Fostering Community in the Art Studio

Fiza 2Creating a strong community in the art classroom has been a top priority this year.  Sometimes it seems challenging, especially in a 9th & 10th grade high school, when kids clump together in different cliques and feel most comfortable with their friends.  This year I have started talking about community from the first week of school, and instead of talking about our art class, I refer to our space as the art studio and invite them to think of themselves as real artists working in this shared space.

I show an artist video at the beginning of every class, and one of my favorite Artist of the Day videos is Candy Chang’s TED Talk ‘Before I Die I Want To…’

Her poignant story and community based art project really demonstrates how a simple idea can connect many people.  After showing the video, I asked each of my students to respond to a daily question with an ‘exit ticket’, a post it note that they use to write their response to the question and leave for me to gather and find out about their thinking.  Here are some of their responses to the question “How can our art impact our school community?” after we watched Chang’s video:

  • Inspire others to step out of their comfort zone
  • Art is a great stress relief.  You need things that are colorful around the school to make people feel at home.
  • By giving the school life, color & passion
  • It can change things for the better.  It can inspire people
  • Art can unite the whole school community and create a solid bond for a long time
  • Change a perspective on a view they already have
  • It gives a voice for students and provides freedom for expression.  It also presents new ideas and stimulates the imagination.
  • Make our school look better, make it more colorful and create a better learning environment
  • It can show people that anyone can become an artist

These are just a handful of the wonderful responses I got from my students.  I think it’s going to be a really great year!

The Power of Photography – Artist of the Day Video Theme

Day 8 - I see you

This is such an exciting time in the history of man!  I want to share the history of photography with them, and get them thinking about the POWER they carry around with them – the camera in their phone.  Never in the history of mankind have so many had such a powerful tool in their pocket.  The 21st c. has seen the explosion of communicating information through visuals.  The fact that a high percentage of the population of the world has the capability to transmit images globally in the blink of an eye has completely shifted the way we understand our world.  It has been a huge democratization factor, and has changed not only art, but also politics and society.

This week’s Artist of the Day videos centered around the theme of Photography.  I wanted to help them find out how to take better pictures, and to think more broadly about the kinds of pictures they might take.  Here is the lineup:

My student teacher came up with these questions for the students to reflect on after viewing the videos:

  • What is one way to improve the composition in your photographs?
  • A photographer in Dubai takes photos while skydiving, how can you change the way you take pictures based on your interaction with your settings?
  • What might be some challenges and considerations of taking successful photos underwater?
  • Micro photography is taking photos of the smaller details in life (like the ant carrying the pink leaf). What objects or organisms would you be inclined to take photos of at the micro level?
  • If you were a photojournalist, what story would you want to capture through photos?

Showing our students these viewpoints of professionals broadens their perception of the world.  I asked each class how many students were interested in photography, and a healthy number of hands were raised in each class.  Photography and video content are trumping text in information dissemination.  Helping our students to strengthen their visual literacy is an important skill art teachers can pass on.  Enjoy this lineup of videos, consider showing them to your students and use these questions, or come up with your own questions or activities to connect our students to the power of the image.

Process Over Product in Art Education: A Student Centered Approach to Making Art

Living in the 21st century is living in a time when change is rapid and insistent.  It can be difficult to keep up with  constant change, much less embrace and incorporate it into our teaching practices.  My experience as an art teacher has always been at the high school level in a public school setting.  My school is highly diverse in every way – racially, culturally, economically, religiously, and with a high percentage of students with special needs.  It is challenging teaching so many kinds of children while striving to target their individual needs!  More than challenging, it can lead to a high level of frustration for both teacher and student!  I know my experience is not unique – this is the common landscape of art classrooms across the country.  When teachers get together, they talk about these common problems and wonder how we can reach our students when we feel like art can be at the heart of their individual expression.

Art education, just like education in general, is also in a state of flux.  Decades of teaching centered on a teacher driven, studio techniques curriculum does not engage the majority of students taking beginning art classes.  The teacher is faced with apathy, defiance and push back as the students query their teacher about why they should do it.  It’s not that what we’ve been doing for the last 20 or 30 years is wrong, it’s just that we need to think about what we’re doing with a new lens, adapting our pedagogy to incorporate not only technology, but the mindset of the digital natives that we are teaching.

My presentation reflects my own journey as an art educator over the last 10 years.  I have been exposed to many ideas, techniques, strategies and approaches to teaching art.  When new ideas come my way, I have taken them immediately into the classroom and played with them with my students, and I have been very transparent with them about why we try these new methods or vocabularies – I want them to care about the art they make!

