The Unity Project


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.


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.


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


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. 


Artists Observe


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.


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


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.

The “No-Grade Challenge”


Sounds interesting, right?  Well, my good friend Ian Sands nominated me earlier this summer to go “no-grades” this year.  And, after much consideration, I have accepted his challenge…well, mostly. There is no way at the high school level, with the GPA reward system we have going in America right now, that I can not grade. My kids need to have some numerical grade…for UIL purposes (pass to play), for college applications, and for the “ever important” class rank–which if you live in the great state of Texas like me, it is important to those kids in the top 10% (or for some colleges like UT–Hook “Em!!–it’s the top 7 or 8%) for automatic admission to state schools.

Anyway, I have accepted his challenge and plan on grading as little as possible this year.  I know I am pushing it, and it my admin gets wiff of it, I may be up sh*ts creek. But, if I am going to start a change and get people talking and thinking about change in the grading arena and the education realm, I need to start somewhere.

Now, don’t confuse what I am doing in so far as grading with what I am doing in terms of assessment.  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!!  And, you better believe that I am going to assess the hell out of my students.  In fact, together we, my students and I, will asses their learning and growth like there is no tomorrow.  It will mostly be informal and occur through dialogue between us–the students and myself.  And, that is what an ideal classroom, at least in my opinion, should be like.  It should be about growth and understanding how to think and move forward in the thinking.  And, in order to do that, things need to be assessed.  Grades have no part in that.

Now comes the part where you say, but how will you do that?   You have to grade.  Why not put numbers to your assessment levels?  Then you can be in compliance and all that jazz.  I answer you with, I’ve done that.  And it works well, but I feel it is truly not a good showing of what a student in my studio has learned or how they have grown artistically–either in skill or thinking or both.  It doesn’t really show growth over time.

Last year I read the book “Hacking Assessment” and I have taken a few things from the book about assessment, like having conferences with the kids and letting them be part of the conversation.  I also went to a fabulous session at NAEA-Chicago with Justin Clumpner who at one point talked about grades and what they mean to each individual student.  I think at one point he even said, I ask the kids what grade they want. Those things really resonate with me right now.  Students need to be involved in their assessment of their learning.  It is a 2-way street.

Now, if you know anything about the program I run, I like to have my kids reflect on their learning and their journey.  We have done that through blogs and, more recently, BlendSpace.  So, it occurred to me, why not combine all these things and thus my answer to the “no-grade challenge” was formed.

I do have to have at least a grade every 3 weeks…one a progress report time and one at report card time.  (Technically I am supposed to have more, but don’t tell my admin, okay?) My plan is to have my students reflect on their learning and art making processes to help them determine their grade for that time frame.  Of course, I have final say if I feel they have either graded too high or way too low.  But, I think this will help shift the focus away from grading and back onto their learning, which is what it’s about….or should be. (Do I say that a lot, because I feel I do.)

Here are some screen shot of the google form they will fill out for this reflection process.


Will this work?  I don’t know.  Will it need to be tweaked?  I am sure.  What document is perfect from the get go?  I am confident in what I am about to embark on. I think that it will make a difference; a difference even bigger than when I stopped grading artwork and focused on the processes only.  Keep your eyes out for updates as the year progresses.  And who know, maybe soon you too will also be up for the challenge.

Top 9: 2015-16 Year in Review


It’s been a week since the 2015-16 school year ended.  I have taken a week off from doing any work, but it is now time to take a moment to reflect on the year. And, what better way to do that than to do a top 10, well, a top 9…close enough. Normally, a top 10 would only be the best things, but I thought I would add some of the not-so-good as well.  I mean, we all like things to be puppies and rainbows all the time, but let’s get real folks…it ain’t.

