Tag Archives: curriculum

Artists Observe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 9: 2015-16 Year in Review

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

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

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The Ceramics Graveyard and Senior Totems Sculpture Garden at THS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Twitter Painting

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The Final Artwork

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

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

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

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

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TAB and the Single Media Art Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year in Review: Part 2: Things Learned and Things to Learn

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In this part of my reflection on the 2014-15 school year, I decided that I would look back over the changes that took place by bringing TAB/CBE into my classroom.  While I have offered modified choice in my room for a while, this was the first year to fully implement the TAB pedagogy. It has been a huge learning experience, both for my students and for me.

I had heard and read about all the wonderful things that have an open studio could do, but to be honest, I was still skeptical.  Could my student population really do well with such freedom?  The answer is yes.

Let’s start with some positives from this year:

  • P1050661Kids worked through artwork until they were satisfied…at times starting a new piece because it just wasn’t working.  This just amazed me.  I’ve had kids work hard on things before, but never with the fervor I’ve seen this year.  They pushed themselves. And it paid off.
  • Kids learned from other kids on how to do something I didn’t teach them.  They would see something someone else had discovered and asked how to do it.
  • Kids tried new things, even when previously saying they didn’t like such-n-such medium. Some would try out a material, such as clay, just to discover they still didn’t like it.  Others would finally break away from what was known to the, only to find a new love.
  • Clean-up/ownership of materials and tools.  I have to clean a lot less than in previous years.  I am not seeing a mis-use of materials (paper, paint, etc.–except for ez-cut.) Trusting my kids to be responsible with tools and materials was probably my biggest hang-up when moving to full choice. But, I was pleasantly surprised when tools got returned, when I still had erasers at the end of the year, and when the majority of brushes were cleaned.  I think that giving the students trust to maintain the studio was a big factor in this area.
  • I am noticing I use the word kids a lot.  My students are in high school and probably wouldn’t want to be called kids, and they aren’t related to me, but they feel like my kids.  This year I have had the most comfortable relationships with students.  I know more (and some things I would like to forget..can you say tmi?) about my students this year than I ever have before.  I think thP1060155is stems from a combination of reading their blog posts and the type of conversations I was able to have with my students.  Because I wasn’t focused on them creating a certain thing or following a specific rubric, I was able to go deeper with them into their work and their lives.
  • Lots of growth happened this year.  Not every student grew.  Some kids are just there for the credit.  They don’t care one way or another, and no matter what you say/do or don’t say/do isn’t going to change that.  There were classes I took in both HS and at my first college where I felt the same.  It’s normal.  It’s okay.  And I accept that.  But, for the majority of students, they did care.  I saw them push themselves.  Some grew in drawing skills.  Others in painting.  Some grew in meaning put into their artwork.  I had a couple that finally stopped copying things from the interwebs and began making their own.  One student who did the bare minimum for 90% of the year finally came alive at the end once he realized he could things in an anime style if that is what interested him.  He didn’t pass, but he promised me that the flame I saw at the end would be there for the whole time next year.  I have a hundred stories to tell about student growth.  It makes me smile when I think about them.P1040736
  • The art making didn’t always stop with just creating the theme artwork.  Many students just kept going.  They wanted to create this or that, so I let them.  Why stop the creativity?  Why make them sit there and do nothing?
  • My school is a 1:1 macbook, and this year I felt I really had the students using the computers in a positive way.  We weren’t using it just because it was an expectation.  We were using it to communicate and reflect.  The website/blogs created by the students and by myself were a great thing, even if their writing needs some help.

While I did change things during the year to better meet the needs of the students, I still have areas that need addressing over the summer.  And of course, there are areas I feel that if I just changed it up a bit, students would be more successful.

