Artists Abstract/Don’t Represent


Normally I teach both abstract and non-objective art in a full-on unit.  This year I decided to revise that.  While I think the information included is important, it was information that could be learned in a shorter amount of time…with the right activities and check-ins.  I am lucky as our school is 1:1 and has a set of TVs at the front of the school that we can hook in to.

Day 1: Each class broke into 5 equal groups.  They brought one computer with them and we headed to the front of the school.  Each group hooked into a tv, and they were asked to first define both abstract and non-representational/non-objective.  After that, each group went thru a slideshow and determined if an image was abstract or non-objective, based on what they had discovered in their definition search. At the end of class, we went thru the slideshow as a whole class.

Day 2: We briefly went over the definitions of each style of art.  The students then were to watch 2 videos through playposit.  One video was on Joan Jonas and the other was Soo Sunny Park.  They students had to determine which artist would be considered abstract and which was non-objective.  They also had to say why.  This was really to stress the difference between the two genres and to let them see 2 artists at work.

Day 3:  At the start of class, we had a check for understanding where kids defined each term, said what they had in common and what made them different.  Then it was time for was our image find day.  Each student had to create a document that contained 10 images.  Five of the images had to be abstract.  Five had to be non-objective.  They also had to say why they chose those images–what drew them to those pieces.  I like having them do this because it causes them not to choose the first 5 they find and to really search through a ton of images.  Furthermore, it gives me some behind the scenes info into art they find intriguing.

Days 4-6: These were studio day.  Students chose which type of art they wanted to create, then had 3 days to create that art.  It was awesome.  The first day about 60% of students were working, but by the second day, 95% were working and not rushing thru.  I was very pleased with the conversations and the engagement by my students.

Day 7:  Our final day of the bootcamp was reflection day.  I asked students to fill out a google form.  I asked them again to tell me the differences and similarities between abstract and non-objective.  I asked them what genre their artwork fell into.  Then I asked some opinion questions about the bootcamp and abstract/non-objective work.  With the extra time left that period, kids could finish up anything they hadn’t gotten to over the past 3 studio days.

This was a huge success.  It wasn’t so long that they eventually lost interest. And, it was focused and narrow enough for 95% to understand the two concepts.


A New Approach to the Bootcamp


Well, it’s a new bootcamp approach for me and my students. Normally when we do bootcamps, there are many demos by me. And, since I don’t want to spend the whole class period doing demos, it ends up being one per day and then work time. So, each approach is learned separately. Granted, this has been okay for our drawing bootcamps and painting bootcamps. Last year I followed this approach for printmaking as well. It was kind of a disaster. Most kids didn’t really learn much, they whipped through each technique, and they wasted a lot of materials. So, this year, I decided we needed to do something different.

My school is 1:1 MacBooks, and it is an expectation that we include a technology component. I thought this would be a great way to meet that expectation and change up the bootcamp. This year, I would expect the onus of learning the techniques on the students. We talked about how this bootcamp would be different and that they were the ones to watch the demo videos for the technique they needed to learn. I would only be doing one demo–inking and pulling prints.

I create a Google Slides with my expectations for the bootcamp and shared it with my students in Google Classroom. At the start of the bootcamp, we went over it. I expected that each student would learn a minimum of one printmaking technique. They students could decide to either work alone or in groups of up to 4 people. Each group had to make 3 copies of an artwork that utilized different printmaking techniques. AND, they couldn’t repeat techniques in their piece. So, for example, a group of 4 had to create an artwork that had 4 different printmaking techniques. If you worked alone, you had to learn 2 techniques.

While I have 2 things I need to revise for next year, and I will get to those in a minute, I think overall this was a success. The majority of the kids watched multiple video demos before making decisions on what they wanted to learn. They communicated with others on the artwork creation and learned from each other when they had questions about techniques. Of course I had those that needed more attention than others, and I had some that needed modified requirements, but that is normal in a TAB classroom where differentiation is a common occurrence.

The biggest thing I have to revise is HOW I deliver the information and expectations to the students. The multiple copies aspect of printmaking was a difficult concept for many. I also want to look at the time line for next year. The students had 8 studio days (48 minute periods) to create and do a google slides for a presentation. I think I need to make it a full 2 weeks (10 days), not including a day for presentations.

I am proud of my students. They worked hard and learned way more than they realize. I plan on trying to incorporate this type of bootcamp into our future bootcamps. I am glad that I put the learning was put on their shoulders because it allowed me more time to observe and interact with my students.

