Category Archives: Curriculum

Printmaking Exploration

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Printmaking Exploration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my thoughts on this activity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artists Communicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAEA 16 in Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artists Solve Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S = SUBSTITUTE

C = COMBINE

A = ADAPT

M = MODIFY

P = PUT TO OTHER USES

E = ELIMINATE

R = REARRANGE

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

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

 

Artists Observe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

Book Review: “Hacking Assessment”

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I recently joined the FaceBook group Teachers Throwing Out Grades and it was suggested to read the book Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein.  So, I went to Amazon, saw that book was relatively cheap (and it does have a kindle version), and I ordered a copy.  I mean, what could it hurt?

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This isn’t the first time I have read a book on teaching practice.  But, it is the one of the rare times I read a teaching book that didn’t bore me, put me to sleep, or made me give up in the middle. Most books I read about teaching are full of wonderful ideas, but it gets lost in “grad-school paper talk”, if you know what I mean.  Hacking Assessment is written in a way that is comfortable and not off-putting.

Assessment must be a conversation, a narrative that enhances students’ understanding  of what they know, what they can do, and what needs further work…..they need to understand how to make improvements and how to recognize when legitimate growth has occurred.                               -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

Alright, let’s get to it.  Hacking Assessment is one of several books in the “Hacking” series. Starr Sackstein is a teacher who actually threw out her grade book and goes as gradeless as she can at her school–she is still required to have a grade for each semester.  So, she writes from a place of first-hand experience.  She also adds in the experiences of other teachers who have also tried to go gradeless.  One thing, for me, that was a major plus is that Sackstein is a high school teacher, and so were most of the other teachers who shared experiences.  As a high school teacher myself, it is helpful to hear from other high school teachers.  They understand the issues of GPA, college applications, and a whole “lifetime” of using grades as a measure of learning and smartness.

Sackstein breaksdown her book into 10 chapters or what she calls “hacks”.  Each addresses a different area of grading and assessment.  The different hacks include:  shifting the grades mindset, promoting buy-in, rebranding assignments as learning experiences, facilitating student partnerships, digitizing your data, maximizing time, tracking progress transparently, teaching reflection, teaching students to self-grade, and cloud-based archives.

Each hack is broken down into different parts: the problem, the hack, what you can do tomorrow, a blueprint for full implementation, overcoming pushback, and the hack in action.  It is this breakdown that makes the book so accessible.  As I read the book, I kept shaking my head in agreement and saying, yes…this makes so much sense.

As we rid ourselves of the grades, risk taking and questioning became a natural part of the process.                                              -Starr Sackstein, Hacking Assessment

As a TAB teacher, I already do some of the things she suggests, but I don’t do all of the things.  Hacking Assessment outlines how each hack is important, but as you read you understand how they all work together to create a meaningful learning experience for the students.  The addition of the hack in action section helps to put it in perspective.  You start to think, if this can be done in a math class, or an English class, of course this can be done in the art class.  I also really appreciated the pushback sections for each hack.  It gives the common arguments against that particular hack and how to combat that.  For me, having it all in one place is helpful.  I have conversations about the different aspects, but they seem to be everywhere, all over the interwebs, and it is hard to gather my thoughts easily on the matter.  It helps me to focus and have the conversation more easily.

Hacking Assessment is a quick read, but one I encourage if you have any thoughts about going gradeless, or even lessing the amount of grades in your class.  If nothing else, using some of the hacks will help your students be more reflective of their learning and gain back a little bit of the love they used have for learning.

Say Yes to Drawing Tests in Art!

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A concern that I have heard about having a choice-based or TAB art studio is that students don’t ever work on skills–including observational drawing skills.  I would like to address this particular concern.  My students work on observational skills…every 2 weeks.  How do they do this you might ask?  Well, let me tell you…with a drawing test.

Several years ago I went the TAEA (TX Art Ed Assoc) State conference somewhere and I attended a session on creating workbooks.  In that session, the two teachers mentioned drawing tests. I was intrigued so I asked for more information.  They gave me the run down and I have been implementing them in my classes ever since.

I thought the drawing test was such a great way to have the students spend a few moments of uninterrupted time to concentrate on observational drawing.  And, now that I am in a TAB room, I find this time even more beneficial.

Here is the low-down:

MATERIALS:

  • many class sets of objects.  I went to the dollar store and bought a ton of crap over the year that would be good for drawing–spoons, forks, ramekins, ornaments, salt shakers, etc.  For me a class set is 24.  I also bought a bunch of cheap bins from the dollar store to hold each set.  It is an investment, but worth it.  If you can find sets of things…like the forks came in groups of 3, ornaments come in packs of 12. Each box is labeled so it is easy to find and pull out.
  • squares of lightweight drawing paper. I have a ton of 60# white drawing paper.  I cut the paper down to 5.5-inch squares.  I cut a bunch at a time…enough to get me through a few weeks of testing for 4 classes.  I keep it all in a bin.
  • white poster board or railroad board. This is used to mount the tests for the book at the end
  • silver rings. I use the binding rings.  This holds the books together and makes it easy for the students to flip through.
  • white labels. to be used to label the pages of the book
  • double-sided tape. to attach drawing tests to the railroad board
  • timer. the tests are timed

HOW TO:

  • Each student gets a piece of paper and the week’s object.
  • We start off with easy things like Legos and work towards more complicated things.
  • Each test is timed. Art 1 starts with 5 minutes and works up to about 10 minutes at the end of the year. Art 2 starts at about 7 minutes and work up until 13 minutes.
  • Every week I tell the students things I want them to concentrate on when they are drawing.  I usually start with 3 things and as we move along, the easier things get removed and harder things to observe and concentrate on get put in.
    • shape
    • line quality
    • use of 3-d
    • surface quality
    • no lines
    • shading/shadow
  • There is no talking during the test
  • They must draw the entire time.  This means they either need to draw again or try to improve what they have done.
  • I also don’t let them listen to music.
  • I type up a sheet and post it on the screen during the test.  The sheet has the date, the drawing time, and what I am looking for.  Also, the reminders about drawing the whole time and talking are at the bottom.  I save all these because they give me the information for the labels later on.