9. New Ceramics Curriculum…or should I say lack there of.  I decided to go balls to the wall and go full-on TAB with my ceramics students.  This is the last year I will have had any students that were part of my sculpture program–from before I made the switch to “all clay, all day”.  And, if you were to walk into that intermediate/advanced class, you could tell which kids those were.  But, I digress.  For the most part, for my intermediate and my advanced students, they were given complete freedom.  They were allowed to work on what they wanted, in the time frame they needed.  I did have some themes with guiding questions to help them if they were stumped, but they were in no way “forced” to follow those themes. If you are wondering how to do a single-media TAB class….read this!


The Ceramics Graveyard and Senior Totems Sculpture Garden at THS

I think this was a great decision.  It allowed the students to move at their pace and do what interested them.  Are there some kinks to work out concerning the structure of the class? Of course.  I plan on doing a “Technique Tuesday” type of thing.  I will have a demo day once a week to show different things they could use in their work, like sprigs and molds and glazing techniques.  I also am revamping their technical reader and going to incorporate that more into the class.

8. Braeden, The Beginning Ceramics Student Who Learned More Than Me.  I was fortunate enough to have that student this year that many teachers dream of having.  That student who falls in love with your subject matter so much, that he or she just becomes a sponge and soaks up everything.  Who during their free time spends it watching videos and reading about the subject.  Who is in your room working and learning and creating at all times of the day.  I had that student this year, and his name is Braeden.  I had Braeden in art 1 his freshman year, but for some reason, he decided to stop taking art for 2 years and finally returned to me his senior year for art 2: beginning ceramics.  I often wonder where he would be if he hadn’t taken that time off.   He started off as a normal ceramics student, doing the required beginning projects.  Then all of the sudden, he changed.  He found a passion.  He found what he wanted to do with his life.  He would come in whenever he could to practice throwing. He learned to make his own clay.  He learned about glazes and different types of firing and their temperatures. He attempted to make his own wood ash glaze.  It was amazing to watch his lust for learning about all things clay.  I eventually had to tell him to stop learning because he knew more than I did.  Of course this became a running joke, and I love it when he teaches me new things.  I loved being able to have those conversations about ceramics with him. I will miss that next year.

7. Starting Over, again, and again… Sometimes you think you have a great plan. And sometimes that plan, no matter how awesome YOU think it is, sucks.  This was the case with my art 2: painting/drawing class this year.  I won’t go into too much detail, as I wrote about having to start over with this class here.  But, I will say I learned a lot from that class.  It is okay to stop and rewind.  You HAVE to do what is best for your students, and if that means if what you are doing isn’t working, then try something else.  However, if you are going to “start again”, you have to keep your students informed about what you are doing and why.  I had that tough conversation with them.  I told them I wasn’t feeling it, and that I thought they weren’t where I had thought they should be.  That we needed a new direction, and this is what we were going to try.  They looked at me with puzzled looks, but they were willing to try.  I think in the end we started over twice.  But, they say third time’s a charm for a reason.  By the third start, we figured it out.  We figured what worked for them, what they needed to grow and be successful.

Like my ceramics classes, I do have some things to tweak, like the timeline for the artistic behavior units, the digging deeper sections, and how we get to full choice by the second semester.  I wish I could open the studio to full choice sooner, but seeing as my co-worker isn’t TAB, and my art 2 classes are a combo of his and my students…I have to do a little work to make sure all students understand the TAB studio.  It’s all good though….my kids could probably use a refresher anyway.

6. Two Wonderful Opportunities.  I work hard, both at my job and as an advocate for TAB.  So, it is nice when someone else recognizes what I am doing.  This year, not one, but two different people recognized this.  First I was asked by my friend, Betsy Murphy, to come and speak about TAB at the T(exas)AEA High School Division meeting at the 2015 conference. I was honored that Betsy, once my mentor, now my friend, thought of me in this way–that I had something important to share with my colleagues.Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.37.47 AM

Second, I was asked to present at the AOE Winter 2016 Online Conference.  I presented about the assessment model I was working on.  It, again, was an honor to think that something I was doing would be of interest to other teachers.  I hope that it helped people make a connection between assessment and grades.