Compliance and TAB


Compliance and TAB are two things that seem not to go together.  As a TAB teacher I want my kids to think beyond the rules and explore and make art because they want to…not because they are trying to be compliant with “school rules”.  My friend Ian Sands says that making art for a grade is not a reason to make art.  I 100% agree with him.

Unfortunately, there is an expected amount of compliancy that goes along with our traditional school experience.  And, it bucks at what I believe in my heart is what is best for my students.  In this case of compliancy, I am talking about my compliancy…the compliancy of the teacher to what the district expects.  Even when it goes against what you believe in, you have to be in compliance.  If you don’t and you try to fly under the radar, eventually you will get called on it and the end result is not fun. (Even if your principal understands completely what you were doing.  His hands are tied because even he has a boss with expectations to answer to.)

The biggest issue dealing with non-compliance in my mind is grading.  As a TAB teacher, grading is the worst.  I don’t have little check boxes to fill in.  I don’t have an answer key.  I don’t want my students to work in my classroom because they have to.  I want them to work because they want to.  How do you grade that?  I don’t want to grade every warm-up, every bell ringer, ever activity….because for me, that takes away from the learning and makes it about a number.  But, if I don’t grade those things, how do I remain in compliance with the minimum amount of major, minor, and homework grades the district tells me I have to have?

I don’t have the answers.  I do on the surface.  I have reworked a bunch of assignments so I can meet the grading requirements I am expected to have.  What I can’t answer are the internal dilemmas that arise when it comes to what I believe to be in the students’ best interest and what I am expected to do.  That for me is the hardest part.


The DuckArt Tantamounter: A midterm exam.


My school expects every class and every studeny to have a midterm exam.  I hate exams. And, without “testable content” in a TAB classroom, a written test was not really a good idea.  I’ve done portfolio reviews and semester learning questionaires before, but with art 1, they’re hit or miss.  I’ve done the “final artwork” thing before too, but I don’t grade artwork normally, so coming up with a rubric for one sucks.

Then it hit me. Why not do the Tantamounter.  I love doing it as an activity with my kids. We hadn’t done it yet.  It was a great way to show off the artistic behaviors and thinking I had hoped they had been learning…problem solving, communicating, collaborating, observation…and of course, it showed they could work in a shared studio as part of their task was to leave the studio as clean as they found it.


It was such a huge success.  I painted our living painting, much to the dismay of many who thought it was going away for the rest of the year, and put it outside our classroom.

Upon entering the room, the class was told they were now the inner workings of the tantamount machine. After a brief slide show, a statement about materials, and time for questions, time began–they had 60 minutes.

Seriously, it was awesome.

I do want to thank my coworkers for bringing such interesting items to be Tantamounted.  I couldn’t have pulled it off without them. I have decided this is my go to midterm from now on.


Artists Tackle Social Issues


I have been wanting to have my art 2 students take their work to a deeper level–to really bring in their voices.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a couple of students that already do, but most still create artworks that haven’t quite broken the surface.  I’ve tried doing a unit on stereotypes before, but it seems that I get the usual suspects.  So, this year, I decided it was the year to “bring it on”, so to speak.  I decided to challenge my students with the tackling of social issues.

They first started by defining some “common” words… opinion, social issue, society, commentary, and parody.  I also asked them to consider why an artist would want to us social issues in their work.  That question seemed to be a hard one for them.  I asked them to watch either a video on Maxwell Rushton and his “Left Out” project or on Favianna Rodriguez, a Latina printmaker, and make connections between the what they watched and our unit idea of using social issues in art.  The final part of their research was to find artworks that used social issues.  And, they couldn’t show any that I showed them for our intro to the unit.

To help my students get warmed up for creating their own artwork, I gave them a challenge.  They had 2 choices.  Choice one: talk to 5 different people about some “hot topic issues” of today, and create a sketch of a possible artwork based on their “favorite” opinion.  Choice two: Pick a social issue that is hot today, create a slideshow of at least 5 different artworks around that issue (on either side), and present to the class.

These girls gave me permission to share the links to their slideshows.  I think they did some great work.

Gender Inequality


The best part for me about this unit was how invested in their artwork the kids became.  I didn’t have to prod the kids to get going.  They quickly had a social issue they wanted to talk about and set off creating.  I am so impressed with their work, and their voices.