  • Helping the students to understand why we do the blogs.  We started out with artist behaviors.  The students wrote about what they were doing and addressing the behaviors.  I thought P1040846they were moving along and understanding things.  So, we moved to artist statements after winter break. Nope. Most students weren’t there yet.  I then gave them the option to either do an artist statement or pick 2 behaviors like we did previously.  After reading their end of year surveys, I know they didn’t really see the point of them.  A handful of students did (and by handful I mean like 5), but the majority couldn’t see the point of writing in art and thought it was just busy work or for a grade. This is good to know.  I know my student population has an issue with writing, and I am sure that our state testing is partially to blame.  They are not good at writing, sad to say.  But, what I gleam from all this is that need to help them to see that artists write about what they do.  That reflecting on the actions they are doing can help them grow as an artist.  And, that writing is not just for English and History class.
  • I did well creating demos for the students, but I feel I could do more.  I feel that I left some things up in the air…like color mixing…and some kids never explored that on their own.  Perhaps if I give them a taste of what color mixing could do…it could bring more life to their artwork.
  • The students have the ideas, they just need a bit more help as to what is possible oP1050608ut there–both in image, media, and technique.  How do I get them to see beyond the typical art room materials?  How can I encourage them to try something new?  How can I get them to go deeper and think further beyond the obvious? I need to address my line of questioning, the way images get shown to them for inspiration, and helping them to make more dynamic composition decisions.
  • This is the first year I had all 3 sculpture levels doing ceramics.  It was a lot of trial and error. While the students were happy with how things ran, it could be better.  I haven’t figured this out yet, but I will…even if every year we change some things to make it better.
  • Themes were tricky.  Ones that I thought would be killer…dropped dead.  I like working with the themes and I think, especially for my art 1 kiddos, they worked well.  Feedback said the students liked to have a starting point for their artwork.  Things I have been considering for next year…giving the entire list of themes and having them pick as they please…but then how would our padlet brainstorming work with that method.  Having the students suggest themes and then having a vote.  Something else?P1060109
  • Feedback and critique needs to change…big time.  I give personal feedback as I walk around, but I feel I miss students or I hit them too late in the process and they have yet to fully understand things can still be changed and you can go back to an earlier stage.  I want to do critiques more…especially mid-project. (And definitely mid-project in ceramics.)  I am hoping that this topic will be brought up at the TAB Institute this summer so someone can help me to suss this out.

I have more questions, but this has gone on long enough.  I feel that I will always have questions and that is a good thing.  I can’t become stagnant and complacent in my art studio.  No one will benefit from that. All in all, it was a fabulous year.  I mean, there wasn’t one day this year where I woke up and said I didn’t want to go to work.  That says something…don’t you think?  And I know that things will just get better and better if I keep putting my students first by helping them to think like artists and behave like artists and create like artists.

Big changes are on the horizon at my school.  Our entire admin staff is changing.  We are getting a new principal and moving from 4 assistant principals to an assistant, an associate, and a dean of curriculum. And, they will all be new people.  I’ve had a chance to sit and chat with our new principal.  He is very easy to talk to.  I told him about all the changes that I’ve done this past year.  I talked aboP1050334ut TAB and choice and the pedagogy.  He thought it was wonderful and that it aligned with something that was talked about at some principals/superintendents conference.  That made me happy and feel that I was doing the right thing.  And, surprisingly, when I said my final good-bye to our current principal, he said something I never thought he would.  We didn’t always see eye to eye, and sometimes I thought he just didn’t notice and didn’t understand.  But, he told me to keep doing what I was doing.  To keep my expectations high and keep pushing the students.  He said that that is what they will remember and what they will appreciate.

And to that, I say, they do.  And I will.

You Can Go “Home” Again

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Our third theme in Art 1 this year was “home”. This proved to be a harder theme than anticipated…and one that many thought was uninteresting. I knew some students wouldn’t be able to get past doing a drawing or a painting of their house, no matter how much we discussed different things that “home” could mean.

I challenged them to look beyond the obvious and look into their lives and show me what home meant to them. Many took this challenge. Many succeeded. But, many fell short. However, that doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything.