5. Speaking of AOE…Blog Finalist Here.  That’s right, Me, Jean Barnett, author of Art
Class by Mrs B, was a finalist inRisingStarFinalistHI the Art of Education, Blog of the Year, Rising Start category.  I didn’t win, but I think it is pretty cool that I made the list.  I even got a nifty badge to display on the blog.  Oh yeah!  I write my blog with the hopes of not only documenting my journey, but also of helping another art teacher by sharing with I have learned along the way.

4. Art Club I have been at my school for 9 years.  For 8 of those years, my co-worker “ran” the art club.  Well, I wouldn’t really call it running an art club.  I’m not really sure what it was. This img_20160211_220850.jpgyear I took over art club.  I can’t remember the exact reason why he was willing to give it up, but he did, and finally it was mine.  When we started, the club had no money (in fact the account had been closed due to inactivity), and they hadn’t done anything in years.  I advertised the club.  We met every Friday morning during tutorials.  We elected a president, a vice-president, a secretary, and a treasurer.  We sold popcorn, made Duck Art t-shirts and sold them, and even held a painting party.  Was it the best art club?  No.  Did we do a whole lot?  No.  But we did paint a mural in our computer lab, and I am glad to say that we did have a few hundred dollars in the art club account by the end of the year.  Furthermore, we still had members returning to meetings at the end of the year. So, I call it a win!  Small steps people!  I am so proud of the kids.  Next year will be even better.  I know it.

3. I am Not Invincible, But At Least My Admin Believes in Me. I like to think that I am invincible.  That nothing is going to bring me down, except for maybe myself.  And, that was definitely the case this year.  I won’t go into details, but I did have an incident this year that caused me to pause.  I can’t change what happened, but I can say that students can be unpredictable and retaliate in damaging ways.  Luckily for me, I have some students that know who I am, what I stand for, and what my students mean to me.  They were honest and I commend them for that.  I also learned that I have an administration that believes in me and what I do in my classroom.  My principal understands the climate of the art room, and how it differs from an academic class.  We had a long talk about it, and when I left his office, I knew that finally, I had an administrator that finally understood.

2.  School Art vs. Authentic School Art vs. What the Student Really Wants to Make Art This was something that I had not had a ton of thoughts about until I attended a session by Justin Clumpner at NAEA16 in Chicago.  He was talking about an AP student he had who wasn’t making the work or getting anything done.  Then one day he saw her sketchbook and asked her why she wasn’t creating works like her sketches.  Her reply, “I didn’t think I could.  I didn’t think this was ‘school art’.”  I thought that was an interesting concept…school art.  In TAB, we talk a lot about “authentic art”, and what our students are making is authentic art.  And, I thought that I encouraged authentic art and that my kids were making what THEY wanted to make.

That was until the end of April this year.  I happened to come across a tweet by one of my art 1 students of a painting she had just finished at her house.  I tweeted back to her that I thought she should do that in class.  When I talked with her about it the next school day, I asked her why she didn’t do this stuff in class.  She said she couldn’t figure out how to work it into the themes we were doing.   That’s when the lightbulb went off.  As much as I thought I was empowering my students to bring their own life into their artwork, and as much as I encourage authentic art…maybe I wasn’t doing all that I could.  I don’t have an answer yet as to how to really encourage it more, but I have an idea to work through over the summer.


The Twitter Painting


The Final Artwork

And, just as an aside, while this girl in particular worked hard all year, I never saw her work like the way she did on that final painting.  She learned so much and was so proud, and I could tell she was a little sad (but still proud) when I said I wanted to keep it to display in August when we returned to school.

1. Knowing You’re on the Right Track  Deep down in my heart, I know that TAB is what is best for my students.  It keeps them engaged.  It really helps them to grow artistically. And, it makes them think and reflect.  My years of running a TAB studio have been my favorite years of teaching.  But, sometimes, it is hard.  Sometimes you feel like the kids just aren’t getting it.  You feel like maybe the “others” are right, and you aren’t really teaching them anything.  You doubt yourself and your program.

