Category Archives: Students

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.

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.

2 Weeks of Exhausting Fun

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September is finally here, and for me, it marks having the first 2 weeks of school in the books.  It’s been exhausting and I have had to stop my personal exercise regime because of it. BUT, it has been so worth it.  My new (and returning) students and I have had a blast and have rocked it.

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I don’t like to start off the school year in a traditional way.  I like to have my students jump right in and get busy getting messy.  On our first day, we had 20 minute classes, and I was required by my admin to go over certain things during certain periods.  But, that did leave me time to show a small video to hopefully get my kids thinking about my class and art making in a different fashion.

Over the summer, or maybe it was last year, I found this video by artist and motivational speaker, Erik Wahl.  I thought it was perfect for some first day inspiration.

 

The next two weeks were spent doing not one, but two community projects.  First my students prepped, and installed our own Unity Project.  The welding students cut down steal tubing to use as our braces.  My students painted 7′-6″ PVC poles black, and they balled up miles of yarn.  Once the set-up was complete, they began to add their voices, by choosing the identifiers that represented them, then bringing it to life with yarn on the installation.  (I will write more about the Unity Project in another post once it is complete.)
 

Once we were finished with our part in the Unity Project, it was time to play with some clay. I like to start the year working with clay.  The majority of kids like clay, and it gives them some time to get to know me and each other without much pressure.  I use this time to teach some basic clay skills–slab draping, scoring/slipping and other surface treatment techniques, and to have the kids give back to their community.  This is the one piece the students will make this year that they aren’t allowed to keep.  I do ask all my students to create a bowl for out Duck Art Club’s charity fundraiser–Empty Bowls.

Next week, we will finish up our bowls, then move onto exploring the artistic behaviors that are essential to my classes.  I hope my students keep enjoying art class and continue to knock it out of the part when it comes to my expectations as the weeks, semester, and year continues.

The “No-Grade Challenge”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Top 9: 2015-16 Year in Review

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

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

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The Ceramics Graveyard and Senior Totems Sculpture Garden at THS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Twitter Painting

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The Final Artwork

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

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

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

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

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Journey of an Artwork

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

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

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

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

TAB and the Single Media Art Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.