Turn Around, Bright Eyes…


Ok, so bright eyes weren’t turning around, but my students, my attitude, and the class atmosphere is.

I have this one class.  We all have had it. Last period of the day. 80% boys. 80% freshman. Art 1.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this class.  However, since my switch to TAB it is.  And quite frankly, it threw me through the biggest loop.

 I had this long-winded, drawn-out post about this, but I highlighted it and hit delete.  You don’t need to know all the gory details. I am sure you can imagine all the things.

What is important is that I tried to keep to my TAB philosophy and what I believe in.  AND, I asked for help from our Restorative Discipline team.  After 2 days of circles between the class and our RD coach, and the class, the coach and myself, we came to a new place.  A better place.  A good place.  A place I hope we stay at for a long time.  I know there will be bumps along the way, but I am optimistic that if we pause when that happens, we can redirect ourselves back here.

We were in the middle of “packets”… a new strategy that Ian Sands came up with and suggested I tried with this class…when we were interrupted.  On Wednesday we went back to the packets, but we started over as a class.  And, I let kids whom I told myself (and probably some of them) that they would never touch clay, get clay and begin to build.  And, those kids that were the biggest problem, stopped being the biggest problem.  And some forgot which packet they chose. And quite frankly, I didn’t care. They were engaged. They were learning. They were not on laptops. They weren’t on phones. They were asking questions, and being artists, and talking to each other, and helping each other.  It is like what a TAB studio full of Art 1 kids should be.

And, I was exhausted. But, I wasn’t angry.

On day two, I was relaxed, and they were still engaged.  And one student in particular who is often quite angry with me, decided not to work with clay anymore because he didn’t like it. I was worried he would go back to doing nothing. But as I peeked at his laptop on the sly throughout the class, he was looking up images, and doing small sketches, and had a real conversation with me about what to create.

And, the class hummed with energy…and I wasn’t angry.  I was happy.


Think Walk Make


Last year in NYC at NAEA17, I went to a super session, “Meaningful Choices”.  One of the speakers was Anne Thulson.  In her portion of the presentation she talked about an activity she did with her students at The School of the Poetic City.  The activity was called “Think Walk Make”.  From the moment Anne mentioned it, I was intrigued and began jotting notes down feverishly, hoping not to miss a single nugget.  (Luckily, as a member of NAEA I was able to see the presentation again to gain anything I had missed.)

In this activity, Anne and her students would walk around their community, trying to see the world in a new light.  Each student would have a bag with them that contained several items (field journal, pencil, chalk, tiny people, tape, etc.); and it was with those items that the students would “approach the city in an artistic way.”  They could index the city, message the city, assess the city, situate themselves into the city. They could even make a tiny world in the city.

Like I said, I was so intrigued by this because I often feel like I am alone in seeing things in a different way than others.  I talk to my students about how I take photos of the things I see that perhaps one day, when they’ve trained their artist eye more, they would see too.  (They usually just smile and nod.)   But, this activity gave me all the feels because there were others who thought like me out there.  And, I thought if I could do this activity with my students, then they too could start seeing things, ordinary things, with a new perspective.

I ask my art 2 students to do this activity with me.  At first there was a bunch of complaining that we were going to go outside.  This confused me, but isn’t it always that way with “today’s youth”.  I made them go anyway.  We spent the first 10 minutes of class going thru Anne’s slideshow.  I wanted them to see some examples of things they could do when on our “think, walk, make” outing.  I then handed each student their pre-made bag and we headed out into our campus community.  It was hard at first for many students, but after a while, I knew some were getting into it.  My second class took much more coaxing to come out of the shade of the building and to really explore, but I am not giving up hope on them.

Here are a few shots from our first outing.

I asked my students to take photos with their phone, then they could upload using the seesaw app.  That way, they could edit, add captions or drawings, and they can share what they saw with their peers.

On our second outing, the weather was beautiful.  But that did not stop the complaining.  Some kids thought it was too hot…not even 80 degrees in a state where we have record numbers of 100+ degree days in a row.  SMH.  Then there were the kids that said, I did 2 things, am I done?  I understand, well not really, that some kids don’t want to go outside, and I understand that art isn’t for everyone.  But, I believe so much in this activity and how it can help budding artists to really see the beauty around them, and to really see the ordinary that they may pass by daily.  I truly believe this is important for them to experience.  So, for those reasons, we will continue to go think, walk, and make several more times this year.