But, then something happens. You assign a completely open final artwork for your art 1 students.  You see 90% engagement. You see growth at its peak. You see that they have been paying attention all year.  You see the research and the planning, the trials and errors, the experimentation, and the pushing forward all come out of the students.  Yes, I was physically exhausted for the last 2.5 weeks of school.  Yes, my room was a constant mess, for which I apologized to Connie, my custodian, on a daily basis.  But, I was happy.  I was proud.  I knew I didn’t need to doubt.  I hope to remember this next year when I will more than likely doubt myself again.  I can’t wait to display all this wonderful art in August.  I did include a few pieces from my art 2 class’ final work, Artists Work in a Series, in the slide show.

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Hope your year was as good as mine.  After I finish recharging over the summer, I will look forward to implementing what I learned from this year.  And I do want to take this opportunity to say thanks to my tribe for helping me and encouraging me along the way.

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Journey of an Artwork


I want to share a story.  The tale of the journey an artwork.  Today a student’s piece finally found where it was going. She started with a proposal to make some kind of moving box…I don’t even know. I didn’t quite understand it.  But, she jumped in and started working, trying to figure out how to make it move.  She cut thin cardboard into enough squares and rectangles to make a box. She found some string and 2 buttons to help pull the walls down.


When she got frustrated because she couldn’t make it do what she wanted, she took the box and began to spray paint. Every day she did a different side, experimenting with the spray paint.  Trying different color combos and using different tools.  Learning all this on her own.  She then decided she would instead turn her box into a lampshade.




After completing the forth side, she came back into the room, her face all lit up with the spark of a new idea.  “I have a new idea Mrs. Barnett” she said. She began taking tape off her lampshade.  A little while later she came to me with 5 smaller pieces; each from a different part of her box. She found a silver piece of matboard in the cardboard bin.  She said, this is what I want it to be.  She was so happy.  I could tell she was much more in love with this piece. So was I.


I write about this because I think that TAB has allowed this type of focus of the journey and the process.  If I had decided on the lesson and artwork ahead of time, my student would not have had the chance to stray, to experiment with different ways to work with spray paint, to problem solve, to experience the artistic process first hand. She was able to see that ideas change over time.  And to see that it is okay.

TAB and the Single Media Art Class


From time to time, I come across the question of how to run a class that has a single focus such as painting, printmaking, or ceramics following a TAB pedagogy.  It seems as if people think it isn’t possible to be fully TAB because the students don’t have 100% choice of everything.  I mean, the medium is already chosen for them.


Well, I think it is possible, and I have been running my ceramic classes that way for the past couple of years.  It has evolved into the almost fully student-led class it is today, but there is always room for improvement.

As we know, TAB isn’t just about giving the students free reign over things. It’s about a way of thinking and about the process of going from conception through to end product and all the steps in between. So, since it isn’t about a product so to speak, that leaves room for lots of exploration, skill building, and concept growth.


I have three levels of ceramics…beginning, intermediate, and advanced.  My program is small, so intermediate and advanced meet at the same time.  I think that is better anyway.  Our classes run for a full year.  I start off my beginners with a bunch of “have to” projects. Yes, I know, not very TAB, but I think this lays the ground work for moving to full student driven work.  We spend the first semester learning basic hand-building techniques: a slab box with rolled in texture, a carved pinchpot sphere, a carved tile, and a coil built vessel with some kind of additive texture.  We also spend some time on the wheel. The students do have some choice aesthetically, but in the end, I have picked the project for them and I know the outcome.

