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!

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.

Aesthetic Inquiry – Technology or Handmade Art?

Digital wave

Artist of the Day videos have a daily presence in my art classroom; just after the bell rings, I flip the lights off and show my students a video before we start our other work in class.  The videos are short, 3 to 5 minutes, which makes them easy to fit into our busy schedule.  This activity is central to my teaching strategies for showing divergent thinking in art making, as well as seeing contemporary artists’ work.  More and more artists are utilizing technology in the production of their art, and the Artist of the Day videos I find are reflecting that trend.

This week I had an Artist of the Day video lineup that centered around the theme of “Light and Shadow”.  4 of the 5 videos used different forms of technology to create their effects, some of them stunningly so.  I wondered which of the videos the students would prefer, but I also wondered what they thought about the primary use of technology in the artists’ works.  Here is the lineup of my videos:

  • Monday – Night Stroll – 2:03 – an interesting use of strong, geometric lights that appear in a city setting
  • Tuesday – Apparition HD grand finale – Klaus Obermaier & Arts Electronica Futurelab, feat. Rob Tannion – 3:50 – a mesmerizing performance of dance and light
  • Wednesday – Art Created from Shadows – Out of Light & Dark Comes Beauty – 2:39 – silhouettes of dancers creating forms and sculptures of found objects that cast a shadow of a different object
  • Thursday – Mirror City – 4:30 – time lapse photography of cities manipulated into a kaleidoscope abstraction
  • Friday – Paris by Light (legal lights graffiti) MARKO93 – 5:27 – MARKO creates light graffiti through Paris at night

I like to have the students respond in writing to these aesthetic inquiries – I am able to get each student’s opinion this way.  When I try to conduct a class discussion, the majority of the students don’t offer up what they think, so the writing exercise allows me to hear what they think and feel about art.  It also let’s me get a sense of the group’s overall aesthetic preferences.  The world is changing rapidly, and I can see that trend also reflected in contemporary art!  I teach 14-16 year olds, and I am really curious about what they like and find interesting.  Giving them an informal “poll” helps me understand where their interests lie.  The questions and some of their answers for this week were as follows:

1.  Indicate which video was your favorite and tell me why.

I had a technology problem showing the videos – my brand new data projector has been occasionally not working, so the last 3 classes on Friday weren’t able to see the Paris by Light video.  I hate that!  This threw my numbers off, but Mirror City was liked by the majority of students in each class (and, it was my personal favorite of the week!).  It seems to be the most technologically manipulated and the spectacular visuals are just mesmerizing, so I wasn’t surprised that it came out on top.  Some of their responses about why they chose it were:

  • It looked very beautiful and the music really added emphasis to the variations.
  • It was nice to look at and and it made me think
  • I just loved it – it inspired me
  • I liked how it was always changing
  • I liked this because it showed a different perspective on everyday things

The surprising runner up was the Art Created from Shadows video, which did not use computer technology, but people and cast shadows to create new images.  Here is a sampling of their thoughts about this video:

  • It had a more traditional use of light, like shadows on paper
  • The figures created by the dancer’s shadows are very creative and surprising and show more effort and ideas
  • I didn’t hurt my eyes to look at and it was cool
  • The others seemed alike and this one was cool how people were making shadow puppets
  • Because out of simple trash it created cool art

2.  Why do you think artists like to experiment with light in their work?

This second question asked them to put themselves into the artists’ thinking and imagine themselves in the artists’ shoes.  Here’s what they thought about experimenting with light as an art medium:

  • Because light adds a glow to artwork.  Light isn’t something you can touch, but is something you can alter.
  • It’s kind of mysterious.
  • It flows kind of like paint.
  • Grabs the viewer’s attention and makes you look.
  • Artists feel that light makes things come to life.
  • They like to pop the art, illuminate.
  • Because it’s a fun thing to manipulate.
  • There are so many different and cool tricks you can do with it like bend it.
  • Because it’s very modern, non-permanent and experimental.

3.  What qualities does light have that other art materials or media don’t have?

I wanted to push their thinking a little bit farther after they thought about why an artist would use light and articulate what qualities light had as a medium.  They had some interesting ideas about this:

  • It is not a concrete material and can make many more images from one image – it also changes the way you look at things.
  • It’s less permanent.  It is something that is there, then you turn off the light or the computer and it’s gone.
  • Light is controlled by electricity, not by hands.
  • It has a perfect contrast between light and dark.
  • Light is natural and it has a different feel to it.
  • It can create different moods.
  • It is bright, magical and so alive!

4.  How do you feel about the use of technology (using computers and computer applications) in making art?  Do you like art made with a heavy use of technology?  Explain your viewpoint.