Before we start, I give reminders and tips to drawing from life and observing things like shadows and planes.  I talk about making connections to help with proportion.  I point out things they should notice…like the salt shaker top is not as wide as the glass part.  During the test, in a quiet voice, I give reminders about how to observe and things to notice.

When time is up, I have the kids sign their work.  The first test they write their names on the back for my reference. The second time we talk about signatures and how artists sign their work.–I show some famous examples like Picasso, Monet, Durer, and myself.  After this, they then can write their name on the back and/or sign the front.

From there I take up the tests, grade them, and put them away for safe keeping.  Sometimes the kids ask about them, but mostly they kind of forget about the tests themselves.  I don’t hide them and if they want to see them, I let them see them. What do I do with them?  This is where a good aide comes in.  Each test gets mounted on a 6X9 piece of railroad board.  Each board gets a label with the date, the test time, and what was the concentration areas.  At the end of the year, each board gets hole-punched twice and put on rings.  I make a cover page for each book and hand them back the last day of classes (well most of them anyway.)

The students like to look through and see how far they came.  They remember which items were hard, why things were hard, which they hated, which were easy, and which they didn’t try on.  Many cherish the book for years to come.  Several years ago, Ethen left his book behind.  I kept it because it was good, Ethen was one of my favorites (don’t tell nobody), and I could use it to remember what objects I used when, etc.  This year Ethen was a senior and he saw I still had the book.  He wanted it back because he didn’t have any of his drawings.  I was sad, but silently happy that his face lit up when he looked through it and remembered our awesome class.

Anyway, this past year I stumbled upon an article that talked about some of the things my students question me about–the main one is the silence/no music thing.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

1. What if I told you, you talk too much?

Talking and drawing don’t mix.
The main problems associated with drawing is when you talk you engage your logical, language dominated left side of the brain. This side of your brain is keen on knowing an objects name, labelling it, and organising it.
Often when learning to draw, you need to temporarily hold off judgment and try not to second guess what you think the object should look like, rather than what the object actually looks like.
When you are trying to learn to draw something realistically, you have to engage your right hand side of the brain, which is keener on images and spatial perception.
It’s very hard to do both at the same time.

Why?

Because it causes mind freeze.
Have you ever been in a creative zone of absorption, a state where time travels quickly and you are in what psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’.

How Does It Feel to Be in Flow?

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, our sin to pass by in minutes.
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

Flow is the mental state when you are fully immersed in an activity, a feeling of full involvement and energy.
You can get to this stage of involvement whilst drawing… until you get interrupted.
The combination of left and right battling against each other makes trying to draw tricky.
You can learn to talk and draw at the same time but it takes practice.
It all starts by understanding how your mind works, and how you can be subconsciously sabotaging your best efforts.

This excerpt is from an article by Will Kemp called “The 3 reasons why you can’t draw, (and what to do about it)”.  You can find the remainder of the article here.

I posted the excerpt on the students’ art blog.  Next year I plan on having them read the article as part of class, instead of just stumbling upon it.

Like I said, I think having these “tests” are important.  I think most kids think they can’t draw and this helps to show them otherwise.  Furthermore, it is good to have a time set aside for the students to work on these exercises.  Using the word “test” is mean, but I think it somehow gives the exercise a sense of importance in their minds.

Here are some examples from this past year.  It is a mix of art 1, art 2, and life skill students.

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The Importance of Art History?

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Admittedly, art history is probably the weakest area in my teaching.  It is something that I have never had an interest in studying.  It was one of the hardest art courses I took at both colleges I attended.  I have never figured out a way to really make the incorporation into my classes fun, interesting, and worthwhile.

It is an area that I am “supposed” to bring into my classroom.  It is part of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) I must adhere to when creating my lesson plans.  I have skated around it for the past 7+ years saying that I add in art history by doing this activity or that activity.  At the beginning, every lesson had an art history component.  I don’t think the kids ever really made the connection between what we were doing and the artist or genre we were “studying”.  In fact, I don’t think they really cared.  Over time, I changed the activity about 7 times…that works out to be some new way to bring it in every year.  I was exhausted.

So, just how important is it that we teach our kids about what came before them?  As an artist, I usually don’t go looking into the past when working.  I am concerned about the now.  When I read about who artists were influenced by, they are usually contemporaries of that artist.  Rarely have I read that an artist was influenced by another artist that came 100 years before them.  This is not to say it doesn’t happen.  I am sure it does…I just haven’t read about it that much.  Many of the artists that I like were/are pushing the envelope of what was occurring at their time or maybe a few years before them…but still to them, contemporary.

So, it is more important that we drone on about the past or that we introduce them to what is happening today?  I lean towards the latter.  I am not dead-set in this opinion.  Convince me that I need to continue to rack my brain figuring out how to incorporate art history more that showing images of artwork that illustrates a theme.  Tell me why–beyond because it is important to learn what came before.  Tell me that it is more important to know these things for something more than being able to answer questions on Jeopardy or Trivia Crack.

 

“Art needs to be socialised, and you need a lot of context to understand that, and that doesn’t mean having read a few art history books.”                                 ~Peter M. Brant