The “No-Grade Challenge”

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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

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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!

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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.

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The Twitter Painting

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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:  

NAEA 2016: Chi-Town (part 2: the sessions)

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imag5687_1.jpgWhat is the most important part of going to a National Art Ed Conference? If judging by my first post, Chi-Town (part 1: the intro), you would think it was hanging out with friends.  And you would be right.  But, just a small percentage point behind that is the sessions.  I mean, I did pay to go to some relevant professional development so I can become an even better, more awesome teacher. I don’t want to go too awesome though, I don’t think my students could handle that.  ;)

imag5601.jpgSince I am somewhat old school, I wasted a whole bunch of trees and printed out a copy of the sessions.  Yes, I know that I would get a program once in Chicago, but that’s not very helpful to a planner like me.  (Don’t be too mad, I did print them double-sided.)  I sat down in my kitchen with my coffee, my stack of papers, my yellow marker, and my phone.  As I read thru the sessions, I circled the ones that were interesting to me.  Then I would fire up the conference app on my phone and add them to my agenda.  Is this a little more work, maybe, but who wants to carry a quarter ream of paper around the McCormick? Not me.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do.  In case you didn’t know, I teach all TABbish and my interest is finding better ways to run my TAB classroom so it is more meaningful for my students. However, there are a couple of problems that I come across at art ed conferences.  I teach high school, and it seems the majority of sessions (especially TAB/choice) are aimed at elementary. Also, out of the TAB/Choice sessions, many are geared towards getting people interested in TAB/Choice.  I am already interested, I don’t need to go to those.  So, while I did attend one or two of those sessions (my fav being “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way”, presented by Julie Toole, Nan Hathaway, and Ian Sands),imag5836_1.jpgI opted against most because I would rather give up my seat to someone who needs to learn about TAB/choice and their awesomeness.  And, I am glad I did because those sessions were packed.  I mean, standing room only, out the door packed.  This makes my heart happy, by the way.  IMAG3327_1

So, powers that be at NAEA who deal with choosing sessions for NYC, we need more sessions on TAB…at all levels and areas of interest (getting to know vs. already am in love with) of TAB.  Obviously it is a hot topic and people want to know.  I, personally, am willing to present a session or two or three about TAB at the secondary level.  I know some others too who would be as well.  Hell, we would even do some joint presenting.  Just sayin’….

Over the course of the 3 days, I attended 15 sessions.  One was not all that, and only 1 did I walked out.  I lucked out and found 13 good/great sessions.  Don’t worry, I won’t go over each session, but I will give you some highlights.

10612715_10107362239544810_1343979125320880173_nI started off the conference with a great session called “Break theimag5692_1.jpg
Wheel”, presented by Chris Wills.  His session was about brainstorming and ways to help students get over the creative block.  It really got me fired up to go.  He had us do a small version of his activity called “60“.  I really enjoyed the activity.
I enjoyed it so much that I brought it back to my classroom and used it already.  At first my kids were all, “what the…”, but after completing the activity, which we only did for 20 minutes, they were glad we did and I think they have some ideas to work from for the next artworks.
After that I was pumped and went to a couple of more sessions that day.  One was a look at the way the AP portfolio was “graded”.  While I don’t teach AP, I was able to take some things away from this.  The presenter talked about looking into the creative process and being able to imag5699_1.jpgcapture the day to day…which is something I am working on in my classroom.  There is so much more to artwork than just the final product, and wouldn’t it be great to allow our students to showcase the process instead of just the end of it?

Rounding out the day was a presentation by Jeff Pridie that made me think about what my program goals were and why my program should be there.  And a session by the Journal Fodder Junkies.  I had seen them before in NOLA and was excited to see them again.  Every year they encourage me to have my students develop visual journals.  Maybe next year will be the year I incorporate them.