A new “station” was opened on this unit. I introduced them to paint. We looked at watercolor pencils and watercolor paints. We also looked at acrylic paints. I could see the sparkle in the eyes of the few that explored the world of acrylics. I watched the frustration. And I saw the perseverance of the few that kept working and working until they were satisfied.

While I am unsure if I will use the theme of “home” again, I am pleased with the results. Here are some of my favorites.

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To see all the artwork, visit The Barnett Blog.

Man / Machine

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Our first TAB unit is coming to a close.  Art 2 finished last week, and Art 1 is just about done.  The theme the students were challenged with was MAN/MACHINE. As a class, we talked about what “man” could mean, what “machine” could mean, and what connections/interactions/relationships they could have.

The students were limited to a black and white drawing no smaller than 8X10. We talked about different techniques including hatching, cross-hatching, pointillism, and scratchboard.  The students practiced these along with charcoal and using white pencil on black paper.

I couldn’t have asked for a better first theme.  The students gave it their all–well, 98% did.  They learned so much about the artistic process.  Many sketched first before committing to a final drawing.  Others went through 2, 3, or even 4 ideas before settling on something.  Some even started final works, reflected on what they were doing, weren’t happy, then started over again.  Kids researched drawing faces and learned how to draw wood grain.  I don’t think my classroom has seen so much independent learning in one artwork in an art 1 class, ever.  Art 2 amazed me with their thought processes and choices.

Interpretations were all over the map.  Here are just a few.

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On "aged" parchment paper.

On “aged” parchment paper.

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On newsprint, like a comic.

On newsprint, like a comic.

I have to admit that I was nervous putting them up in the hallway to display.  I was nervous that my colleagues would think my students weren’t as talented as in previous years.  I wrote a carefully worded email announcing new artwork in the hallway.  I always do this because the fine arts hallway is out of the way for many.  This time I explained what the students were learning, TAB, and the authentic art making happening in my art room.  My worries were not necessary.  I received…well the kids received so many complements.  In fact, one of my AP’s complemented me on the artwork, the wonderful email, and the exceptional learning going on in my room.

Shifting Focus

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A new school year is upon us and with that comes great changes to the art room.  I am excited to shift the focus in my classroom.  We will be working with a “new” way of becoming artists.  We will focus on building artistic behaviors and creating artwork from conception to final work.  The students will have more control and choice over materials and techniques to solve “problems” given to them.  And we will be writing about the process and the decisions made along the way.  This is a way of teaching art called TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior).

~First blog entry on my art classes’ new website.

Why am I shifting focus?  Sometime last year I had found this Facebook group for art teachers and it was a gold mine.  Here was this group of people like me from all over the world wanting to share and discuss all things about teaching art.  It was from this group that I was introduced officially to this idea of choice or modified-choice in the art room.  Some of it was familiar as I was starting to offer more choice to my kids, but I was still a mostly “teacher-focused” art room.

One day as I was standing in the hallway between classes (as teachers are supposed to do) I was focused on the display cases in front of me and something occurred to me:  every single painting in the case was identical.  I mean there were some differences in the trees and the clouds and the mountains, but for all intents and purposes they were the same.  It was then and there that I decided no more.  I wanted my kids to think, to have a voice, to create something “original”.  And choice was going to be the way.

Back to the Facebook group.  It was from this group that I was introduced to Katherine Douglas, a pioneer in TAB, Ian Sands, Melissa Purtee and the other art teachers at Apex High School in North Carolina, and Colleen Rose, an art teacher from Ontario.  Along with a few other TAB teachers, they helped me to understand what TAB could do for me and, more importantly, for my students.  The teachers at Apex wrote this 5 part series on choice in the HS art classroom.  This helped me to see how wonderful it could be. (parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)  I would like to thank them for all their help over the past few months.

I tried out choice several times during this past school year (here, here, and here), well, sort of choice.  I guess it was more of a modified choice.  I learned a lot about how my students would handle have such “freedom”.  I learned what I could handle.  And I saw first hand what my students could create without me.  That was the best one.