I was particularly interested in finding out their thoughts about this line of questions.  There is a general idea that young people, who we call digital natives, are more enamored with the use of technology than with creating things “by hand”.  In fact, the balance I found from their responses was very telling.  Around half of them enthusiastically embraced technology in art making, but the other half might acknowledge the positive use of technology in art, but preferred making art by hand in traditional ways as they felt it was more authentic and real.  They expressed these feelings in these ways:

  • If it’s original, why not?  Art can be created with anything.
  • It’s very creative and impressive – I think it can let you explore more to art than just pencil and paper.
  • Using technology for art is 21st century, so people like it in this century.
  • I like how detailed you can get with technology, I prefer art with technology.
  • Yes, because it’s new and fun.  Technology makes things different.
  • (I LOVE this next response…) Art is like an app – it gets updated when people make it better.
  • I feel like drawing something with your hands is more traditional, or more meaningful for me in making art.
  • It looks good, but doesn’t take as much skill as doing it the old fashioned way.
  • No, I do not like technology used with art because it’s like cheating.  You are taking out the effort of artwork.  (emphasis by author)
  • I don’t like computers besides my phone.  So I’m not good with art on computers.
  • I feel art should be your expression, without help from a computer.  It needs to be natural.
  • It’s OK, but what really amazes me is the classic kind of art and all the skill it takes to make such art.

How do I feel about the use of technology and art?  I suppose I lie somewhere in the middle myself.  I am amazed at the new ways artists are using technology to create innovative forms of art, I love technology and am drawn to it’s power and potential.  But at the end of the day, it’s my own little journal that I turn to when I want to be creative or express a thought or emotion.  Our feelings and thoughts about art always go back to the individual, to their ideas and their experiences that become lenses that they look at art through.  Art embraces all ideas, all viewpoints – there is no right or wrong approach, and I’m very happy to see that my students embrace their own ideas strongly and confidently, no matter what their viewpoint is.  We are all responding to the world around us in our own unique ways.  For me, I am…..

Blooming

which is somewhere between the old and the new.  What are your views on using technology in art?

Teaching Strategies: A Traditional Approach and/or Professional Learning Community?

 World Book – a student sculpture from deconstructed encyclopedias and collage

My professor posted a question from our weekly reading in our 21st Century Skills textbook:  Analyze the chart on p. 79 in 21st Century Skills (DuFour & DuFour), and discuss the pros and cons of a traditional approach to education compared to the professional learning community model.  Discuss some advantages of both the traditional approach and the professional learning community model approach for fostering 21st century technology skills.  Provide some examples for both approaches that represent an effective way of developing 21st century technology skills. (Gregory)

I feel that I am teaching in one of the most important eras of education.  This is only my 8th year of teaching, but I know that during these years I started my career in the more traditional approach, but am moving rapidly into the professional learning community model.  Just like the image at the beginning of the post, we are still tied to the past but understand the past has limitations for our current time.  I have chosen for of the points from the above referenced chart to contrast and compare within my own experience, as well as what’s happening in education in general.

Traditional Approach

The job of teachers is to teach; the job of students is to learn.

  • Pros:  Teachers in their 30s and up probably were taught using the traditional approach.  If it worked for them, it should work for everyone.  We learn what is modeled to us, so when it’s time to pass it on, teaching in the way we were taught feels natural and comfortable.
  • Cons:  Times are different and there are new tools, modalities, environments and concepts for everyone to learn.  Students can take on some of the mantle of teaching if teachers are willing to let them turn the tables on teaching and learning.

Professionals are free to use their own judgment and discretion regarding how they go about their work.

  • Pros:  There are certainly instances when an individual teacher is inspired to be innovative in their teaching.  During my research for this post, I found a competition from PBS Teachers Innovations Awards.  Keith Rosko, a visual arts teacher who was inspired to incorporate 21st c. learning skills, was one of the first place winners with his “War Letters” photoshop art project.  Check out his winning project here:  http://www.pbs.org/teachers/innovators/gallery/2011/entries/833/
  • Cons:  Human folly exists – even in educators.  How many of us have had the teacher who has run amok, followed an inexplicable tangent, lost their bearings, or gotten distracted by a clever student ploy?  Left to their own devices, some educators who follow their own muse do so at the expense of their charges.

Teachers work best when they work alone.

  • Pros:  I actually was the only art teacher in my first job and it gave me incredible freedom to decide what I wanted to teach to my students.  As long as my students were engaged and productive, my principal didn’t care what I taught them.
  • Cons:  Teaching in a scatter shot method like this meant I did not have a clear scope and sequence curriculum that would scaffold their skills and create a building confidence in materials and the processes of art making.