Friday started off big as well.  “Art Without Authority” was standing room only.  Presenter Justin Crumpner is an art teacher from Dallas, and he feels the same way about our state VASE competition as I do…so right then I knew I liked this guy.  The more he talked, the more I realized that he believed in the TAB philosophy, but just didn’t know there were others out there like him.  In the middle of the session I texted Liz asking why he was not part of our tribe.  He talked about his realization of moving to student-centeredness when he had an AP student that wouldn’t finish her work.  But, when he saw her sketchbook that was filled with fabulousness and asked her why she wasn’t doing that in class, she replied, “I didn’t think I could do this.  I didn’t think this was “school art”.”  WOW!   Seriously, talk about a way to start reflecting on your teaching practice.  Anyway, he said some things during his presentation that were right on:  “Your (students) work is VALID”; “their voice (student) = your voice (teacher)”; and “create a climate; don’t create winners and losers”. Of course I paraphrased that last one, but still… If you missed his presentation, you can still see it.  He posted it on his blog.  As a final note, we (Liz, Hillary and I) did run into him later on in the conference, we talked over a beer, and he ended up coming to our TAB meet-up.  He has since joined our tribe on the Midwest TAB teachers page.  I look forward to meeting up with him again next year in Fort Worth/Dallas at the TAEA 2016 conference.

I know I am getting long winded and I still have more to say, so bear with me.  I attended Joy Schultz‘ presentation where she talked about choice and her students use of Blendspace.  She had the presenter’s nightmare where the technology was non-existent. But, being the rockstar she is, went on like it was no big deal.  Again, standing room only.

I attended a session on authentic assessment in a choice classroom presented by 2 elementary teachers.  While it was interesting, and it gave rise to a sudden interest in a badge system, it wasn’t anything really new to me.  I am not sure I will use a badge system, but it is something worth looking at–extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards.

Ian dragged us to a session called “New Weird Ideas”.  There were four presenters and they each talked about how they set the tone for the beginning of the year.  And of course, they said the same thing that I kept hearing over and over through out the conference…”Focus on the process and how to make the process meaningful.”  It is at this point I should mention that they presenters were giving away free e-zines and Ian drafted Andy to go get us some…you would think that a 6′-4″, lean guy would be able to leap his way up to the front and procure some, but noooooooo….smh.  No e-zines for us.

Saturday was the last day of sessions.  We got there in time to see “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way” where Nan dropped this gem, “If there were no grades in art, how would that affect your work?”  Just let that sink in.  Yeah.  Exactly.

I didn’t really have any sessions lined up for the day, so luckily, I was with Ian who did. We went to a session about Shepard Fairey.  There is a lot more to him than I thought there was.  I left with the idea of “post-museum art“, which is art of the people; it’s an interesting concept.  Ian and I also went to a session on maker spaces.  I am now considering trying to get a 3-D printer, some paper circuits, and conductive ink.  For more info on maker spaces, check out the Makelab.

Our final stop of the day was one that Ian and I are very interested in.  It was titled “Stop Grading Art!”  It started off great with ideas like we should moved from being art focused (fixed mindset) to learning focused (growth mindset), and questions like what is the purpose of grading, what are my standards, and what are my learning objectives/goals? Next he talked about looking for evidence of learning.  It was here that it became frustrating and where I wanted to just start arguing with the presenter. He wasn’t talking about getting rid of grading (which is what we had hoped the session was about), and he was basically using assessment and grading as interchangeable terms, which of course they are not.  There was nothing new learned from this, and it seemed that he was pushing grading in art as we know it now, but with a different language.  His example was very simple, and didn’t really seem to assess any learning.  He said the learning objective (from either the state or national standards) was to provide multiple solutions to a problem.  And the evidence of learning was based on how many thumbnails a student created.  There was a cute rubric that went with it too.  How is that really assessing the learning?  That is just grading on how well a student jumped through a hoop.   And, that is what I am trying to get away from.  I walked out of the session frustrated, but with lots to think about; so #winning?  I got stuck on what my learning objectives really are and how to see the evidence of that learning.  So, while I walked out with a new conversation in my head, I’m not sure I needed a session to get me there…I have already been on that path.  Maybe I will figure something out and present on this topic next year in NYC.

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This post shows just a snippet into some of the notes I took.  If you could see my imag5715_1.jpgnotebook, your head would be swimming too.  I took a lot away from this conference–things I want to bring to my program, things to stay away from, ways to enhance the process more and to bring the kids to “buy in” sooner.  Overall, the sessions I went to and the buzz I heard about other “popular” sessions made me realize that I am on the right path in my teaching philosophy.  I look forward to hopefully presenting next year at both the TAEA [Texas] conference and the NAEA17 conference.  ::hint, hint::  I promise my sessions won’t disappoint.