So, I decided to make the shift from a teacher-focused classroom to a student-focused classroom.  I no longer wanted to come up with the lesson where the outcome has already been decided.  I want to be surprised.  I want my students to go through journeys similar to the journeys I go through when I make art.  I want them to know why they made a certain choice.  I want them to be able to talk about their work.  I want them to stop copying others.  I want them to learn from their mistakes and to take chances.  I want my classroom motto (stolen from Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame) of “Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy.”  to actually mean something.

And, I think this fall, it will.

Cinquain Poems and Illustrations

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I’ve been told it is National Poetry Month, so this lesson couldn’t have been planned at a better time.  In art 1, students are learning how to create CINQUAIN poems and then will create illustrations based off their poems.  I am very excited about this project.  A cinquain is a 5-line poem that follows certain guidelines.  You can find out more here.    Here is the worksheet I am giving my students.

After the poems are written, students will then create thumbnail sketches of illustrations that relate to their poem.  Things students should consider when creating illustrations are making images close-ups, cropping images some parts go off page, and details.

The final illustrations will be on 4″X4″ paper.  Students will have the choice of completing their drawings with pencil, colored pencils, or a combination of the two.  Illustrations will be mounted, along with a printed out copy of the poem, on black paper.

Teacher example:

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Art 1: Informal Balance: Wrap-up and Review

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Think back to this post where I talked about bringing in some choice to my art 1 students.  They were able to work in groups and were each given an egg carton to which they could do whatever they liked as long as their final artwork had informal balance.  We worked on the project for about 2 weeks, then we took a week’s break (spring break), and finished up in about 2 or 3 days.  During spring break, I decided not to grade them on the outcome of their project, but instead to grade them on the process and what they had to say about that process.  I had created a list of questions for them to answer.

When it came time to actually figure out a grade, I really had no idea what to do about it.  I didn’t really have a rubric on how to grade what they had written.  They had never done anything like this before, so they had no idea what I was really looking for.  They were honest in their answers.  In the end I gave each student a 100, unless I specifically recalled them spending days not working (which one child did and his partners said something about it in their answers) or they failed to answer all the questions.  The grades ranged from 85-100.

It has taken me a long time to write about the project/process; I’ve been reflecting about it…a lot.  What had I really hoped to gain from this “experiment” of throwing so much choice at the students?  I mean, really, it was all for me.  Yes the kids learned about informal balance.  And I truly believe that many did understand it by the end.  And, of course, there were some that didn’t, but I am not sure they would have gotten it anyway, if I am being honest here.  I had been reading so much about choice that I really wanted to try it out.  I felt the only way to see if I liked it and how I could implement it in my classes was to do a trial run.   I felt this unit was really more for me then for them.  Part of me feels like I shouldn’t admit that, but how am I to know what works and what doesn’t if I don’t try.  Many things look good on paper…

I learned a lot about choice and how to make it work in my classroom and how to make it work for me.  I admittedly am a sort of small control freak.  It is hard for me not to know an outcome.  But, I rolled with this.  I think I need to do some sort of a modified choice.  I think that leaving it so broad was hard for me and for the students.  (Many did say they they didn’t like not knowing what it “should” look like, and that it was hard to come up with an idea.)  I think I would have to slowly bring them into the “choice world”.  It was too much at once.  I think to make it work well, I would need to limit choice to either 2-D or 3-D.  (I have done some choice things in my 2-D and 3-D classes and it has been successful.)  Maybe I should spend some time on different techniques, then go from there where they could expand, explore, and build on things we have already discussed.  I still have a lot to think about.  I like giving them freedom, but I need some sort of control.  I need to find a balance that benefits us both. We (my students and I) need to have a symbiotic relationship if we are all going to thrive.

Overall, it was a fun time in the art room and there was lots of good conversation and exploring going on.  They were doing what I had told them was my motto for the year (stolen from the Frizz of course) “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!”

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