Schools work best when districts provide them with site-based autonomy.

  • Pros:  I actually believe there is a lot of value and truth to this statement.  When administration, educators and students understand their demographics, socio-economic statistics and local influences, schools can tailor their educational approaches to best suit their audience.
  • Cons:  Schools’ administration can be out of touch with the realities of their communities, and educators can have blinders to their students’ needs.  Administrators and teachers who were raised in middle class families and lifestyles can be clueless to their low socio-economic families’ struggles and issues.  Conflict and misunderstanding can arise when the site-based autonomy isn’t sensitive to their families’ needs.

Professional Learning Communities

Teaching without learning isn’t teaching at all; it’s just presenting.  The purpose of school is to ensure all students learn.

  • Pros:  This is an important mandate that all educators in this time MUST work towards!  Our administrators charge us with this lofty and scary task – to education ALL of our students.  Not most.  Not some.  All.  And, if the educator is diligent, clever, earnest and is motivated by heart, it might be possible, though honestly, on any day it is an elusive goal.
  • Cons:  Families are strained, broken and desperately wounded, so it is no surprise that they pack their children off to school with holes in their souls; like a colander, much of what the teacher tries to put into the student just leaks out.  It is a tragic realization that no matter how we approach our teaching, some children are so wounded there are massive obstacles to their learning.

Professional have an obligation to seek out best practices for those they serve.

  • Pros:  Teachers don’t always know what the best practices are.  Through collaboration they can found out and incorporate them into their instruction.  One study of pre-service teachers demonstrates when they are supported in a PLC by colleagues, they developed the skills and commitment to teach each student for understanding.  Rigelman and Rubin (2012)
  • Cons:  With the rapid rate of change in our 21st c. world, best practices can be ever changing and evolving.  What may have been best practices last year are not necessarily what is best for today.  The educational world in the US is notorious for “adopting” the latest, greatest strategies which are regurgitated ideas from decades ago.  Sometimes the hunt for best practices is no better than a spin the dial game, with the dial constantly spinning.

Teachers who work in isolation will never help all students learn at high levels.  Teachers must take collective responsibility for their students.

  • Pros:  As Chris Dede says in our 21st Century Skills textbook, ‘collaboration is worthy of inclusion as a 21st c. skill because the importance of cooperative interpersonal capabilities is higher and the skills involved are more sophisticated than in the prior industrial era.’  (Balance and Brandt, 2010, p. 53).  If these are the skills we need to teach our children, then these are the skills we need to embrace and model to them.  When we work collaboratively with our colleagues, we learn how to navigate the waters are better able to guide our students on their own collaborative journey.
  • Cons:  It’s hard.  Most people don’t know how to collaborate well.  It’s frustrating.  I value communication highly and think of myself as a skilled communicator, but many of my colleagues aren’t.  It’s interesting and paradoxical that they can think they are good teachers but are not good communicators.  Without good communication, collaboration can be prickly and uncomfortable.  And there is not a quick fix.

Schools work best when they operate within clearly defined and clearly communicated parameters regarding their purpose and priorities, receive assistance in aligning their practices with the specified purpose and priorities, are held accountable for doing so, and have latitude regarding how to best achieve goals.

  • Pros:  Ideally, these expectations will level the playing field for our educators and their students.  Clear directives help make the educator’s job understandable, approachable and doable.
  • Cons:  No Child Left Behind, an act that was enacted in 2001, undoubtably it was to ensure the presumption above would be spread across this nation and like all boats rising at once, our children would also rise equally.  Unfortunately, there is a dramatic inequity among our schools, school districts and cities and states that support those educational institutions.  These disparities contribute to a wider achievement gap in this country than in virtually any other industrialized country in the world. Meier (2004).

References:

Dede, C. (2010) Comparing frameworks for 21st c. skills.  In Bellanca, J. and Brandt. R. (Ed.), 21st century skills: rethinking how students learn. (p. 53). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R. and DuFour, R. (2010) The role of professional learning communities in advancing 21st century skills.  In Bellanca, J. and Brandt. R. (Ed.), 21st century skills:  rethinking how students learn.  (p. 79). Bloomington, IN:  Solution Tree Press.

Gregory, D. (2012) Personal communication.

Meier D. (2004) Many children left behind; how the no child left behind act is damaging our children and our schools.  p. 6.

PBS Teachers (2011) Innovation awards gallery.  http://www.pbs.org/teachers/innovators/gallery/2011/entries/833/

Rigelman, N. M., & Ruben, B. (2012) Creating foundations for collaboration in schools:  Utilizing professional learning communities to support teacher candidate learning and visions of teaching.  Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 979-989.