NAEA 2016: Chi-Town (part 1: the intro)

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I have been trying to decompress for about 5 days now, and I think I am about ready to write down the experience I had at this year’s NAEA 2016 Conference in Chicago.  I spent 4 days of my spring break in Chi-Town, reconnecting with old friends, meeting new friends, and of course, learning about my chosen profession.

This year’s experience can not compare to last year’s in NOLA.  It wasn’t better; it wasn’t worse; it was different.  First of all, let’s talk Chi-Town.  It was cold.  It wasn’t Canada cold, but I did have to pack for 40 degree weather.  Not fun.  I did however pack a fun hat!

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Chicago is a much bigger city than New Orleans.  It is more spread out, which made visiting the city a bit harder.  So, in that respect, I didn’t get to experience that Chicago flavor the way I did in New Orleans.  And, speaking of being spread out, the convention center in Chicago is ‘Uge…H-U-G-E!  It has 4 levels, and 2 sides.  So, sometimes getting from one session to the next was a race.  Add into the mix about a thousand C2E2 goers…and it was game on.  (Pun intended.)  They did provide some nice cosplay costumes to look at though.

One of the best parts of the trip, besides what I learned, which I will talk about in my NAEA 2016: Chi-Town (part 2: the sessions) post, was getting to see my friends. My tribe.  It has been a long 8 months since I last saw my people in Boston.  I got to hang out with my favorite TABbers…Liz, Andy, Hillary, and of course, Ian.  I also got to see some of my friends/mentors…Julie, Diane, Clyde, and Nan.

We spent 3 days catching up, talking TAB, making new memories, learning new things, walking all over the McCormick, and creating our newest hashtag #artteachersinbars.  The first night, Andy and I found this fabulous dive bar near where we were staying.  He told me I had to bring my sketchbook, which I reluctantly did.  And of course, it was all down hill from there. Every night we went out and wound up at a bar, the sketchbooks came out. We even got Clyde in the game.

On Friday night, the TAB powers that be set up a dinner get together for us.  Our gracious hosts provided some yummy pizza and procured an room for us to gather and be merry in. In pure Jean fashion, I went around and got selfies “with” everyone.  It was a fabulous time had by all.

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I was also lucky enough to visit the Art Institute of Chicago one evening.  So glad that my registration at the conference allowed me to experience the museum free of charge.  I saw some amazing pieces.  I thought the museum should be it’s own post because I have a ton of pictures, and well, this post is starting to get a little lengthy.

Iimag5851.jpg was sad when I had to say good-bye to two of my clan on Saturday afternoon, but luckily Ian was there to drag me around to sessions I hadn’t even considered…and it turned out to be a good thing.  And, I made a new friend, Kay.  It turned out we had a lot more in common than just being art teachers who TAB.  When Sunday rolled around, it was time to take the long blue line train ride back to O’Hare.  My head was spinning, so I just sat and looked out as the city turned into the suburbs and finally into an airport.

I am still trying to reflect on what I took away from the many sessions I attended, so give me a couple of more days before I get to that.

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Peace Out Chi-Town! Until next year in NYC!!!

Thanks Chicago for a fabulous work-cation. Thanks NAEA for a great conference, let’s do it again next year in NYC…although I do have a few suggestions for an even better experience.😉

Finally Figuring It Out

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It took the better part of the year, but I think I have finally figured out my Art 2: Painting/Drawing class.  Last year I ran art 2 the same way I did my Art 1.  All of us were new to TAB, so, I felt the need to make art 2 different wasn’t necessary.  But, this year, since I had some kids from Art 1 in my Art 2, I had to change it up.  I started out with an altered books unit I had done for many years.  It is basically a way to get students exploring using media in different ways.  However, the kids were not exploring and were not really understanding the purpose of the book, but they did them anyway.  In my gut, the class just felt off.  I told the students this, and they kind of looked at me funny, but were willing to just go with it.

After about half-way through the second marking period (we run classes for a full year, broken up into 2 semesters consisting of 3 6-week (mostly) marking periods) the class and I “started over”.  I stopped with the altered books and put them into the storage closet. We went back to what I knew worked–themes.  Students were coming up with some great ideas.   I thought things were finally on-track until I was talking to a student during our second theme and asked him how he was thinking of proceeding with his idea.  I asked about media and paper type.  He looked at me like I had 5 heads.  Then I took a look around the room, and I began to think the class looked like it was a beginning class, not a class that had gone through a year of high school art already.  Yes the students had good ideas, but the artistic process stopped there. There was no skill development, there was no risk taking, no reflection, no connections.

