Friday, December 28, 2012

Are We Pragmatists or Dreamers? Can We Be Both?

image from here

Honestly? I'm a bit of both. I've never stopped dreaming and/or fantasizing about what I hope to achieve. My favorite time to do a bit of dreaming is when I am commuting.  I'm also rather known for being a bit of an analytical pragmatist.  Standardized tests -in my home state- used to include a short analytical essay portion. I always earned a perfect score on that portion (and then scored rather marginally on the Math portion). My students know all about my pragmatism; I use it to help them make their art plans come to fruition. Sometimes, while day-dreaming in the car, I'll even talk out loud. . .It sounds bizarre (yeah, I know it is bizarre), but it helps me hone in on what I want, and how to get it.  So, there ya go. . .My dreaming and pragmatism working in tandem.

There is a wonderful opinion piece over on my hometown newspaper, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, wherein a local educator (Janusz Maciuba) discusses the three most dangerous slogans teachers instill in students:

1. You can be anything you want to be
2. Never back down
3. Be a leader not a follower

I really encourage you to link over and read the whole article.  What do you think? Do you believe we need to help students look inward to develop their potential (be all they can be), or do you think the slogans are helpful? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from my house to yours.

I hope you are taking this time to rest, reflect, refresh, and re-connect. 

I also hope you had a very merry [insert your celebration of choice].

Thing were very celebratory at my house. . .On Christmas Eve, I eloped!!

There are many sweet, serious photos. . .But this silly one just fits us perfectly!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

When Your Alter Ego is Exposed

 Artful Artsy Amy had an unprecedented number of visitors this past weekend. Unfortunately, my Statcounter account is only set up to track the most recent five hundred or so. . .Which meant, I couldn't determine from whence all these new visitors arrived.

Then, on Monday, one of my best students started asking me some pretty pointed questions about my education, my travels, my other teaching jobs. . .I mean, they like to be nosy, but it was a little bit unusual. So, I narrowed my eyes, put my hands on my hips, and said: "Uh. Where is all this coming from?"

She gleefully chortled: "I found YOU online! You're Artful Artsy Amy!"

And, just like that, my little bloggy reading friends, my cover was blown.

I'm not gonna lie, the first few seconds, my entire internet life flashed before my eyes.  But, then, I calmed down because. . . .I've been very conscious of writing this blog as if the parents of my students are reading it. Whew. Glad I did that. . .Because, uh, yeah, apparently a few parents did read the blog!

I know there are a few of us Art Education bloggers who blog anonymously.  When this blog began, I thought about doing that. I determined, however, that would never work for me; I enjoy being specific far too much. Yet, at the same time, I still -because this is online after all- feel a bit anonymous. Yet, even this false sense of anonymity is disappearing. In the audience of the last three presentations I made were long-time readers of this blog, and they were able to recall things I'd written years ago.

My students' discovery of Artful Artsy Amy is a bit of a reminder to be professional about what it is I do online. It is also a reminder that while we often feel a bit removed from "real-life" online, we really are not.  It also serves to remind us that our students are often far more interested in who we are than we think. . .And, that is it important to behave accordingly.

Oh, and to my nosy little students: HAI GUYS!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Art Campaign to End Bullying

 A colleague, Tom, recently asked me what sorts of projects I teach to my Advanced Art Class (8th grade, year-round Art).  Tom is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant artist who tends to approach teaching and art-making from an Art History standpoint; he asked me if I teach my advanced kids about creating "in the style of" etc.  As part of my Master's degree, I had to define my Teaching Philosophy. . .And, Tom's question made me think even more about it.

Honestly, I'm more interested in concept over technique.  It isn't that I don't believe in the importance of technique, but it is more that I am trying to push my students outside of their "realistic art = good art" boxes.  My students hear a lot of ideas, and even have a lot of ideas. . .But very few of them are confident in their ideas. I'm trying to develop their psyches, I suppose, in such a manner that they are unafraid to attempt to depict what they see/feel/observe.

When I'm designing projects I tend to think about the concept, then what artists really illustrate said topic, and then, finally, what skills my students need to develop in order to execute their work. Somewhere in all of that, I'm able to rather easily incorporate standards.