The lesson plan format I present here is the culmination of my own teaching experience.  I have created an outline that put teaching studio techniques not at the front of the lesson, but is woven throughout the art making process.  What comes at the beginning of my students’ experience is investigation, exploration, questioning and journaling to connect to their own discoveries and their personal lives.  The art that results from this approach is more authentic and not formulaic like many “art projects” can turn out to be.  They have more motivation and excitement in their creating.  And, they are more involved in the assessment of their project because I have shifted my grading to assessing their effort and persistence instead of how skilled their end product is.  My students like being graded this way and I do to.  We are slowly changing from an art classroom to an art community, where their voice, ideas and creations are celebrated and valued as unique expressions.

After viewing the presentation above, here are some questions to consider about your own experience teaching, or how you think you will incorporate some of these ideas when you begin teaching:

  1. Have you ever been a part of a class in which the instructor used a questioning strategy –like QFT or artful thinking?  If so, did it deepen your understanding or connection to what you were learning?  Tell us about your experience and how you would incorporate questioning strategies into your own teaching.
  1. Do you think students can produce high quality artwork if they are focused on the process instead of the product?  This lesson plan emphasizes discovery and investigation instead of teacher driven instruction about processes and techniques.  How would you fold in studio technique instruction into a lesson plan that emphasizes students driving their own learning?
  1. In many art experiences, reflection and assessment come at the completion of the art project instead of throughout the process. Identify at least three types of assessment tools you would use with your students and how you might weave them into a process over product lesson plan format.

I welcome your thoughts and would love to hear your comments!

Artist of the Day Video & Play

It seems that a large portion of my 9th & 10th grade high school students have lost the ability to play and it impacts the way they approach making art.  They aren’t as experimental, they want to know what they are supposed to do, and more often than not, their final project is a regurgitation of some popular culture icon like Sponge Bob or a Disney character.  I decided to feature videos by OK GO for my Artist of the Day videos because I think they really epitomize the idea of play in the way they approach their music videos.  I arranged the lineup in chronological order along with how many times they have been viewed as of today’s date:

Here It Goes Again (treadmill video – 2/26/2009 – viewed 24,845,919)

This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg machine – 3/1/2010 – viewed 46,615,478)

White Knuckles (dog video – 9/19/2010 – viewed 18,555,929)

Needing/Getting (car & musical instruments video – 2/5/2012 – viewed 30,909,837)

I Won’t Let You Down (drone camera video – 10/27/2014 – viewed 18,253,402)

I’m always interested to find out which video the students like the best; it helps me keep a pulse on their ever changing tastes in all things teenager!  Hands down, their latest video, I Won’t Let You Down won 3 to 1.  In order to find out what the students think, I give them 3 to 4 questions to answer on a half sheet of computer paper.  This works very well in the classroom – all of my students respond to the questions, which lets me hear the voices and opinions of my shy and introverted students who never speak up in a class discussion.  I’m able to use their responses as a daily grade and they feel that their ideas are being heard.  Besides asking them which video they liked the best, I asked them these additional questions:

What do you think is important to them when they are thinking about the videos they want to create?

  • They want to do something that hasn’t been done as a music video before.
  • I think they always want to impress their audience with the unusual things they do so that they will be remembered.
  • They try to have fun with their videos, while challenging themselves.
  • Synchronization
  • Being complicated, interesting and creative
  • It’s important that they have creativity and don’t give up until they get it right.
  • Having a child-like feeling, to capture audience’s attention and to have fun.
  • I think working hard but also having fun is important to them because it takes them years to get their projects done and they love doing what they do.

How did their videos change over the course of 5 years?  I was particularly interested to hear their responses to this question.

  • The videos developed from a small thing to a bigger thing over time.  They developed more ideas and used better technology as their ideas expanded.
  • They expanded their ideas and each video was a step in thinking more outside the box.  Their ideas were bigger and better each time, every time being slightly more risky than the previous one.
  • They moved to a larger scale and shifted to more color way of expression.
  • They became more complex and put in more effort.
  • It changed from a small environment to an even bigger one with intriguing technology.
  • Their filming style improved.
  • They included more technology, and got a lot more sophisticated and professional.

And finally, because our theme of the week was “play”, I asked them this question:  How are you incorporating play into your art making or your life?  I was a little dismayed that quite a handful of students didn’t know what I meant when I was talking about play – sigh.  What have we done to our children?  Here are a few responses from those that are tapping into play as a creative energy:

  • I try to have fun and enjoy everything I do in life.
  • I play guitar as much as possible to release stress.
  • When I’m making art, incorporate things I like, for example painting.
  • Play comes in the format of dance for me.
  • I try to make my art have something to do with my childhood.
  • I try things spontaneously in life and art and I turn them into plans and ideas.
  • But in my life, um, IDK (I don’t know) how I incorporate play…I try to have fun and say YOLO (you only live once) and try to be social and take chances.
  • Most drawings I like to do are cartoonish and almost child like.
  • I explore and try different techniques and use different materials.