At this point, what does any good art teacher do?  Do they just keep on keeping on?  Or do they reflect on what is going on and change things to help better the learning and understanding?  I chose the later.  We would “start over” just one more time.

By this point, it was the end of the first semester.  This gave me the much needed time to really reflect on what my students needed.  It was at this point I was going to try a unit style that Ian Sands developed.  It involves 3 parts:  digging deeper, challenge, and create.  (You can find examples of his units here.)  I borrowed his unit, Artists Steal.  The students were successful.  I mean, there was still work to be done, but for the most part, the transition was a smart one.  I could see them beginning to have a deeper understanding of things artists do and how they, artists, create their artwork.  Many of the kids used what they created in the unit challenge for their artwork.  I was impressed by the level of understanding of appropriation.

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Next it was time to create my own unit.  I followed the “formula” for the unit and I decided that our next unit would be “Artists Tell Stories”.  I came up with a digging deeper section, a challenge and a create section.  With this unit, I saw several of my students really looking at artwork and finding out the story behind it or reading the story it was telling.  They were also providing an excellent reflection on the video they chose to watch.  Link  Link  Link

They say third times a charm, and they were right.  I am glad that I went with my gut and stopped and started things over twice with my students.  I can really see the growth taking place now and I can see their work having deeper thought and deeper meaning.  Is this by any means perfect?  Of course not.  It is a work in progress.  They know that.  If it were, we would have done our current unit (Artists Represent), and the next two (Artists Abstract and Artists Are Non-Representational) first.  But, hindsight and all.

I’ve got a couple of things to change on the structure of the units…like removing the option to create a pinboard of artwork.  I found this isn’t lending itself to any deeper understanding.  And, I need to work in more skills bootcamps, but that will come.  Right now, as much as I want this particular group of students to explore different ways of art making, all but 1 or 2 don’t really want to, I think right now that momentum they’ve got going with exploring things artists do is more important than interrupting them to explore painting or printmaking or something like that.  It’s all about choices and finding the right balance in the class.  And with one and a half marking periods left, I feel I have made the right decision for both them and myself…..but mostly them.

I always say that my TAB classroom is a living entity that ebbs and flows with the needs of the students.  My art 2 class this year proves that.  If you are feeling a class is off, or they need something they aren’t getting at the moment, stop and reset.  It is okay.  It can only help.  Be transparent about what you are doing; your students will understand. Mine did. And remember, it’s all for them.

I need more than the PD I am getting.

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While I was driving home, my mind began to go over my day in my classroom, just like it always does.  Every day.  On the long drive home down Hwy 79.  Today I was thinking about what I was doing…or rather not doing.  My students have very successful ideas and many interpret the themes thrown at them in out of the box ways.  They make me very proud in that area.

The area of concern for me is the realization out of those ideas.  What questions am I not asking? What activities can I be doing to help my students in this area?  What are other TAB teachers doing to help provide their students the resources or help to flush out their ideas?  And how can I implement that in my classes?  How can I push my kids to develop the skills to bring their fabulous ideas to the next artistic level?

Let me be honest here…I am a little jealous of those TAB/Choice teachers that are able to help develop and “pull” both the great ideas and skills from their students.  This is a goal of mine.

So, where is this post going?  Well, I was thinking I need some kind of PD on how to achieve this in my classroom.  How do other teachers run their classes?  What types of activities do they do?  But, I need more than just Twitter chats and Facebook groups.  Don’t get me wrong, those are fabulous resources, but I need more.  I need more than the 10-15 minute presentation from AOE conferences.  I want more than the 30 minute presentation from my state conferences.  I want more than the ones I can get at national conferences.

The best PD I have ever went to was the 2015 TAB Summer Institute.  Why? Because I not only got to be face to face with like minded people looking to learn what I wanted to learn, but because I got to have in depth conversations about topics that were important to me.  I need to discuss and ask questions in the moment to help with deep understanding. I also need to see a person.  They body language and facial expressions helps me to learn.

My question is, how can I get the professional development I want from the teachers who know what it is I want to know?  How do I make that happen?  How can we, my PLN, make that happen?  I know we all can’t afford to fly to one place to do this…otherwise we would all be going to Boston this summer.  And, I know I am not alone in feeling this way.  I can’t be.  But, there has to be a way.  Someone please help me figure this out!!