Category Archives: Lessons

Artists Tackle Social Issues

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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

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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.

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Artists Steal?

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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

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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.

2016-17 Year in Review

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It’s that time.  Another school year has come to an end.  And, in honor of me finishing out my 10th year, I will count down the 10 biggest things that happened this year.   Not everything that happened this year was good.  In fact, it was kind of a crappy year.  But, I did learn a lot and made some great relationships with me students.  So, without anymore drivel from me, let’s do this.

10. UNITY:  I will admit, I saw the Unity Project video on Facebook, and I was in.  I emailed my principal and he was all in.  I created a gofundme project for it and through the kindness of others, the project was funded quickly and I was able to go shopping for materials.  It was a great way to kick off the year.  I had so much support from other teachers and our student body.  While there was a few hiccups along the way (one being when a students thought he could climb on a pvc pole and he broke it), in the end, it was an amazing installation.

9. THE PURPLE HOODIE: I had a tough student this year.  He was hard to reach.  He didn’t talk much, and he often had his purple hoodie pulled up over his head.  I started the year off by giving him some space, and by asking his monitor teacher for some strategies with him.  It took a while, but we built a relationship.  He spent much of his time during his class in my office, but he would do the work I asked him to do.  And believe me, he did not like making or talking about art.  After a while, he would come in during lunch to hang out and chat.  He did this at other times as well.  We built a relationship where I could be honest with him and give him a fair dose of snark and it was all okay.

There was this one day that was bittersweet.  It both made me sad and touched my heart at the same time.  He came into my office one morning during tutorials, but there were already like 6 other kids in my office.  I said hi, and he looked at me, but then left as quickly as he came in.  I sensed something was off.  I figured I would ask him later that day.  He didn’t show up to class.  When he returned the next day, he told me where he was…talking to some people in the office.  When he told me why, I was saddened.  I won’t go into details about why.  And I know this is weird, but it touched me that I was the 2nd person he came to find to talk with him.  The first wasn’t in her office, so he came to me. I care very much about this young man.  And, I am glad I gained his trust.  Sadly, he has moved to another city with his father.  But, rumor has it, he will be back next year. Relationships can sometimes matter more than art making.

8. ESCALATION: I have a co-worker that has been teaching with me for the past 10 years.  We get along on the surface, but when you look closely, you will notice we couldn’t be more different.  For starters, we teach on complete different ends of the art spectrum…he’s dbae and I’m TAB.  We don’t play well together and it has been building up for years.  I finally got up the courage to talk to an admin about the situation; I went in with the intention of seeking advice in how to make our department better and how to work with him.  It was suggested that we circle up, a restorative discipline term.  Basically, it was like mediation.  He basically refused, and one day it escalated between us in my classroom.  Luckily, I was on conference and I held my cool. We still haven’t worked things out, and I have been told our head principal will eventually talk with us, but I’m not holding my breath.

Why am I adding this?  Well, this was a big event that happened this year.  I think it needed to happen.  I would have liked to go to mediation, but I am mostly okay with the outcome.  The fact that I spoke up and I was honest about my feelings and that I took ownership that I wasn’t innocent in any of it was big for me.  I don’t like confrontation, nor to like to create waves in my workplace.

7. SCHOLASTIC ART: This year, I finally got up the nerve to enter my students work in the Scholastic Art contest.  I was so nervous.  I see the potential and awesomeness in my students’ works, but do others.  My kids don’t make “normal” pieces, and often times it’s not what “they” consider gold seal work–one reason I don’t enter into our state art event.  But, I was told Scholastic was different.  My kids didn’t win anything, and after looking at what did win for my region, I wondered about the judges.  But, that is neither here nor there.  I am so proud of my students for trusting me.  I still think they were shafted because their work was super cool.  I know, I’m biased.  I look forward to next year and entering more student works.

6. DALLASThis year’s Texas Art Ed Assoc held it’s yearly conference in Dallas.  I presented not once, but twice.  I presented once about grading and TAB…it kind of bombed.  I was told it was fine, but I know better.  The other presentation was a overview of HS TAB.  It went really well.  Beyond the presentations, I participated in my first live twitter chat, got to have great burgers and beer with a friend who I met in Chicago at NAEA16, I met the terraforma cards guys, and I got to throw some bowls for a local empty bowls event.  It was a pretty fun time, I must admit.  It was a much needed and much appreciated work-cation.

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5. THE BIG APPLE NAEA17 was held in my old stomping ground…NYC!  There was no way I was going to miss a chance to go “home”.  I don’t even know where to begin.  I got to room with 2 of my favorite TAB ladies.  I got to finally meet and hangout with Melissa Purtee.  I stayed in a hotel in midtown.  I lived in Queens, so the hotel stay was new and so cool.  I got to go to the MOMA, which is in a completely different location from the last time I went there…over 20 years ago.  I had a fabulous dinner with other TABbers, provided by my fabulous mentors, Diane and Kathy.  Times Square had become something I couldn’t believe…so bright and shiny.  And, I got to have a reunion with one of my closest friends from college.