The Artist of the Day videos are one of my favorite tools in my classroom.  I show them current artists work and they see how technology is changing the way art is being made.  If you are interested in finding out more about the Artist of the Day videos, you can read my article about them on the Articles & Presentations page.   Questions?  Contact me!

The Power of Circle Painting – Art & Community

Back in the day, when I taught AP Art History, I would talk to my students about sacred geometry, the mathematical underpinnings of our world.  Man’s art has connected to this universal law since the beginning of his art and architecture creations.  Through keen observation, man recognized the relationships, the patterns and the power of essential shapes and proportions.

The Circle lies at the heart of this universal code and is rich with meaning and purpose.

The Circle is the most common and universal signs, found in all cultures. It is the symbol of the sun in its limitless or boundless aspect. It has no beginning or end, and no divisions, making it the perfect symbol of completeness, eternity, and the soul:

The circle is also the symbol of boundary and enclosure, of completion, and returning cycles. The circle symbolism most familiar to us is that of the wedding ring which encircles the finger associated in ancient times with the heart. The wedding ring symbolizes not just a pledge of eternal love, but the enclosure of the heart- a pledge of fidelity.  (From the symboldictionary.net)

I was introduced to a beautiful collaborative activity at our art education in service workshop before we began the school year.  Our Visual Arts Coordinator provided us with big panels of cardboard, paint and brushes, and we worked together to create our own circle painting.  Instead of sitting at tables, clumped up with our art teams, we mingled together and painted with abandon.  Instead of being talked at, we created together.  It was active and fun.  This collaborative art activity has sprung out of an organization that is using this simple but powerful activity to bring people together – Circlepainting.org.

Our district art team got to work that day and painted our own circle painting with glee.

PDH #1PDH #2After school got underway, our Visual Arts Coordinator organized our annual staff exhibit that is hung at three of the administration facilities in our district.  She had one circle painting framed and hung at each of the exhibits to display the beauty of art teachers playing together.

 

Framed Circle painting

The circle painting was a powerful influence!  I had seen it grow from a big, blank piece of cardboard into a beautiful, dynamic work of art.  It had been easy, quick and so much fun!  When our school announced that we were going to have a Club Fair on our campus to promote all of the clubs offered to the student body, the circle painting was in the forefront of my mind for our table display.  Let’s make our own circle painting!  Off we went, aprons on, paint and brushes out, ready, set and GO!

Art Club Painting

In just one hour, our art club produced their own spectacular circle painting!  The students LOVED it!  As they left, each one expressed how much fun they had.  A sign was also made and when we set up our table, we had the most dynamic, beautiful table of all of them!

Art Club Table

I was incredibly proud of the students, and they were so proud of themselves!  As they manned the table, you could see them beam in front of their creation.  It was such a powerful way to start off the year!  If you haven’t done this with your students, find a day when you need to infuse some energy back into your program.  Get that paint out and make a circle painting!  We all know how much fun it is, but your students may not have experienced an art activity that can bring the whole group together.  Art – it brings people together.

Art Club Paint Hand

Divergent Thinking Exercise

Divergent thinking

Thanks, Sir Ken Robinson, for continuing to be a huge inspiration in my 9th & 10th grade art classes.  For the last 3 years, I have started the class with the RSA Animate video, Changing Education Paradigms (which to date has been viewed over 11 million times!), to familiarize my students with the idea of strengthening their divergent thinking skills.  His challenge to think how many ways you can use a paper clip is just perfect for my students, and I conduct a class competition to see which class can come up with the most ideas.  I stand at the board and furiously write down their ideas (we have 50 minute classes).  We don’t edit; it is a free flowing activity and stream of consciousness.  My 6th period class was the winner today (the Pre-AP Art II students) with 313 ideas on the board before the bell rang!

I just love doing this with the kids at the beginning of school!  Most of the classes today really got into it, and their ideas were wonderful.  There were even unique ideas between classes – not every idea was unilaterally thought of.  I think today, my 14-16 year olds felt like they were geniuses, as they let their imagination fly!  Now to keep the creativity & divergent thinking exercises flowing throughout the year!  To really strengthen their divergent thinking muscle, we have to practice, so between each art project we will do different activities to strengthen their brain.  I really do love my job!

Essential Questioning Strategies and Question Formulation Technique

Learning about the Question Formulation Technique in my graduate studies at Texas Woman’s University has been one of the most valuable additions to my teaching toolkit.  This presentation has links to one of the developer’s TEDx talk as well as a video that was made in my classroom at the beginning of the year’s Sculpture I class.  You can find out how I have the students return to the essential questions they generated for themselves throughout their creative process, from initial design to their end of project reflection.  QFT is a powerful, easy and meaningful way to help our students be more engaged and in charge of their learning.