teacher's blog

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Art, Glorious Art (sung to the tune from Oliver, of course...)

Our Friendly Art Door KittyOur Friendly Art Door KittyBetter than the anticipation, happier than we were when school let out for the summer, cooler by far than we remembered, the first set of artists hit the studios. Finally. Kids are a little strange the first week or two, because the shoes are all so new (and clean!), the school clothes all match, and there's enough happily nervous energy to start our own wind farm. Since it's been a while since I "looped" to the next grade with a group of kids, I'd forgotten how lovely it is to begin on day one with familiarity. One of my first graders, trooping in with his class on their first day stated loudly, "Hey! I KNOW you!" I laughed but understood. He was in a different classroom, the kids in his room had been shuffled and there was a new teacher guiding him down the hallway. Here, though, in the art room, something was the same. He doesn't know that I'm even more pleased about that than he could possibly be.

Two questions were repeated, class after class throughout the week. "Where's all our stuff?" Hmmm. I might need to rethink the earlier plan to slowly, patiently re-introduce our centers. I was amazed at the number of kids who hit the doorway with plans for what their first projects were going to be. The silly art teacher had the idea that the centers needed full intros just like last year's first year of using choice. I'll see what I can do about adding more centers when I go in on Sunday. Eureka!Eureka!I'm eager to get more things going, too, so I'll work on some streamlined instructions and depend on my students to remember the details and share with our new kids.

The second question (surprise, surprise....) was, "What did you do with the snake?" They were equally startled with the news that I'd taken Jezebel home over the summer as they were the fact that I don't actually live in my art room all the time. It's a little like the shock of a small face when we bump intoMiss America smileMiss America smileeach other in the aisle at the grocery store. Mz. J! You buy food!?! I promised the return of the boa next week, of course. Several kids said they couldn't wait to see if she'd grown for their already planned drawings.

I'm tickled to hear how many of them drew all summer long. They're bringing in sketches they're proud of and making valiant attempts to introduce me to characters from their video games. Children don't really believe me when I tell them there are no video games in my home and that I don't know their favorite cartoon characters on a first name basis. It's a great excuse for me to encourage lots of drawings and stories so that I can be cooler in my old age. The topic of censorship has already come up, too. In giving direction for decorating their portfolios for the year, I asked for artwork that, "wouldn't embarrass your grandmother, wouldn't frighten the principal, and wouldn't hurt In quest of dragon perfectionIn quest of dragon perfectionsomeone else's feelings." With the exception of some grandmas who shall remain nameless that list covers most things. Sure enough, a couple of characters from mythology appeared on folders to the accompaniment of the classic, "Ahummmmm- he's making a ____, Ms. J!" We applied the standards, checked to see if the pictures were within bounds, and decided that they could stay. Kid wisdom - you can't beat it.

Quandaries for upcoming weeks include:

  • How do I convince first grade D that her pictures are wonderful so she'll stop shopping around for another child to decorate her portfolio?
  • How will we get by without the back-ordered heavier construction paper that we need for painting?
  • What is the best system for assessment that balances the need for work to display in the hallway with the urge to take everything home to adorn the fridge?

We'll just have to see what magic this week brings!

Look!  Near perfection!Look! Near perfection!PonderingPondering

The three portfolioteersThe three portfolioteers

Proud dino masterProud dino master

Can You Hear the Walls Vibrating?

Yummy, and only a memory by this time of yearYummy, and only a memory by this time of yearThere are many clues. The raspberries have been gone long enough that we almost don't ache for not having them. (Fresh Washington raspberries, sold in little stands throughout the short season are unlike any other food on the planet. Trust me.) The weather has turned cool and we've had a couple of days of gentle all-day rain. Football noises are beginning to be heard on TV and high school marching bands are visible again, practicing long hours of formations on fields. And yes, school supplies are everywhere.

It's time for school again. WOO HOO!

I've already been by school several times. My colleagues are digging around in their classrooms, too, rearranging books and taping age-appropriate essentials onto clean desk tops. The hallways shine with the manic energy that only comes from dedicated custodial staffs who know how to tape off the hallways so they can strip, wax, and buff. If you've ever challenged a serious worker who's protecting a damp floor you know what I mean.

A few children, dragging smiling moms and dads, have come by to check on class schedules (not up yet - please be patient) or to just check to make sure the playground is still there (it is, it is!) Even the quietest of the little ones race to me for a belly-wrapping hug, trailed by little brothers and sisters who can't wait until it's their turn to play school, too.

"Before" - lots of stuff to organize"Before" - lots of stuff to organizeSo - what kind of preparations DO go into a choice-based art classroom? I offer up my "before" pictures for your approval. I pulled down everything on the walls and deconstructed all the centers in a bit of a hurry. My hip replacement had to be scheduled for the day after school let out for the summer and I didn't have much time to sort and plan. The aforementioned super custodians (thanks, Sue and Porfirio!!!) did a stellar job working around my piles of materials and shining walls and floors. The windows sparkle, the floors hurt your eyes, and there's a new backsplash on my sink that will go a long ways towards slowing down flying water colors. (Have you ever seen a six year old clean a paintbrush? Poetry. Sheer poetry...)Sheesh!  Even MORE stuff.Sheesh! Even MORE stuff.

I'll begin the year with lots of questions -

  • What do artists do?
  • Where do they get their ideas from?
  • Why do we "do" art?
  • What do we want to learn about this year?

and some review/creation of cleanup standards and procedures -

  • Yes - you can use it if it's in a kid-labeled area
  • No, you can't take it home yet - it goes in your portfolio
  • Yes - we DO share. Even the dinosaurs. Trust me.
  • And (probably most important of all) we do put things away and leave the studios clean for the next class.

The first studio that will be open will be drawing. The work we do in drawing is elemental and helps to inform the other disciplines, so reminding ourselves of what's there and how to use it is crucial. It's also important to establish the "everyone in the room is an artist" credo and to increase comfort levels with trying new things.

Colorado wildflowersColorado wildflowersI may share some of the watercolors I created to share with relatives and friends during our walkabout this summer.Meet Belle, the newest member of the family.Meet Belle, the newest member of the family. I'll introduce my new horn to the kids (horns are great for talking about shapes, shine, reflection, and the glory of noise) and we'll talk about when and how to reacquaint Jezebel, the boa constrictor with the school.

I'll show the kids the backdrop for their artwork in the hallway, plant some seeds for the big art show in April, and get their input on grading system changes.

I can't wait!

Bare halls, but only for the momentBare halls, but only for the moment


What else is art for?National Nurses' WeekNational Nurses' Week

I'm so glad you asked. Pull up a porch chair and a glass of lemonade and we'll visit a while. I have some photographs in the collection just for this purpose and, since it's not quite time yet for any of the deep, pithy (it could happen!) posts about next year's planning, we'll talk public art - on the small.

Each artist's pathway to today is a different one. Mine began with a mother who made materials available and encouraged lots of experimentation with color, form, and technique. Alongside that lovely mentoring, though, was another thread that I'll call (for lack of a better inspiration tonight...) lifemarking. A lifemarker is a chance to use art for communicating a specific purpose. Dateline, seventh grade - unable to march (the knees had gone south several years hence) and flyers need to be made for concerts. Graphics? Sure! Learn how to replicate Chas Schultz' cartoons with India ink and poster board and we're in business! Those first couple of posters were fun to play with, and even though I'd borrowed the cartoons, dialogue and design were mine. National Shelly and Iremly WeekNational Shelly and Iremly WeekI never considered things like holiday door decorating contests to be real art, but had a great time pulling people together to work on projects. How we convinced that English teacher to let us build a black-lit cave to be viewed from her classroom door, I'll never know. Manipulating the cardboard, painting the shapes, and stringing the (illegal, I'm sure) wiring for the black lights was a gas.

It's just another type of graffiti, this lifemarking - my band sign hung in the hallway at my high school for years after we graduated, and stylized desert designs graced the trash can containers downtown for at least fifteen years until I noticed they'd been "repurposed" again. That term, by the way - repurposed - simply means that another opportunistic artist has captured your art and put his or her own stamp on it. The giant mascots in the gym graced those walls long after the rivalries ceased to matter to us, and there are even a couple of pictures in ancient history books (read: yearbooks) that document the public painting process.

A corner open house signA corner open house signLifemarking is also great for marking celebrations. Some people respond to announcements of awards and commendations by searching for card stock and a document frame. I head for the artroom, clear off a big table, and start splashing tempera. Better than the bright, celebratory posters and banners that mark our work with kids? Only the smiles of the participants.

My students easily separate my public poster noise from my more personal artistic work. They know that art serves as many purposes as there are events in our day - and they do some fabulous lifemarking of their own!Hanging just inside the front door - a welcome sign!Hanging just inside the front door - a welcome sign!

(More pictures to follow - I know they're in here somewhere!!!)

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