4. 4th Annual THS Art Show:  Six years into my time at THS I asked if we could have a high school art show.  Up until that point, there wasn’t any.  This year marks the 4th year that I have put up a show that celebrates all art made at our school.  I don’t just show off my students and my co-worker’s students.  We include any other elective where art is created–welding, fashion, photography, floral design, culinary, and we include our teachers.  It is a lot of work, but in the end, it is so worth it.  This year I was worried that it wouldn’t go off well.  (See the escalation paragraph above.)  But, I put that aside and just focused on the art.  I think it was a great turn out.  Students sold their work, and not just to their parents.  The rain stayed away (every year it rains at the beginning of the show) during the show itself; I do believe it rained earlier in the day though.  I found a better way of hanging the paintings, almost none fell down this year…the rain always brings the humidity and that doesn’t play nice with how we used to hang out artworks. Granted no one from central office showed up, even though they were sent formal invitations, but I’ve come to expect that.  And quite frankly, those who are important, like parents, friends, teachers, and the community, showed up in support.  I look forward to celebrating our students again for years to come.

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3. A SMILE LIKE I’VE NEVER SEEN: Art is a funny yet fabulous thing.  It can grab hold of the most unlikely and unexpected people.  This year I was lucky enough to witness this.  I watched a student finish a project early and ask me if I could show him how to use the wheel.  We weren’t slated to use the wheel for months, but who am I to stop a student from learning to art.  That week, I knew art had put her hooks in him.  Over the next few months, I watched him grow, and learn, and create.  I watched him create bowl after bowl, vase after vase, each time honing his skills, and using every ounce of clay we had.  But, it was more than that.  I saw the passion for what he was doing rise in him.  I saw a smile, and a light in his face when we talked about ceramics and his work.  I am so glad that he decided to sign up for beginning ceramics.  If only he found it before his senior year.

2. RESTORATIVE DISCIPLINE: Our school started to implement a new behavior management system.  It is called restorative discipline, and for the most part, it is meant to be proactive instead of reactive.  It is not something that the entire campus learns at one time.  It is done in stages.  I know that seems odd, but after learning about it, it makes sense.  I was lucky enough to have been asked to be in cohort #2, which began it’s training 2 weeks before school ended.  It is so much about community and building relationships…which is right up my alley, and why I was asked to be in the 2nd cohort.  I personally think it was cool to be asked knowing why they asked me.  (Some were asked because they thought that teacher was lacking in that area.)  Anyway, so far, so good.

But, more than being part of the next cohort, I did participate in a couple of tier 2 circles this year…these are reactive, but they can make such a difference.  I had one student who I kept butted heads with, and if she kept it up, we knew she was headed to our alternative center.  We circled up and we both spoke our piece and listened to the other person.  We made a contract and tried to implement it.  We hit a bump and had to re-circle.  But, that time worked.  We now have an amazing relationship, and don’t tell her, but I will miss having her in class next year.

1. NO MORE THEMES: This year I dropped the themes for my art 1 and art 2 classes.  I instead went with artistic behaviors for major units.  We worked our way through: artists solve problems, artists communicate, artists, observe, artists steal, artists represent, artists abstract/don’t represent, and artists work in a series.  This was a major step forward for me and my students in our TAB studio.  I think it really was more meaningful to them to really understand what artists do.  It really made a huge difference, the switch that is.  I could see it in their work; I could see it in their exploration; I could see it in their understanding of art making; and I could see it in their growth.  And, at the end of the year, I had the least amount of work left behind I have had since making the leap to TAB.

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It has been a very interesting decade of art teaching for me.  I have changed so much.  My teaching has changed so much.  I like to think it’s all for the better.  I keep learning new things, about art, about teaching, about students, and most importantly, about myself.  I often wonder what is going to happen next, which is something that keeps me interested and wanting to go to work every day.   What obstacles will I face and will I overcome them?  What new things will I learn?  What new things can I teach someone?  What new relationships will I make?   What new surprises will I find?  I think it’s this last one that I really enjoy because I love being surprised by what my students do and learn and create and tell me.  It is what makes it all worth it.

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.

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.

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.

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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Sponge Bob

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.

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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A New Theme Brings Back Some Life

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Over the past week my students and I have waded through learning about how to draw and shade facial features.  All of this was leading up to the intro of our newest theme: the self portrait.

It’s a scary theme for many high schoolers. Many surprised themselves with how well they could draw lips, noses, and eyes.  But I could tell they were still dreading the theme.

I then showed them the pinterest inspiration board full of famous self portraits AND a myriad of non-traditional self portraits.  I could see the tension and apprehension melting away.  I could see the light in their eyes that had been missing these past 2 months.  I could feel the excitement in me return.

That same day, a student had talked to me about a controversial piece she wants to do. She wants to “talk” about the darkness she had inside and the scars that haven’t healed. Since I know she is already getting help, I gave her the go ahead. Today she made a cast of her hand and part of her arm. It has a well thought out diagonal opening on the arm where I imagine you will be able to see the dark and the scars.  I know to some that this may seem like a cry for help. I see it as a way to help her heal. I feel it could possibly help others too.

I didn’t intend for this post to take this turn, but as I was writing, I was thinking of her and a peer casting her arm today. I thought more information was needed. I admire her courage to take this theme and really make it her own and something that has meaning to her.