Once we get passed that, we move to themes.  I came up with a bunch of themes and put them on the class’ website.  Under each theme, I asked some questions to help them begin thinking about how they could interpret the theme.  From there, they can pick a theme that speaks to them and begin the creative process.  They decide how to build.  They decide size.  They decide clay type (we have low-fire, mid-fire for the wheel, and porcelain).  They also decide their time schedule.  They work at their pace.  No longer is the class all together in the same place working on the same thing.  My intermediate and advanced classes work in the same way, but without the have-to projects at the beginning of the year.  We do start together with the same theme–just to get back into the flow and shake off the summer, but after that, they can move into their own groove.  If a student wants to repeat a theme, they can.  If a students doesn’t like any of the themes, they can come up with their own.  Once pieces are bisqued, they also get to choose surface treatments.  Not all students like to glaze, so I have tried to show and display many other non-glaze treatments.  This really gives a lot of variety to the pieces my students create.


Another great thing about keeping the class student-led is that it really allows for mistakes and taking risks.  Students don’t have the looming deadline over them of a piece they may not even want to be doing.  If a piece blows up in the kiln because I rushed it or it falls apart because they didn’t score/slip properly, the kids have been okay with that. They move on to the next thing and figure out what went wrong so they don’t do it again.  If something they are building isn’t coming out right, they are more willing to fix it or take it apart and try again because they know their project isn’t being graded and that I am instead looking at their artistic process, habits, and growth.

As for assessment, I do follow the same thing I do for all of my classes.  Each student has a blog and has to write about artistic behaviors every other week to let me know what they are doing and how they are progressing and thinking like artists.  However, for the past 6 or so weeks, we have been playing with a combination blendspace and the blog.

As my class evolves, I am working on changing up the ceramic reader I have created to be more helpful to the students.  I am also going to implement what I plan on calling “Technique Tuesday”.  I have created a list of things I think the students should know how to do and what they are, such as press molds, sprigs, 2 part molds, different tools, glazing techniques, etc.


I really enjoy running my ceramic classes under the TAB pedagogy.  My students have really began to flourish.  I can see them applying the techniques they have learned.  They are creating pieces that are important to them.  It allows them to be always working and not waiting on classmates to finish in order to move on.  It allows them to stop a project for a while and come back to it later.  One of my intermediate students, Julia, is working on a willow tree.  She has been all year.  But, she also has worked on other pieces when she tires of it.  She comes back to it with more interest each time.  It is a fabulous piece. Another student, Frank, has been able to work in a more “make it up as I go” type fashion…which is where his work flourishes and becomes fabulous.  Having “projects” wouldn’t work for him.  A beginning student, Braeden, has completely blown me away this year because the TAB atmosphere has allowed him to follow his path.  He has learned how to make his own clay, how to create his own wood ash glaze, and he is close to surpassing me on the wheel.  If I made him to projects, he wouldn’t have realized that working in ceramics is what he wants to do with his life after high school.DSC_0383.jpg

I am writing about my experience, but I think this can be done in any single-medium class. It’s all about giving them the reins to drive what interests them.  They will learn the process as they go along.  It’s about learning through exploration.  Because it is single-media, they really get to know the ins and outs; therefore, since so much time isn’t spent learning multiple mediums, they can really focus more on message, process, and content. Which, in my opinion, leads to higher quality work.

Learning From my Academic Colleagues


I recently mentioned to our campus’ instructional coach that I thought it would be super cool if we could go and visit other teacher’s classrooms and observe them for a period. Well, our instructional coach is awesome and she made that happen.  She set up a day where we could have a sub for a period so we could go observe a teacher of our choosing (with their permission of course.)  I went during my conference, so I didn’t need a sub. That also allowed another teacher to be able to use the sub that period…win/win I say.

Why did I want to do this? I think we as art teachers get caught up in our awesome world of fun and creativity and we forget that not every class is like ours.  I’ve seen so many complaints from arts teachers that other teachers don’t understand what it is we do.  Well, do we make an effort to understand what it is academic teachers do?  Probably not.  I was curious.  I wanted to know what it is like to teach an academic class.imag6161_1.jpg

So, I went to the classroom of my friend and colleague, Eric Fitzgerald.  He is a science teacher, and I sat in on his Principles of Technology class early Thursday morning.  I talked to him before hand and he said they would be learning about electro magnets. imag6160.jpgLucky for me, the class had gotten further than he anticipated earlier in the week and they were going to the lab that day. Eric set up stations for the students to explore magnets, polarity, and electricity.  He had 7 stations in all–the final station being the teacher station where he explained his homemade AC motor.  Each student was given a worksheet that had instructions and questions to be answered about each set up.  They had 5 minutes at each station.  Also, at certain stations, Eric had drawn a diagram right on the lab table to assist the students.