This upcoming January - May 2013, my school is participating in the No Place for Hate campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to bring attention to both bullying behavior, and solutions for ending such behavior.  Part of my students' contributions to this campaign will be a series of anti-bullying posters. I began the project this term as I want as many of my students as possible to have the opportunity to participate.

It also seemed fitting in the face of the most recent tragedy, to focus on how treating one another with kindness overcomes all sorts of obstacles. I'm not going to get up on a soapbox (I have too many opinions about the political response to the tragedy). . .But, I will say it is sad we live in world wherein it is easier to obtain a weapon, than it is to obtain mental healthcare. 

Here is how my students and I went about this project.

1. We defined bullying as a class.

2. We watched this -amazing- video:

3. We defined the word "bystander" and discussed how being a bystander contributes to bullying.

4. We identified the difference between "snitching" and "reporting/getting help" (snitching is when you tell on someone for the purpose of getting them in trouble. Reporting is when you are trying to help a victim).

5. We discussed ways in which students can anonymously report bullying (leave a note with the front office staff, make an appointment with a counselor, leave a note my reporting box; you also can say hey "look out for [victim]" and not leave the name of the bully).

6. We looked at several different anti-bullying posters and campaigns in a Powerpoint.

7. Students brainstormed in groups to define slogans and themes for their posters.

8. Students assembled in needed materials to set up a scene.

9. Students photographed their scenes.

10. Students used their photos, pixlr, pixlr-o-matic, tagxedo, and sourced royalty-free stock images to create a final poster.

11. Students uploaded their completed work to our Edmodo group wherein we participated in a group crit.

12. Here are the first few completed works; I'll keep updating as they finish (I blacked out any faces to protect student identity)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Teaching the Give Up Kid and Protecting Arts Education

All artwork in this post is created by former Give Up Kids

Art Teacher:  “Why are you off task? Please get to work on your assignment.”

Student:  “Why am I even in Art? I don’t know how to draw! I’m not good at Art; I shouldn’t be here!”

Art Teacher:  “Drawing is a skill, and just like any skill you have to learn how to do it. You had to learn skills to become good at basketball, right? Drawing is like that. Here. Let me show you.”

The above is a conversation Art teachers have all had (some of us frequently) with students.  Typically, because of schemas, it is middle school and high school aged students whom seem to have the most anxiety about being in Art class, but it drawing drama impacts elementary classrooms too. It says something about the nature of our education systems that students understand core subjects (Mathematics, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies) are studies wherein they must continually build skill sets to advance.  Yet, students in arts classes (Drama, Music, and Visual Arts) firmly believe they must have some inherent talent in order to not only succeed, but even competently participate.  Even Physical Education, which is often afforded the same backhanded respect as the Arts, is understood as subject wherein everyone can at least participate if not compete.

As Arts educators we can continue to lament this unfortunate misunderstanding that devalues our classrooms, subjects, and careers. . . Or, we can stand up, empower ourselves, and be a part of the change needed to not only encourage our students but to also protect Arts education.

Okay. I know. That statement sounds like a dramatic rally cry doesn’t it?  But, truthfully? Art is rapidly disappearing and some of it is due to devaluation.  At the same time, craft supply stores seem almost recession-proof, and music is shared and heard in manner un-paralleled in human existence.

 Arts education is disappearing in a world whose inhabitants refuse to live without Art. And, that is a problem. . . Our problem to solve.

Part of this solution is empowering the “Give Up Kid.”

 So, what do you do when get the Give Up Kid?  You know, the student who is overwhelmed by the task of required learning Art? Whose parents aren’t invested in Arts education?  Who doesn’t believe s/he really needs art?

We teach them. We teach them Art is a series of skills enhanced by inherent talent, but for which no special gift is required to enjoy. We teach them to appreciate and recognize Art in the world. We teach them how to use the most powerful muscle they have, their brain, through creative exercises designed to help them in all facets of life.

And, THAT, paragraph sounds really good, doesn’t it?  At our core, it is what we do. . . But, as teachers, we all know the reality is much more challenging, frustrating, and gritty.  It isn’t easy to help the Give Up Kid; they have years of prior experience underscoring their false statements. 

Here are a few of my tips for empowering the Give Up Kid:

1.       Get to know the student.  Getting to know the student doesn’t have to difficult or timely. Simply, ask a few questions about his/her likes and dislikes. Identify what his/her interests are.  This will help you build a bridge of communication.

