Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let's Get Ready to CONFERENCE!

I am so excited because in a scant 48 hours, I will be in San Diego at my first NAEA conference. . .At which, I will make two presentations.

My first conference experience will be on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. wherein I will make presentation #1.

No pressure.

I would LOVE to meet some of my online buds. The details about them are below, and I would love to see you there. But, if you can't make it, please drop by before/after and say, "Hey!"

Presentation #1
Critical Multiculturalism through Student-Led Filmography
Saturday, Room 32 A/Upper Level, 9 a.m.

Handouts and presentation outline are here. 

Presentation #2
Collaborating to make Art Accessible for High and Low Budget Programs (co-presented w/Cheri Lloyd)
Saturday, Room 32 A/Upper Level, 2 p.m.

Handouts, presentation, and full lesson plans with visual and PowerPoints here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Technology Applications in the Art Room

I'm in the process of wrapping up a professional development course I taught entitled, Technology Applications for the [Visual Arts] Classroom. The course was open to anyone in my district, but I had a special emphasis for Art teachers. While most of you bloggy-readers are pretty tech-savvy, I thought you might appreciate some of the hand-outs from the course. The handouts are pretty nice compilations, and they have lots of fun links. Additionally, I put together some of the student handouts I use when I teach Digital Art in the classroom and shared them with the course participants (and by proxy, you). Enjoy!

Me Reviewing Animation in the Classroom Via ScreenCast-O-Matic:

General Handouts:

Project-Application-Based Handouts:

Print-Outs to Turn Into Classroom Posters:

Monday, March 17, 2014

20 Best Art Education Blogs

Hey! A pretty cool thing happened:  Artful Artsy Amy was listed by TinkerLab in a list of the 20 Best Art Education Labs. There are some pretty awesome blogs listed there, so I'm stoked to be a part of it. You should head on over and check it out!

Image from TinkerLab

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Making Contemporary Art Relevant to Students

I love teaching my students about contemporary artists. . .But, sometimes, the art and/or themes are so sophisticated it is hard for them to relate.

Check out this awesome interview between Jeff Koons and Pharell Williams; it is sure to grab the attention of your students!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Try a Little Tenderness

This morning, I found myself engaged in a lively Facebook discussion about a recent blog post from an Art Educator. In the original blog post, the blogger writes about a particularly trying day wherein there were several disciplinary issues that merited administrative involvement. The post ends with the author describing how she got ready to go home and watched her kids for the last half or so of the final class and then jetted out; she described it as “teaching in hell.”

The person who shared the blog post on Facebook just commented that she couldn’t get her mind off of the post. I’m not gonna lie; it is a pretty brutal post. There was no judgment from the person who shared the blog post on Facebook; just awe.

Then, came the comments. Which, I just really hope the original blogger never, ever, sees because some of y’all gotta calm down.

 I’ve written before about how ArtEducators in at-risk, low SES, and/or troubled environments are much less likelyto author Art Ed blogs. The primary reason, in my opinion, is that the moment any Art Ed author in a trying environment attempts to vent-write about discipline and/or behavior management, a ton of “well-meaning” Art Educators offer up the most basic, condescending, and not-likely-to-work-with-troubled-kids advice (I call this "concern-trolling" btw). When you are literally fighting your way through your day of teaching, the last thing you need is some teacher who has no idea of what it is like to teach troubled kids (or who has a knack for teaching troubled kids) to tell you how to do your job. Why can’t you just say, “Man that’s rough!” and move on?!

One of my personal favorites is when I wrote about how frustrating it is when kids walk off with sharpies. One commenter explained how “all” I needed to do was to ask the students to exchange their shoe for a sharpie.  Oh, why didn’t I, who underwent 13 years of public school, ever think of this ever-so-popular method?! I mean, honestly. Obviously, I’m aware of the exchanging a shoe for a pencil/marker method of management; I think every teacher in America is wise to that tip. But, would you like to know why teachers in low SES and/or tricky environments don’t use the shoe-writing-tool method? The only thing real monetary worth that my students wear are their sneakers; most cost upwards of $150 (the debate as to why poor kids have expensive sneakers is a totally different issue that I refuse to discuss here). These sneakers are vital part of their social hierarchy. I’ve witnessed students knock over other students in the hallway and then steal their shoes. My students don’t even like the bottoms of their shoes to get dirty. So, uh, no. I’m not eager to start a secondary situation wherein I have to manage expensive sneakers that are frequent subjects of theft just to manage a $1.00 sharpie. But, you know, I don’t really feel like I should have to justify all of that in order to give a one-off “man, managing sharpies is a bummer!” on my own blog.

And, that is the heart of the issue. Why do at-risk teacher-bloggers have to justify all of the behavior management and discipline methods they utilize before they are allowed to vent? Why, when at-risk teachers vent do people feel the need to say, “that teacher has given up”
 etc. etc. I’m not saying it is particularly professional to vent about your kids or administration online; there is a real fine line there. . . But, God help me, I have SO been there when it comes to needing to vent about a tough day. If you’ve never worked in a tough environment you have absolutely no idea how isolating it is for an Art teacher. Absolutely none.

I’ve taught in at-risk environments for years. Let me tell you a bit about it.  

-Even in a “tough” environment, I teach some of the tougher kids. I am less likely to teach a student enrolled in an opt-in program such as Band, Chorus, and Orchestra (which requires parent buy-in to the educational system). This does not mean that non opt-in program kids are “bad” (not at all!!), but they are more likely to have been removed from a program, to have less support at home, and are more likely to have disciplinary issues.

-Is there a transient kid that comes in to the school mid-term and you don’t know where to put them? It is easiest to place them in Art because the entry point(s) are more fluid. I average about three new students a week because at-risk schools average more transient students.

-There aren’t enough Connections teachers at my school for students who don’t opt-in to Band, Chorus, or Orchestra. This means that instead of teaching each kid Art once a year (which is what is supposed to happen in my district); I teach many children 2 and 3 times. While this is a pretty awesome opportunity to increase the visibility of Art in my building, these aren’t kids whom necessarily want to take Art. . .So, that can be. . .Interesting.

-There are 1,000 kids in my school. My yearly budget is $500.

-My class size ranges from 35-46 kids. An Art teacher working at a nearby school has 52 kids in one of her classes.

-In this era of Least Restrictive Environment or LRE (a really good thing!), Art is often the only “regular ed” class that students with severe disabilities can take. And, in my school, they take it repeatedly. I love teaching these students and making Art accessible to them. But, make no mistake; it is hard to ensure that you are meeting all of the demands of their IEP and/or 504 accommodations while managing a class of diverse learners.

-One of the (supposed) contributing factors to poverty is the break-down of family structure. People lacking familial support find it harder to navigate our system and often find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty (it’s really  complex and these two sentences don’t do such a great job of breaking this down, but stay with me). Many of my students are extremely autonomous when they are not at school. There are many single parent families and families wherein the parents work 2-3 jobs and/or rely on the (very unreliable) Georgia public transportation. Due to these reasons, my students find themselves responsible for their own care during non-school hours. They wash their own clothes. They cook their own meals. And, they frequently are the ones to take care of younger siblings and ensure younger siblings make it to school. They also frequently walk long distances to socialize and frequently socialize with much older relatives and their friends. So, they feel as if they are adults. And, in many ways they are adult-like and far more sophisticated than wealthier students. As such, my students do not like it when some teacher, who they recognize as not being a part of their culture, tries to tell them what to do at school. They balk. And, you know, I kinda get that.

-My students live in a food desert and have a hard time accessing food with quality nutrition. . .And, they have been living like this since they were in-utero.

-Another issue related to poverty is that some of my students have exceptionally young parents and/or parents who were (or still are) under the influence of illegal substances. If you combine this fact with absentee parents (whether this is due to neglect or necessity), you have kids who are quite literally raising themselves. They don’t have the same values I have because their family is drastically different than mine (and probably involves far less adults). This frequently causes cultural disconnects that result in students receiving disciplinary infractions for behaviors they feel are “normal” or “acceptable.” For example, in the homes of several of my students revenge is not only an accepted behavior; it is expected and encouraged. These students are perplexed when they are reprimanded for fighting a student for revenge, because they were “just fighting to get revenge.”

-There are epic cultural disconnects. Epic. I’m years into teaching in at-risk environments and I am still learning new ways in which I can work to be more compassionate for my students.

-It is hard not to get emotionally invested. Every single teacher hears, “you can’t take what they say personally.” And, in a general sense, I don’t. At the same time, no one wants to work in a place wherein you are frequently called rude names and/or disrespected. For example, I don’t take it personally when I’m told by a student, “you’re a bitch.” But, I don’t like that is a regular part of my working life.

-Another part of emotional investment is that kids in at-risk environments mostly have pretty sad life stories. If I were to get deeply emotionally invested in all of my students, I would cry myself to sleep at night. In order to be effective, I have to care, but I also have to create a bit of emotional distance so I can do my job. I don’t want to avoid disciplining a physically aggressive student who is acting out because her mother died. . .Because, well, I don’t want to do her the disservice of not holding her accountable for her actions. It is a tricky and very stressful balance to maintain compassion with accountability.
You also have to take the time to know A LOT about your students.

I take pride in the fact that I am an effective teacher who runs a really awesome Art program in an at-risk school. But, this has been years in the making. And, I have a knack for it. I’m super organized, yet flexible, yet strict, yet my class is very open-ended. I love my kids (LOVE THEM!), but I am also the first to hold their feet to the fire. I don’t tolerate nonsense or lying. I have no problem calling home and (as I tell them), “ruining the weekend.” They know not to even try skipping my class or taking too long in the bathroom because I. Will. Find. Them.  And no one fights in my class because the rule is that “If you want to fight in my class, you have to take me on first, and I will press charges if you put your hands on me in an aggressive manner.” Well, obviously, I don’t expect them to fight me. . .But, that level of crazy is part of the balancing act I undergo to keep my classes running.

All of this takes a ton of energy, patience, experience, planning, heart, and passion.  Like, tons.

My second year teaching was my first year in an at-risk school. I was also in a trailer. That first day, two kids got in a fight. The other students pushed tables in such a manner that I couldn’t get to the fight to break it up. Instead, I had to crawl over tables (in a dress) to get to the fight. The only way I was able to end the fight was to physically restrain the one of the fighters (who was kicking the other on-the-floor-immobile “fighter” in the stomach) by forcing him to the floor and using my body weight to keep him still. After the Football Coach showed up to help me move the students along to their 2nd period, I discovered that a student had peed in one of my chairs.

I sat down and cried. I called the district to find out what would happen to my teaching certificate if I just quit (it would revoke it and end my teaching career).  I stayed for an entire year. It was, without a doubt, the most difficult and trying year of my life. I fantasized about quitting teaching altogether. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. I thought I was a horrible teacher . . . It turns out, I was just not-yet-equipped to manage such an environment.

A few years (and years of education and experience later), I found myself working in an at-risk environment again. . .And, I’m good at it. But, y’all it is still a daily struggle. I still doubt myself from week to week. . . And some-days, I feel like I am “teaching in hell” just like the original blogger.

I have a million-and-one tips and tricks I use to make my classroomwork. I’ve written about it. A lot. Yet, I don’t feel the need to tell someone what to do about their situation on their vent post. The reason is that the writer is not seeking advice; s/he just needs a compassionate listener. Don’t we all need that? Don’t we all need the opportunity to vent to a friend about that terrible kid in 5th grade that drove you nuts today. . .And, then (two days later) don’t we need the same opportunity to tell our friend about the “totally awesome thing that the formerly terrible kid in 5th grade did today!”

Compassion, y’all. Please, just a little compassion.

One of my coworkers, let’s call him Mike, is the chorus teacher. Mike goes above and beyond for his students, and works hard to make sure that even kids with frequent behavior issues have the opportunity to shine in Chorus (if singing is their thing).  During one of Mike’s best Chorus classes, his new iPhone went missing. It was especially frustrating since Mike had his phone plugged in to the sound system and was actually using it in class; there was no grey area (“I didn’t know the phone was yours! Etc.). Even though Mike tried the “find my iPhone” app, called his carrier, and pleaded with students . . . The phone was never uncovered. Mike’s face was so down; it just about killed me to see my amazing coworker so upset. He felt disheartened and betrayed by his students; he told me, “maybe I shouldn’t be working here anymore.” Then, something kind of awesome happened. Mike realized that the action of one student was effecting how he felt about all of his students; Mike really didn’t like this. So, Mike spent the next day going around the classroom and telling each and every student one really positive thing he thought about that student. He was very honest and told me, “I had more positives to say for some than others, but I found something positive to say about everyone.” Mike was shocked when he started receiving little notes from students telling him about the impact he had in their lives; the notes were amazing. The notes said things like, “you made me realize I’m a good person,” and “I didn’t know I had any talent before I met you,” and “you make me feel like there is someone who cares about me.”

Heady stuff, right?

But, here is the thing:  It is an extremely rare person who can take a really bad betrayal situation and turn it into a galvanizing, classroom experience. These people are rarer than diamonds, and they are a combination of both raw talent and repeated experience working with needy kids.

I have no idea if the original blog poster has been teaching 1 or 20 years. But, I do know that she is overwhelmed. It isn’t going to benefit her at all for us to tell her how to “fix” herself or her situation.  This person needs our compassion, and our support. When she is ready for help –if she is ever ready for help- she will ask us. And, before you worry about the students she is impacting . . . If she is so unhappy that she is detrimental to students, she won’t return to this job in the Fall. Trust me, if you aren’t cut out for at-risk environments you leave (or you’re fired).

Teaching at-risk kids is not for the faint of heart; it takes a huge network of support. Next time you read about/see a teacher who is overwhelmed by his/her at-risk kids: Don’t speak negatively about this person or tell them (or others!) what they need to do to “fix” it. Instead, take the opportunity to be a part of the support network and offer them your compassion, ear, and heart.

After all, us Art Teachers need to stick together. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How-To Have the Most Engaged Class Ever

I had a revelation this week. Which, you know, is rare. . .

This has been a weird quarter.  My students have missed six days of instruction due to snow days, and I missed two additional days due to pre-scheduled professional development.  Due to this loss of instructional time, it has been hard to get the level of “buy-in” I expect from my students. . . And, y’all, teaching 7th grade Art in classes of 35+ is hard enough.

They have been really, really, really decent about working hard to cram all of our content in a much tighter time period. But, I’ve noticed that to accomplish this, the students have had to do more sitting, listening, and small-artmaking than I would prefer. So, for the last project of the term, I decided to de-organize things a bit. You know, because things had just been too quiet, too simple, too organized.

Every year, the Washington Post hosts a Peeps Diorama contest, and I typically have a few students enter.  This year, all of my 7th graders will participate. I have never, ever, in my life seen this group of students so actively engaged in Art. Every. Child. Is. On. Task. Every. Child. Is. Happy.

Not only are they so (so!) happy, they are actively problem-solving, they are creating are on a deep level, and they are driving their own learning experience. And, this is all because I somehow lucked into something they find interesting and significant:  They like to work in groups, and they like to have more choices when it comes to creating.

Here’s what they are doing:
1)      We defined “diorama” (can you believe they didn’t know what it meant even though they’ve been as they “making them things for years”)
2)      We examined the “Peeples Choice” diorama’s from the WaPo contest last year (they loved this)
3)      They were tasked to assemble into groups (Avengers Assemble!)
4)      They received a list of all of the topics they have learned about in 7th grade Social Studies. They were tasked to devise a group theme that relates to 7th grade Social Studies, and construct a diorama illustrating this theme.
5)      Students were told they would receive 2 Peeps from me, and they could purchase more on their own if they wished (they average about 12 for $2)
6)      They had to sketch out their diorama and make a list of all of the materials they expect to use. I provided glue, glue guns, glue gun sticks, scrap cardboard, scrap fabric, construction paper, colored pencils, markers, paint, glitter, sand, sequins, wire, 2 Peeps, and random small pieces of wood.
7)      They began to build their dioramas

We are just two days in, and these kids are on-fire for this project. Several groups even got together after school to work on their diorama (what is this madness?!). Incidentally, this problem-solving method perfectly aligns with how STEAM is being taught across the country (just sayin’).

So, here is my revelation: Sometimes, you have to trust the kids to know how to drive their own learning. You have to give them control. You have to give them choices.  I know this revelation seems a bit obvious; a bit, “duh!” But, we often interpret student obedience and complicit behavior as good and the means by which students learn. . . Yet, students learn best when they are actively involved in driving their own education. This means we sometimes have to take that really overactive class of students (ahem 5th period, I’m looking at you), and give them the opportunity to put all that kinetic energy to educational work.

And, dude, I can’t wait to show you the finished results.