I really enjoyed this experience.  I liked that I was able to experience how an academic teacher used stations.  I really liked the teacher station where something that needed a more in depth explanation could be set up.  I thought he set up the lab day in such a way that caused the students to do some independent exploration.  I witnessed one student explain to another student why the magnets moved so slowly down the metal pipe and the pencil didn’t. (That wasn’t part of the station, but the student did it on his own when he saw his partner was confused.)  I talked with students that said they definitely liked the lab days better than classroom days.  In a post-conference of sorts, I did mention this to Eric and he said he would love to do more lab days, but he felt the kids couldn’t be trusted so much.  I hate that he feels this way because I know first hand that the kids can be trusted when given the opportunity.  I did leave the class with a couple of questions:  Do you, the teacher, go over the findings with the students?  (I wrote this down before the end of class, but before the bell, I did hear him say to the students they would go over their stations findings on Monday.  So, question answered.)  What is the classroom portion like?

As for the second question, I mentioned that to our instructional coach when I saw her later that day.  While I appreciated the experience, my interest in how a more traditional academic class hadn’t been met.  She said that we could definitely do this again…perhaps even this year.

If this is a possibility for you to do with your colleagues at your school, I highly suggest it. It is important for us to understand each other and to teach each other.  I was able to see how some of my students act in other classes. I was able to see how another teacher handles sleeping and not having necessary items like a writing utensil.  I saw that other classes can be laid back and fun, not just arts and electives.

Tired of Traditional Wedging?


I hate wedging.  There I said it.  My name is Jean, and I hate wedging.  I have no upper body strength.  I don’t have a wedging table that is the correct height for me.  And I don’t like spending my spare time wedging.  Earlier this year one of my ceramic students came upon this video that showed him how to “Slam and Stack Wire Wedge”.  He said it would be easier for me, but of course, I didn’t believe him.  And, well, it seemed like a lot of work…I would have to have him teach me and set up a make shift wire cutting station.  I was very busy. (Yeah, I wasn’t busy, I was just lazy and wanted him to do all the grunt work for me.)

I finally told him that if he would make a tutorial video for me, I would watch it over the summer and use it next year.  He said okay.  Then, about a week ago, a video appeared on a Facebook group, Clay Buddies, showing exactly what my student had been talking about. The method looked easy enough, so I thought I would try it out.

So, I had my student take some our reclaim and spread it out onto our plaster wedging table to dry out some.  We left it overnight, and the next morning, he set up the make-shift wire cutting station for me.

Game on.  We cut the clay into 4 “smaller” sections, so it was easier to work with.  I took 2 pieces and slammed them together 4 times, flipping over each time.  Next I cut the “new” piece in half with the wire cutter.  Then I put the 2 pieces on top of each other and slammed again 4 times, flipping over each time.  Wash, rinse, repeat for 30 times.

The result?  My clay is wedged.  My students can get back to hand-building.  My arms aren’t so tired.  I am a little sweaty, but I did get a lot of frustration out with all that clay slamming.  And, it saved me so much time.  I call this a win.


The clay after 30 stacks and slams. You can see it is uniform and ready to be used.

Does this mean I don’t have to wedge traditionally anymore?  Yes.  Of course I will wedge my clay before I throw, and of course my students will wedge before they throw.  But, that will be smaller quantities. This is good for all that clay I have in my reclaim buckets.  Now I have 2 methods to help me with all that “old” and reclaimed clay I have just cluttering up my classroom and kiln room.  (Other method for larger blocks of clay.)

Here is the “Stack and Slam Wire Wedging with Michael Wendt” video: