Sunday, October 30, 2011

When To Worry About What a Student Creates

We've all had a student (or students) who've created something odd, unusual, frightening, creepy, and/or alarming that may or may not be in context. I'm sure we've all spoken with the school counselor (or even the school psychologist if you're lucky) about what the student drew. On one or two occasions, the school counselor and I have followed up with family etc. But, we all know that context is important, even key, to these situations.

Here are some great thoughts on what kids draw from Notes From The School Psychologist (not reading her? You should!!):

My Favorite Halloween Game.

I have this game I play whenever I’m testing students around Halloween. It’s called “Halloween or Emotional Disturbance?”* Around this time of year, when I ask students to draw for me, I often get some pretty disturbing stuff—zombies eating people, ghosts, headless horsemen—and it begs the question, “Is the child emotionally disturbed or just thinking about Halloween?” I was reminded of this problem in assessment when a friend of mine posted this picture on her Facebook and asked, “Should I be concerned?!?”

She of course was not concerned because she knew her little treasure was going to be a vampire for Halloween. Yes, yes, that makes a difference in context. Now if her kiddo made that drawing on a random Tuesday in March, it would be a different story, no?

I have a memorable assessment from last Halloween time to illustrate the point…I was walking this kiddo to the testing room, when I spotted a huge spider web and a spider was chilling in the middle. I am not a huge spider fan, but I do anthropomorphize every spider into being that nice spider from Charlotte’s Web, so I said, “Oh look! That spider made us a web for Halloween!” The child turned to look at the spider’s web and then started spitting on the spider, yelling “Die! Die! Die you mother*#(%#@!” Whoa. I did not see that coming. Later, when I asked him to draw a picture of a person, he drew a vampire with a machine gun, blasting all the spiders in the world. Soooooo, you’re not a fan of spiders, eh?

Kids’ drawings are awesome. They are one of my favorite parts of the assessment process. Aside from the comorbidity of creepy drawings and Halloween, drawings can reveal a lot about our students. I especially love the Kinetic School Drawing, which is basically a way to see how the kid feels about school. You just ask them to draw a picture of themselves at school at any time of day and see what they come up with. I wish I had kept this drawing of this 10th grade student I was assessing for ADHD (who later cornered me on the streets of SF with his pack of friends yelling, “Hey, that’s the lady that put me in special ed! Thanks lady, special ed is way easier!”). His drawing was a cartoon-style sequence of him getting in trouble (“Here’s where my pencil accidently flies out the window, then here is me getting kicked out, and here’s me going down the stairs to the dean’s office, and here’s the dean saying to get a pass, and here’s me going back up the stairs, and here’s the teacher saying I can’t go back to class without a pass, and here’s me going back to the dean’s office…”).

Another kiddo who I was assessing for Asperger’s syndrome drew the most literal interpretation of the drawing I’ve ever seen. He started drawing every facet of the school building, including the irrigation system out front. When I asked him to draw a picture of himself in the drawing, as if I had a camera and took a picture of him at school, he drew a picture of me jumping out of a locker with a camera, taking his picture. HA! I love it.

My absolute favorite drawing was actually of me (not a Me-Monster story, I promise). The kid was 6 years old and in a school for students with emotional disturbance. The kid hated testing so much, it was torture to get anything done. After daaaaaays of trying to get something out of the guy, I finally asked him to draw a picture and tell me a story. He drew this monsterously fat and ugly person and said, “This is Dr. Fat, no I mean, Dr. B. She was a horrible fat person who made kids do stuff. She has a timer and her pencils and a monster ate her.” Soooooo, how do you feel about testing, little buddy?

So, as you go forth and test students on Monday on Halloween, look out for ghosts, goblins, spiders, and creepy drawings! You might also want to look out for REDRUM as the answer on a spelling test. Now that's a scary reversal...

*My friends and I also played a related game around Halloween when we were in grad school at Berkeley called “Normal dress or Halloween costume?” So, when a cloaked man entered the “Games of Berkeley” store, was he normally dressed for his fantasy board game club, or was it a Halloween costume? Is that a hippie costume or an actual hippie?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beyond the Pencil: Great Concepts and Ideas from an Amazing Art Teacher

High School Art Teacher, Ian Sands of Art of Apex High School made this amazing presentation about "going beyond the pencil" at the South Carolina Art Education Association Conference. I sure do wish I could have seen it/met him! Did any of you from SC get to go and meet Ian?

Here is the (fantastic!) presentation:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've got a lesson plan posting planned for later in the week. . .

But I just wanted to share some great news. . . I have over 50 kids interested in Art Club! I'm SOOOO excited.

And, students are moaning about the end of art class. . .Which means they are so happy to be here that the end of it is "sad." Which, wow! That makes me so proud. :)

Thanks Guys!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lesson Plan: Hip Hop Contour Line Shoes

Ever have a lesson plan you back into that ends up being awesome? Yeah. This one is kind of like that.

I wanted my students to have more opportunities to work on their drawing skills; specifically, their realism drawing skills. I knew completing a contour line assignment would be a great project to build these skills, but I feared my students would get bored. I've talked -extensively now- about how I have a few students who are hard to engage. I also have a lot of students who have a hard time sticking with a project once it becomes "hard" or "too real."
I knew if I wanted them to do some contour line drawing, I'd have to create some kind of really great "carrot."

Shoes are a major part of my students' self representation. They wear uniforms to school, but are allowed freedom of footwear. Additionally, shoes seem to be important in the community in which I work. So, while many may not come from wealthy backgrounds, they do have quite nice shoes. They brag about shoes, compare/contrast shoes, talk about prices etc. all the time.
I figured we could draw our shoes. But then, I got a little bit concerned. My students enjoy aggressively teasing one another and love using smells (farts, chemical odors, cooking scents) to make noise and derail the class. I didn't want to give them an opportunity to attempt to take control of the class. And, well, I got worried that some of them may not have clean socks OR that some students may not have nice shoes and this may isolate them.
Eventually, I decided to take the students to the computer lab and let them use the Nike ID, MI Adidas, Vans, and the Converse websites to customize their own shoes. I asked them about this first because I was concerned they wouldn't like customizing shoes that they couldn't buy (or maybe couldn't afford), but was reassured by their enthusiastic response.

Y'all, I've never seen them so well behaved as the days we went to the computer lab. They LOVED tinkering with the different websites to create cool shoes. I used this as an opportunity to do a presentation about how desire drives design.
They had directions to follow and had to print out at least 2 different shoes. The next few days we focused on contour line drawing. The students had to complete 2 different contour line drawings of their shoes. They had to color the shoes in either colored pencil or marker and then create a black and white (or colored with permission from me) background of doodles. I then laminated the final versions.

My students loved every part of this project. They really enjoyed drawing their shoes and I had virtually no complaining during the difficult drawing process. And, when I asked the new crew of students what they wanted to do during this 9 weeks of Art, I had many reply "I want to draw shoes."

Quick Thoughts on the 1st Day of the 2nd 9 weeks

Whew! Today went by fast!!

Nothing like having new students, new rules, new portfolio, new, new, new to make the day go by quickly.

As you all know, I've been writing a lot about engagement. As art teachers, I think we really strive to create learning environments that encourage authentic engagement. Honestly, I want my classroom to be an exciting, fun, and special place to be.

Today, to begin my 2nd 9 weeks I decided to ask my students to write about themselves. I gave everyone a notecard and instructed them to answer the three following questions:

1. Are you excited to be in Art?
2. List three things you hope you get to do in Art. (I told them to think of the wildest things!)
3. What is your dream? (I kept it general because I wanted to see how they would respond)

I explained to students that I wanted them to be honest, and that I wouldn't be upset or hold it against them if they weren't happy to be in Art class. I told them it was important to be honest, because I do want them to be excited in class. So, if I learn their dream is to be an NBA star, then I'll try to work basketball into the projects. The kids really, really, really loved this, and they were so honest.

And, wowza! I got some great responses and some amazing ideas for how to change my lessons to better suit my student's interests.

Here are some of the most popular "things" my students want to do in Art class:
-sculpting. EVERYONE wants to sculpt
-sewing. A lot of students want to learn to stitch
-computer art. Quite a few kiddos are into technology and/or are interested in game design.
-art with bubblegum. What a cool idea!
-go outside. YES!
-Jewelry. LOTS of requests for this.
-Play-Doh. I had a lot of mentions of play-doh. Interesting.

As for the dream question; I was pretty much humbled by their dreams. They range from being lawyers, veterinarians, artists, comic writers, doctors, ob/gyn's, Navy SEALs, Engineers, to being wealthy, living a good life, and helping others.

I was touched by so many of their dreams but this one left me teary. I leave you with this great response to "What is your dream?"

"I want to go and graduate from Emory University, become an orthodontist, and give my dad his dream of going around the world."

I hope your week is off to a great start!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

End of the 1st Nine Weeks

Yesterday was the last day of the 1st 9 weeks of the year. I am really excited to get a "new" batch of kids. I haven't had the luxury of being "done" with certain behavior problems in just 9 weeks in a looong time. On the other hand, I wish they were in Art year-round. . . And, when I really reflect on it there are SO MANY kiddos I'm bummed I won't get to hang out with everyday.

I wrote in my "Ouchies" post that teaching in my current environment seems like a day-to-day thing. Some days are awesome, some are less than awesome. And, well, that is true. Yet, I'm trying to make everyday awesome. What I've come to realize is that right about the time I feel totally overwhelmed and/or think "I'm not qualified enough to teach these kids" something happens to make me change my mind.

