.

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This brought us to studio time.  My young artists were asked to fill out an artwork proposal for what they wanted to create.  My students really put a lot of thought into their work.  Some students knew what they wanted to communicate, but didn’t know how to convey that.  Others knew what they wanted to make, but didn’t know what they wanted to say about their image(s).  That’s where the meetings came in.  When a student turned in their proposal, I read over the form and wrote down questions and comments.  Then I went and talked with each student.  It really helped me to understand their thoughts, and it helped them to see what “tools” to use to help convey their message…colors, line, composition, viewpoint, symbols, etc.

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One thing that I was really impressed with was how much my students prepared for their final artworks.  Some gathered photo references.  Some did sketch after sketch trying to improve their skills.  Many watched videos to learn new skills–such as drawing and shading eyes.  I had students trying out new mediums.  They were all so into what they were doing.  They put so much into their artwork.

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Anyway, we concluded the unit by setting up weebly websites/blogs.  I wanted my students to have an online portfolio; something different than the BlendSpace.  I see the BlendSpace as a place for research and collecting thoughts.  The websites are for finished artworks with artist statements.  They are something where they can show off their work.  We learned about artist statements and looked at statements by my artist friend, Roger Mudre, and at my artist statement.  So, now when my students finish an artwork, they take a photo, write an artist statement, and create a new blogpost.

For the first time in a long time, I felt my students’ artworks were at the same caliber as those from the students from my peers, such as Joy Schultz, Ian Sands, and Melissa Purtee. Their students always seem to have so much depth in their art, and now my kids did too. Proud teacher moment, if I do say so myself.  I hope we keep up this momentum because I can only imagine how amazing my students will be by the end of the year.

TAEA 16 in Dallas

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It’s November here in Texas, and you know what that means…warm weather, rain, Christmas decor explosions at all stores, and of course, the Texas Art Ed Assoc. annual conference.  This year it fell the weekend before Thanksgiving.  So, that was a bonus for me because I got 2 extra days of vacation added to the week off for Thanksgiving my district gave me.

On Thursday morning, I got packed and drove on up to Dallas to stay at the Hilton Anatole. While I enjoyed having my own room and a whole bed to myself, I did not enjoy the price it all cost.  I kept getting asked why my district didn’t pay for it.  Well, I don’t know why, they just don’t, so I deal.  I do it all in the name of continuing education, and because I love my students.  If you know how to convince my district to pay for me to go to these conferences, let me know.

Anywho.  Let’s talk conference.  The state conference is something that when I first started teaching–I mean like still in college to become an art teacher, I religiously attended.  Then, I had kids, so I stopped attending.  I started attending again again 2 years ago, but since switching to TAB, I find there isn’t as much for me here anymore.  TAB teachers seem few and far between here in this big ‘ole state, but maybe I’m wrong about that…who knows.  So, now, my main reason for attending is presenting.  If I can make a few teachers think about the way they teach and why they teach the way they do, then I’m good.

This year I presented twice.  Once on assessment, and once on TAB in general.  I felt my assessment presentation did not go well.  Don’t feel bad.  I’m okay with that.  It was dry and the flow wasn’t very good.  It was on assessment after all, so, no love lost.  The best part of the session was when I got to grading and how I don’t grade.  That was my favorite part.  Maybe I will do a no-grading session next year.

My second session about TAB basics, called Embracing the Chaos, went a million times better.  I had a pretty full house…well, 75% of the seats were filled and for a 4pm session on a Saturday, the last day of the conference, I’d say that is pretty good.  I was able to be my energetic and animated self.  There were a lot of questions.  We even went over time, which I felt bad when the next presenter did come in and finally said something.  But in my defense, usually the next presenter is there right at the ending time, tapping their foot, ready to set up.  After we left the room, I did get to talk to a couple of people for another half hour.  I think I have some converts.  So, success!!!

While I didn’t go to a lot of sessions, I did have a good time.  I met and befriended the Terraforma card guys, Michael and Stewart.  They are a fun duo, and their cards are kinda cool.  I got to catch up with Justin Clumpner and hear him speak.  His session on AP art really made me want to usurp the AP program at my school, and perhaps start a Pre-AP program.  He gave me lots to think about.  And bonus, he took me off site to get a burger, which was a total win! I attended a session by fellow TABber, Wynita Harmon, where I got to participate in an art challenge with some strangers.  I saw Cassie Stevens do a keynote and provide us with this quote full of wisdom, “Stop giving a shit.”  I participated in a #K12artchat tweet-up. It was totally interesting to be tweeting to the people sitting right next to you.  And, I got to throw a few pots for a local empty bowls event.  I think this was the best idea this Dallas team had!  It was so relaxing and fun!  It brought me to my happy place.

One thing that always interests me when I go to the state conference is the VASE winners’ gold seal artworks.  I am fascinated to see what types of works are considered tops in my state from the previous year.  Last year I wrote a post about my feelings on VASE that got me on the wrong side of some people.  My feelings haven’t changed, but this year I am going to be a little nicer.  While most of the 2-D winners were still very “portrait steeped in realism” heavy, I was happy to see that many were breaking away from the usual media I had grown accustomed to–prismacolor and pencil.  I snapped some photos of ones that I really liked.

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I do always love the sculpture winners.  They are always full of creativity, originality, and fabulousness.

In the end, I enjoyed this year’s conference.  Was it as fun as a National Art conference? Hell no!  I mean seriously, that’s when I get to see my tribe and my TAB mentors.  But, for a state conference, it was one of my favorites.  I am glad I went, and that I have decided to start going to them again.  See y’all in Galveston next year, and look out for at least one TAB presentation from me.

Artists Solve Problems

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Our second in-depth look at an artistic behavior in Art 1 classes was “Artists Solve Problems”.  For this unit, I really wanted to give my students a chance to create some art, while figuring out how to overcome a problem or problems.  I feel this is a very important skill to have for life…not just for art making.

We started off the unit by watching the TED Talk by Phil Hansen, “Embrace the Shake”.  Most students really enjoy watching this video.  They are intrigued by how Phil fulfills his need to create while overcoming his perpetually shaking hand.

Our next activity came to my from my friend and fabulous art educator, Melissa Purtee.  Earlier in the school year, she wrote about game she played with her student on the first days of school called “What’s in the Bag?”  I read her post and thought this would be a great activity for students to begin working on problem solving skills.

I created 6 bags for each of my art 1 classes.  That required my students to break into 6 teams of 4…no one was allowed to work alone. (Working together in a group was another problem to solve.)  Each group picked a prompt from the bucket and then received their bags.  They were given an hour (broken up over 2 classes) to bring their prompt to life.  Bag contents included: a portion of an egg carton, 3 pipe cleaners, a cork, a round plastic piece, 10 popsicle sticks, 2 tongue depressors, some puzzle pieces, 3′ strip of lollipop wrapper, 3 small square chipboard pieces, and 2 rectangular chip board pieces.  They could also use the bag if needed, but it was not required.

After time was up, students were asked to present their creation to the class, addressing the following topics:

  • What was your prompt?
  • Talk about your creation BEYOND “this is my project”…DESCRIBE IT!
  • What was the hardest problem to overcome building your creation?
  • How did you overcome it?
  • What was the best part of this activity?

Lastly, each class took a closer look at the creations and then voted for the 2 they best felt fulfilled the following criteria:

  • Best interpretation of the prompt
  • Best visual appeal
  • Best craftsmanship
  • Best use of materials

I also showed a few other videos along the way for kids to see how real life problems could be solved in fun, artistic ways.  The videos came from The FunTheory site.  Thanks Ian Sands for showing me that one.

Our final activity of this Artist Solve Problems unit was SCAMPER.  I learned about SCAMPER while at a Gifted and Talented training this past summer.  Out of all the different activities we went over at the training, I felt SCAMPER was one that I could actually take back to my classroom and have the students use.

I wanted my students to create an artwork, on their own, but I wanted it to fall under this unit.  I thought with SCAMPER I could kill 2 birds with 1 stone so-to-speak, as I have a ton of old student artwork that I no longer needed or wanted.  So, this was a great time to use them.  Students will pick an artwork from the pile and use it to create a new artwork.  The catch is, they have to choose one of the letters of SCAMPER when creating their  “new”artwork.  Subject matter, medium(s), and technique(s) are all up to the student.

S = SUBSTITUTE

C = COMBINE

A = ADAPT

M = MODIFY

P = PUT TO OTHER USES

E = ELIMINATE

R = REARRANGE

Modify was the letter most used in the activity. But, a few really dug in with combine, rearrange, eliminate and put to other uses.  I wish I had some of the before images, but I don’t.  Oh well.  Anyway, they stepped up with SCAMPER–some students taking the artwork so far off the original…YAY!  One student totally took her piece apart and created a whole new piece.  (The feathered bird above–it was once a rhino.)  One note I did have for myself for next year is to have a wider variety of old artwork for the kids to choose from.  Too many of the same starting image and ending with not changing the image enough.  Thanks DBAE. Live and Learn.

As we have moved on from this unit, I can see my students talking with each other and trying to work through problems on their own first before involving me.  This is huge.  It leaves me more time to walk around and chat and get to know my students.

 

The Unity Project

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One day this summer as I was perusing Facebook, I came across a post about a community artwork a woman named Nancy Belmont started.  It was a large installation comprised of pvc poles, identifying signs, and miles and miles of yarn.  After watching a video about her project, the Unity Project, I knew it was something I needed to bring into my classroom…into my school.

If you think about the divisiveness happening in the world this summer, #BLM, the Dallas protest, the shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, and the horrible rhetoric spewed by one of the Presidential candidates, you can begin to understand why I would want to bring something like the Unity Project to my diverse school.  I wanted the community at my high school, both students and staff, to see that we have more in common than they know…and that underneath it all, we are the same.

I talked with my principal to see if we could create a public installation like this.  Right away, he gave me the green light.  I gathered the information about what was needed, and I created a GoFundMe to help raise funds.  (I desperately wished to fund it myself, but I knew I couldn’t.)  The donations started to come in…from personal friends, from colleagues, and from former students.  Those that didn’t want to donate money, bought yarn by the skein for my students.  I was touched by the kindness of the people in my community.

School started August 22, 2016, and on August 23, my students jumped right in.  They sanded the poles and sprayed them black.  Our welding teacher had his students cut down steel tubes to put inside the poles to help strengthen and reinforce from the pull the yarn would have on the poles.  Students balled up skein after skein of yarn, until finally it was time to go outside and bring out installation to life.

We spent a day setting up the structure.  Students hammered 33 steel tubes into the ground and then place the 7′-5″ long PVC pipes over them.

The next day, students were asked to fill out a worksheet where they marked off the identifiers that described them.  Identifiers included things like their political affiliation, their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their housing situation, and more.  Nothing was asked about their gender or the color of their skin.  It was completely anonymous.  Next they went outside and grabbed a ball of yarn that began at the center pole and created a path that wove around  and through the outer poles.  Each outer pole represented one of the identifiers on the list.  It became like big blue-green web of yarn criss-crossing back and forth.  It was beautiful.

Once all of my students–about 130 in all, each added themselves to the project, other teachers brought their classes out to do the same.  My student aides added the yarn of our faculty to the project.  I couldn’t believe how much of our school community became part of this artwork.  It was amazing.  In the end, I estimate that over 350 people are represented by our Unity Project.  I also estimate that we used over 6 miles of yarn.

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One of my favorite things about this project is the sense of pride the students had.  I loved standing outside at the end of the day and seeing the students explain to their friends what it was.  I love watching them stand and stare at it, contemplating its meaning.  It gave me such a great feeling to know it was successful.

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After the Unity Project was complete, I was up at school on a Saturday and a storm rolled in.  I walked out of my classroom to see the wind rip through the project.  The wind was intense.  I thought the project was going to go down, or blow away.  But, it withstood the weather, and on the next sunny day, it bounced right back.

What makes this more incredible is that our theme for the school year is “We grow stronger together.”  How beautiful is that?  How much does it speak the truth when everyone’s yarn held strong, and it wasn’t brought down?  Because we are Stronger Together.

First Evaluation of Learning

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Today marks the day when I asked my students to assess their learning and artistic growth and to give themselves the grade they think they earned over the past 3 weeks for the very first time.   I was challenged to go gradeless this year.  And, as much as I want to go completely gradeless, I can’t.  Grading once a 3 weeks is the closest I can get at the high school level at this particular moment in history.

I had done a bunch of research on this subject, but found that the Facebook group Teachers Throwing Out Grades and the Starr Sackstein book Hacking Assessment really helped me to understand how to make going gradeless possible.

I came up with an assessment form for my students to fill out where they talked about what they are learning and/or how they have grown.  It wasn’t an easy thing to do.  I had to think about what I really wanted from them.  Did I just want them to talk about their learning in general, or did I want them to be more specific.  I chose the more specific route and asked them to reflect on their growth and understanding of the artistic behaviors.  I think this helps to have them focus on their artistic journey and what I feel are important concepts I want them to learn in my class.  It also helped to make a “general” assessment form, but still be able to individualize the assessment form.  They can choose to talk about the areas where they grew.   And, as a bonus, it helps me to know how to better help the students as we move forward.

Let me tell you how scared I was this morning.  I was nervous that I was making a huge mistake; that maybe I just needed to go back to traditional grading in art…maybe use my standards based rubric again.  But, as I sat down and listened to the keyboard noise in the quiet room, and answered  questions for clarification, and began to read the responses, I knew I was doing the right thing.  Is it perfect yet? No.  Is every student going to take it 100% seriously? No.  Will the students be better off by the end of the year having assessed like this?  I think so.  Are their answers as deep as they could be?  Not yet, but that will come in time.  Remember, I am asking them to do something they have probably never been asked to do before…and that’s a big deal.

I wanted to end this post with some screen shots from the students answers that wowed me today. It’s more than I hoped for this time around. 

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Artists Observe

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This will be the first in a series of several posts about the units and activities my art 1 students are participating in to get a good grasp on the artistic behaviors.  Last year my art 1 students went through an “artistic behaviors bootcamp“.  After going back and looking at what we had done, I felt it was too fast and there wasn’t enough depth to each behavior. We spent a day or two on each behavior, but it was like we just glossed over the behaviors and my students never really understood them.

This year, I am spending a week or more on each behavior.  We are doing activities that focus on the behavior, while building skills in various media and techniques.  I think this will be a better solution.  The students may not be making as many finished artworks at the moment, but that will come when second semester rolls around and the studio is really much more open.

Our first behavior that we focused on was “Artists Observe”.  I found a powerpoint at Ian Sands’ Art of South B page that was perfect for what I wanted students to do.  The week was split into 3 activites.  First students created mindmaps/had class discussions of what they like to observe and what kinds of things artists would look at when observing something. They then moved onto a 3-day sketching activity, where they learned sketching techniques and sketched from life.

Our second activity included learning to shade and a group activity, originating from Melissa Purtee, where students would get into groups of 3-4 and together create a large shaded sphere.  It was very cool to watch the students work together, within the time frame, and figure out how to make values darker and to replicate the sphere I demo’d for them.

Our final activity brought the students in the world of 3-D.  We spent our final day doing the Tantamounter.  Faculty lent items that the students replicated in an artful way.  They had to make decisions, work in small groups, and create a copy of the original item.  They had a 30 minute time limit to complete their piece.

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After the weekend, students came back on Monday and spent the day reflecting on our unit.  We went into the hallway and discussed the spheres they had created, looking critically at the spheres and trying to take non-objective judgement out.  They added tiles to their BlendSpace lessons, reflecting on what artists observe means and how the activities we did correlate to the unit idea.  They also reflected on what they learned from our unit activities.

The rest of the week will be spent on building some color drawing skills before we move on to another artistic behavior unit.

2 Weeks of Exhausting Fun

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September is finally here, and for me, it marks having the first 2 weeks of school in the books.  It’s been exhausting and I have had to stop my personal exercise regime because of it. BUT, it has been so worth it.  My new (and returning) students and I have had a blast and have rocked it.

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I don’t like to start off the school year in a traditional way.  I like to have my students jump right in and get busy getting messy.  On our first day, we had 20 minute classes, and I was required by my admin to go over certain things during certain periods.  But, that did leave me time to show a small video to hopefully get my kids thinking about my class and art making in a different fashion.

Over the summer, or maybe it was last year, I found this video by artist and motivational speaker, Erik Wahl.  I thought it was perfect for some first day inspiration.

 

The next two weeks were spent doing not one, but two community projects.  First my students prepped, and installed our own Unity Project.  The welding students cut down steal tubing to use as our braces.  My students painted 7′-6″ PVC poles black, and they balled up miles of yarn.  Once the set-up was complete, they began to add their voices, by choosing the identifiers that represented them, then bringing it to life with yarn on the installation.  (I will write more about the Unity Project in another post once it is complete.)
 

Once we were finished with our part in the Unity Project, it was time to play with some clay. I like to start the year working with clay.  The majority of kids like clay, and it gives them some time to get to know me and each other without much pressure.  I use this time to teach some basic clay skills–slab draping, scoring/slipping and other surface treatment techniques, and to have the kids give back to their community.  This is the one piece the students will make this year that they aren’t allowed to keep.  I do ask all my students to create a bowl for out Duck Art Club’s charity fundraiser–Empty Bowls.

Next week, we will finish up our bowls, then move onto exploring the artistic behaviors that are essential to my classes.  I hope my students keep enjoying art class and continue to knock it out of the part when it comes to my expectations as the weeks, semester, and year continues.