2.       Sit with the student. . .All students really. I make it a practice during studio time in my classroom (independent working time) to pick a different table every day and sit for about 5 minutes just talking with the students.  It sounds a little radical to sit in the classroom, since we are all taught a sitting teacher isn’t teaching. But, we all know there are moments when you can sit; especially if your classroom management structures in sitting time. My students are familiar with my practice of sitting and visiting. They know if they have a question during that time, all they have to do is ask me to come over and/or visit me.  While I sit with a table I pick up and participate in whatever conversation the students are having; it isn’t always about art.  Sometimes, I’ll share a funny story about myself etc. etc.  I can’t tell you how much my students love this; they all beg for me to sit at their table.  And, this practice has been a key part of reaching dozens of Give Up Kids through the years.  If you feel sitting would never work for your classroom management style, just stand near the table and speak with the students. It isn’t exactly the same; doesn’t engender the same familiarity. But, it will still be helpful.

3.       Don’t make it a practice to draw on student artwork and/or “help” by drawing a few lines for the Give Up Kid (or any student).  The schema of middle school students is that realistic looking art is good art.  This begins to change in high school, but many students remain stuck in the realism = good art place.  These students frequently ask for “help” when they mean “draw for me.”  They don’t care if they drew the work or not, as long as when it is finished it looks realistic and “good.”  I have been amused many times through the years to see students complete work that was primarily done by me (or another student) and still feel it is “their” art. The problem is when you draw –even in small parts- for a student, it reinforces the idea that drawing is a special skill reserved for the uniquely talented.  It also doesn’t give students the opportunity to work on their drawing skills and become better.

4.       Make reference how-to sheets. Lots and lots of reference sheets.  If you aren’t drawing on a student’s paper, it can be hard to help.  One easy way to overcome this Give Up Kid’s desire to say “I don’t know how!” is to provide him/her with reference material designed to self-lead. It is important to provide multiple types of references within the same project, because you don’t want art class to become formulaic.  It seems as if I am forever making class sets of how-to this/that/other.  They are really valuable resources since I can ask students to refer to the sheet, and students who need help can independently seek aid themselves.  At the same time, I put the caveat “This is only one way to draw [item]; there are many ways to draw [item]; none are “right” and none are “wrong.”

5.       Make time for a little one-on-one guided drawing.  In my experience, the Give Up Kid hasn’t had many opportunities for art-making in his/her life.  Part of the reason s/he doesn’t like art class is because s/he is intimidated.  You know that moment when you say:  “If you don’t do any work, you won’t get a grade, and you’ll fail the course” and the student just shrugs and says something like “fine with me?”  The student is scared that his/her work will be so inferior that s/he will be the subject of teasing and shame.  Since pre-teens and teenagers are driven by group perception, they would rather do nothing and fail, than try and be anything less than near-perfect.  Discretely find an opportunity to do a side-by-side guided drawing exercise with the student.  It sounds really elementary and embarrassing, but I’ve never once had a student refuse; they actually seem to appreciate the attention. Typically, I’ll make the guided drawing as simple as possible so the student has the opportunity for maximum success. After the guided drawing, I’ll instruct them to apply it to their work; they always do.  Sometimes, you just have to take a step backward and provide the Give Up Kid with a taste of the elementary, empowering experience of art that they missed.

6.       Praise honestly and realistically.  It is important to recognize the development of the Give Up Kid’s skills, but don’t overdo it.  Students aren’t adept at recognizing that you are encouraging someone who was/is previously discouraged.  And, sometimes, instead of appreciating the work of their peer, they will offer unasked for criticism:  “What? Mine is way better and you haven’t said anything about it!”  Recognize the specific skills the Give Up Kid has developed and speak to them; don’t damn with false praise.

7.       Display work with caution.  It is a big deal for my students’ art to “make it to the wall.”  I’m discriminate.  But, I don’t simply display the best or strongest artwork. I try to demonstrate the artwork displaying success for individual students. But, you have to be careful.  the Give Up Kid has a fragile confidence about any new-found ability or skill.  Displaying artwork that isn’t very strong, yet demonstrates success for the artist runs the risk of high criticism.  Remember, middle and high school students aren’t known for thinking before speaking.  If the peers perceive The Give Up Kid’s artwork as being inferior to the other artworks and say so where the Give Up Kid can hear it, you have a major setback.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t display the work of the Give Up Kid; often, s/he is thrilled to have work on the wall.  But, you should be exercise caution.