Shots from our second outing.


Artists Steal?


Every year I do a unit based around copyright called “Artists Steal”.  We learn about appropriation, fair use, parody, and copyright infringement.  And, every year I do it the same way…  Lengthy power point where I drone on and on about each “topic” with case studies for each.  It takes the whole period, and I know that by the end, kids have just plain zoned out completely.  After the Powerpoint, the kids do a challenge of an animated character remix and finish with their own artwork…following the rules of copyright infringement.

This year, I decided that I needed to change things up.  First and foremost, I made the unit into a boot camp.  It takes only a week.  2 days of learning about copyright.  And 2-3 days for the character remix challenge.

On day one, I showed the video for David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure“.  Then we watched Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” video.  We ended the video fun with a short interview with Vanilla Ice from MTV.   We briefly discussed how Vanilla Ice was in violation and I told them the outcome of the case–an out of court settlement of an undisclosed amount.  That helped me to segway into the next portion of the boot camp–group work.

I told my students that copyright applied to visual arts as well, and that there were 4 topics we were going to learn about.  I then divided the class into 4 group and assigned each group a topic–copyright, appropriation, fair use, and parody.  Each group was given a laminated card with the textbook definition of their topic and a case study for that topic.  The students were asked to put the definition into teenager vocabulary so the rest of the class would understand.   Then they were to read about the case, and based on their topic, decide what the outcome of the case should be and why they felt that way.

The following day, each group presented their topic to the class.  I read the textbook definition, then the group would translate that into teenager vocab.  I projected the images for their case study.  The students described the case to the class and told us their decision on what the outcome should be.  The rest of the class then had the option to agree or disagree and give reasons why.  Finally, I told them the real outcome.

After the students finish their character remix challenge, which they will do in their sketchbook and put a photo of on our class seesaw feed, we will discuss one more case before moving onto another artistic behavior unit….Banksy’s Dismaland.

I am really happy with how the boot camp went.  I rather enjoyed not being the one to teach them. The students listened to each other, had opinions, and even changed opinions after hearing what others had to say.  I think they learned more this way than when I would teach it all.  I hope they use the information they gathered from this as we move forward with our art making this year.


New Year, New Curriculum


Summer is over for me as in-service starts on Monday the 7th.  And, that means it is time to shake off the sun, which is hard in Texas.  Anyway, with the start of the new year comes new lessons, new ideas, and new curriculum to be implemented.

Curriculum: the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program.

Since I am the only ceramics teacher, I am in charge of my own curriculum for those courses.  And, the ceramics curriculum is going to be the biggest thing I will implement this year.

For some years now, I have taught my ceramics classes in a way that lends itself to my TAB philosophy that I follow.  My purpose is for the students to be able to think like ceramic artists by the end of their time in those classes.  That includes knowing about clay, glazes, and different techniques to achieve the ideas the artist wants to create.  I have structured my classes as a teacher-led beginning, with the first semester leaning more towards a choice class with “projects” I have designed to teach the basic building techniques ceramicists use.  From there, we move into a more TAB atmosphere with themes and the students using the design process while interpreting those themes.  My upper classes have even more freedom to either take or leave the themes.

I have found that most students were not really understanding how ceramic artists work nor were they able to think like one…relying too much on me and very low-level ceramic skills.  That when I finally made the connection that I needed to dump themes like I had in my art 1 and art 2 classes, and move to a more unit based curriculum…but not units based necessarily on the artistic behaviors that I use in art 1 and art 2.  Instead, I needed to come up with common artistic behaviors that ceramicists use.  Creating 3-dimensional objects requires a different mindset and understanding that creating 2-dimensional artwork.

I racked my brain for what I had learned and seen over the years in ceramic arts, and invented a list of things I felt that ceramic artists did when creating their work.  Many are based on the type of work they create and how they create that work.  I will take those behaviors and structure the units like I do my normal units–with 3 parts: digging deeper, challenge, and your turn.  In the digging deeper students will define some pertinent words to the behavior, students will watch and analyze a video about an artist that works in that fashion, and then will find examples of ceramic art in that style.  For the challenge…well, I don’t know yet how that will work…but, I’m not too worried about it right now.  And of course, the your turn section.  I think that is self-explanatory.

My plan on using this is to start with my intermediate/advanced class and have them be the guinea pigs.  Once the beginning class has finished the first semester and is ready to move onto the units, I will have tried them once and can tweak what is needed so they will be able to use them.  Basically, intermediate/advanced will be a semester ahead.  And, in the long run, it should work out that those in advanced next year will be able to truly be full TAB having been through the ceramic behavior units.  (I hope that makes sense because it does in my head.)

Here is my list of ceramic behaviors:

  • Artists Work in a Series 
  • Artists Explore Color 
  • Artists Explore Surface Treatments
  • Artists Work Conceptually 
  • Artists Create Realism 
  • Artists Communicate 
  • Artists Work Decoratively
  • Artists Work Functionally 
  • Artists Develop a Style 
  • Artists Create Installations 
  • Artists Work “Figure”atively

This is all a work in progress, but I feel that it will be very successful.  My move away from themes and into AB units in art 1 and art 2 were highly successful in my students becoming artists, so the natural conclusion is this will too.


Reflection and the Final Survey


Every other year, I like to provide my students with a final survey to see where they are at and to gain some insight on my teaching from the students POV.  If you don’t already do this, I highly recommend it.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the data you receive.  (Also, it’s nice to hear that our students love us every now and then. 😉 )

I created several google forms, breaking them up by class.  I think there are different things to know from the different students.  The insights of a student that has had you for 3 or 4 years is way different than that of a first year student or a student that was only there for the fine arts credit.  Also, if you have a single media class, you can form the questions to reflect that.

“What I liked most about how you ran our art class was how you had a great relationship with your students and your class was the class everyone looked forward to everyday.”

” you’ve taught me not to judge people for who they are”

“I learned that you have to trust yourself and learn to take risks.”

“I think when you pushed us we got better”

I asked a variety of questions, ranging from the students telling me their strengths and weaknesses to how they felt about my teaching methods.  I asked what they liked and what they didn’t like.  I asked what they had learned and what they wished they had learned.  I also asked what I could change.  Kids are pretty honest.

“the artworks we did were fun because we could do what ever media we wanted to do as long as we could fit the needs of the project”

“I liked how we had the prompt or whatever and then you allowed each individual person to take their time to make their art and you helped each person with their specific questions.”

(Favorite part of class) “being able to use a lot of the equipment freely” & “being able to talk to you about anything”

One thing that I think is important when creating the forms is to make almost all questions as required.  It makes the student think and add to previous answers. The only ones that are optional are “Name” and “Anything else you would like to add”.  If a student thinks he can be more honest by remaining anonymous, then that is a good thing.

(I’ve grown as an artist…) “because when I run into a problem I can figure out a way around it instead of getting frustrated and starting over again”

“You ran [class] like were weren’t just kids and you trusted us to use the tools effectively and whenever we wanted.”

“I loved that you would give us a broad topic to help get an idea of what we want to make our art of, but what we actually made was up to us. So we had freedom in our art.”

“I loved that you gave us a topic that we had to base our artwork on, but that you didn’t push us into doing anything. You let us create the artwork that we wanted and let us use whatever media we wanted”

As I sat this morning finally reading their responses, about a month after they filled them out, I made some notes.  I jotted down some of the things they liked.  I jotted down what they wished they had learned.  I made notes on things they felt would have helped them grow more.  I even wrote down some quotes that I didn’t put in this post. And, I have to admit, reading their words about how much they enjoy the TAB studio/pedagogy really helps to solidify that I made the right decision when I made the switch.  I’ve been TAB for several years, and I rarely doubt the decision to go ther, but it is still nice to hear from those that it truly affects that it was a good thing.

I am glad that I waited a month to read the responses.  Enough time has passed that my mind is fresh, but it hasn’t been so long that I can no longer hear the voices of my students in their responses.  This list will help me when I go in about a month to work out things for next year’s classes.  I can know what is missing, and what not to change.  Now, I don’t agree with everything they said.  I know some kids didn’t like writing about the artists we learned about and some didn’t like the computer stuff; that I won’t change because I do think it is important for their artistic growth…they just don’t see it at the moment.  But, I was surprised by how many liked learning about current artists and how many actually liked the drawing tests.

I have been doing surveys for as long as I have been teaching, but I think this year’s surveys were the most informative.  I think I finally asked the right questions and got responses that will be able to help me create a better studio and learning experience for my students.

“Most people just take art because they need a year of fine art and honestly that’s why I took art, but as the year went on I started to really love this class and making artworks.  I can’t wait to have art again next year!!”