I've been working hard to make Art visible in my school as this has never been the case. The kids love (LOVE!) seeing their artwork on the walls so much that it is a huge motivator (and this has never been the case anywhere else I've taught). The teachers also love seeing the artwork on the walls and they make a point to tell me how much they appreciate that. And, wow, you guys just hearing that someone likes it makes me not only proud but hugely validated. It has made me realize it is critical in environments like mine to positively "cheer" on others.

I also made a Shutterfly book showing off some of the strongest accomplishments from Quarter 1. The artwork isn't necessarily the best or strongest, but it represents students who gave it everything they had. I put a copy in the front office for parents to check out while they wait for kids/meetings etc. And, I gave a copy to my principal. This also has been a huge positive incentive for the kids (and me). The principal is thrilled with the book and loves how we can show off to visitors etc. I researched and found out that schools can set up their own Shutterfly accounts from which parents can buy merchandise online. . .And the school can set the prices. Meaning, hello minimal effort fundraiser! I do teach in a Title I school, so I was unsure if kids could afford the book, but after asking around I feel quite sure we could make some money. And now there are plans to make a calendar and holiday cards. Woot! (You can see the book below, it cost $15.00 to make and we plan to sell for $18-$20).

Click here to view this photo book larger

Shutterfly offers exclusive photobook layouts so you can make your book just the way you want.

In the midst of all of this, the Special Ed. department has been conducting yearly conferences to review student accommodations and modifications. Something really great happened in those meetings. Almost all of the parents made a comment of some kind or another about how happy they were that their child was in Art class. AND, the parents made comments about me and the accommodations and modifications I made to make the class accessible.

Then, last week I got some new Art Supplies (my orders had been placed and arrived!). Super Woot!
So, things are really looking up. I feel as if I'm not just merely treading water anymore.

I know we've all been sharing about classroom management in at-risk kid environments and I wanted to also share with you some of the changes I'm making for the 2nd Quarter:

1. I got rid of all the rules! Ha! I know a lot of you thought there were too many. And, that number has worked for me in the past, but I'm simplifying down to 6.

2. I have 3 concrete reflection areas in my room instead of 1. The primary area is beneath the rules and has some motivational posters.

3. I'm organizing the clean-up procedure. It will likely take 8 minutes instead of 5, but I want the kids to be more personally responsible for material clean up.

4. I'm controlling bathroom visits. The students like to leave everyday and I'm culling it down. I'm not going to do "only 3 per quarter" because I don't want to monitor it. But, I am writing down their visits in their agenda, so when I do say "no" I can prove that it is a habitual way of avoiding class.

5. I'm sending home artwork every 3 weeks. My state standards require the kids keep a portfolio. But the work just got too bulky and would jam the storage drawers and art would get lost and torn. So, they can still keep a portfolio but take home older work regularly.

6. I'm tracking down the social worker to help me get phone numbers of students whose listed phone numbers have been disconnected etc.

7. I'm giving the students a weekly warm up sheet instead of them keeping track of it in a binder. I started this a few weeks ago. Too many kids just won't do it if I don't give them a sheet. It is a lot of sheets for me to run weekly, but it is worth it to see the kids come in and get started.

So, what about you? What have been your successes so far this year? What classroom procedures and/or rules are you changing to better suit the needs and demands of your students and your classroom?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Value Shading and Self Portraits

Value, as you all know, is deceptively easy to teach. On the one hands kids "get" that there are shadows and light areas appearing on what see. . . But, trying to get them to illustrate this understanding can be an epic struggle. As I'm now teaching Middle School students full time, I've had a very quick reminder of how they feel their art is "unsuccessful" unless there is a positive, cohesive (usually realistic), final product.
I started doing this variation on the value shading project a few years ago. I honestly can't remember if I devised the idea or if I was inspired from somewhere. . .So, if you've been doing it for awhile too, feel free to share a link in the comments!
Students begin with learning about value and completing a value shading worksheet. During this time (or during the studio session for the previous project) I take a picture of their face. I print their faces in black and white on the printer. Each student receives his/her face image and uses a marker to outline all of the various different value areas on their face. Next, they are presented with one paint color cup, one white paint cup, and one black paint cup. Students must paint the values on their faces using only these three paint choices. I keep several copies of their faces on hand, because many of them rush through the first attempt (which ends up a mess) and want to try again.
The results are usually quite beautiful. . .And, because they were painting on top of a photograph (in essence), the end result, at the very least, appears humanoid. Which means, even my most insecure middle school students have a modicum of success. I'm not sure if this is the MOST student creative project. . .But, I have found that it sets an excellent foundation for value and enables me to introduce more complicated and creative painting concepts.

The lesson plan and value shading worksheet can be downloaded below. The worksheet includes images from two online sources, which are cited on the sheet. Please keep this in mind when you use it. You are welcome to use these items in a non-profit manner in your classroom but not for commercial reproduction.