8.       Use your classroom management plan to mete out healthy doses of consequences. We all need a little religion as motivation from time to time.  I call home, get other teachers involved, and seek the aid/support of the administration when attempting to empower the Give Up Kid.  My aim is not to punish the Give Up Kid because that will lead to discouragement. Instead, it is important for the Give Up Kid to know that I will do anything and everything ethically within my abilities to help him/her achieve success.  As a student once said: “I don’t mess with Ms. J., she is, like, everywhere.”    *Also, a bit of advice:  When contacting parents, pretend you are a customer service representative.  If the parents believe you to be a nice, caring, teacher who sees the best in his/her student, they will back you each and every time. If they see you as an overly critical nuisance who is sick of dealing with their child, then they will undermine your authority (this could be its own blog post!)*

I’m interested. What do you do to help the Give Up Kid?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tutorials Worth Purchasing

This past week I had an excellent conversation with my mentor, an Art Education professor.  She and I discussed the impact of the internet on Art Education and art teachers, and we hit upon the topic of intellectual property and ego.  We all have ego, we all have ideas, and we all want to get credit for our ideas. . . But, sometimes our egos, and our need for credit, get in the way of progress. 

For instance, have you ever been afraid to share an idea because you thought everyone would copy you and/or take credit?

I know I have. In fact, one of my Art professors during my undergrad days pulled me aside and asked me to quit bringing my work to class.  He said that I needed to take more care to protect my ideas, as many students would adopt a concept I had which, in his mind, diminished my work.

What a load of nonsense!  

My work grew stronger, because my classmates and I would bounce ideas off of one another; riffing on the same ideas to such a point our work became even more individualized. Our work got better.

And, if you are an Art teacher, you've seen your students work in class to do the same thing.

Y'all know I'm all about the free here on ArtfulArtsyAmy.  I've been so inspired by what you share online from lessons, to ideas, to your personal artwork. Even though I pin your lesson plan ideas to Pinterest like a mad woman, I rarely end up doing an exact copy of the assignment. I end up doing a bit of my own thing. It isn't because the original lesson plan isn't good, but it is because I am me, and I have my ways of doing things. I don't think like you do, and doing a project the exact same way in which you do it would never work for me. So, I take your idea, whittle it down to its most basic essence, and then teach it in a manner best suiting my students and my teaching style. I get inspired by other teacher's ideas and it makes me better educator when I customized them.

This is why I like for everything to be free on ArtfulArtsyAmy.  I want you to take my ideas. . .And, if they resonate with you, tailor them to suit your needs.

I rarely link to lesson plans and/or ideas that cost money. However, I came across the tutorials of Michele Made Me this week.  Michele is a blogger who likes to take simple, everyday items (toilet paper tubes, egg cartons etc.) and turn them into original, craft-based art.  Her ideas are really beautiful.  She shares a lot of amazing crafts on her blog, and she also has a small, online shop where you can purchase craft tutorials for a small fee (ranging from $2-$9).  I purchased three tutorials this week, and I am so pleased with them. Michele really takes time to take wonderful, illustrative pictures of her process and adds text that actually makes sense!  I'm excited to modify her tutorial ideas into something relevant and exciting for my students.

So, while I'm typically not into paying money for lesson plans, concepts ideas etc. I believe Michele's are worth the cost. The fee is so small, and all she asks is that you not use the tutorial to craft items for sale.  She is also a working artist, not an art educator. It seems to me, in this instance, the fee more serves to control how her intellectual property is used (she doesn't want others to take her ideas and turn a profit; totally understandable).

I've never met Michele, and never emailed her.  I have received no compensation for this post. I have no reason to endorse Michele's work other than the fact that I really happen to admire it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Art and Social Justice

My 8th grade students have been working on a series of artworks about social justice. I am continually impressed by their observations, thoughts, and ideas surrounding the topic. While the finished products are not quite ready for the blog. . .I couldn't help but share this fantastic bit with you:
 Social justice is respect for others. . . . not shunning or avoiding them! No One is a zombie!