teacher's blog

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Once Upon a Bookmaking Project

Yes, her book *IS* bigger than she is!Yes, her book *IS* bigger than she is!The art of handmade books has a rich history. When talking to students about the possibilities for making books of their own the most serious problem is sticking to my desired limit of five minutes for a demo at the beginning of an art class. I'd been tinkering with some sample mock-ups to show the kids (and to share with teachers if they wanted to create some in class to support literacy efforts) when I was approached by a fifth grade colleague. Their students were going to be working on personal narratives and their traditional source of small, blank books Dr. Serrano and her lotus bookDr. Serrano and her lotus bookwasn't available this year. When she asked if I had any ideas for patterns they could use, I was happy to share my samples. I've collected several favorites over the years and had bought a copy of Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, And Turn: Books for Kids to Make to experiment with. At a planning meeting with the three teachers, I shared accordion, piano hinge, slit, folding packet, circle, spiral, giant fold, and lotus-fold books. Wisely, my One excited authorOne excited authorpartners selected two models for their students to select from, and we planned for at least two full days of art time for production of the books.

One of my favorite quotes about change states, "The only one who welcomes change is an infant who needs a new diaper, and even he goes into it screaming." Shifting a large group of independent artists who have grown used to choosing their own media and projects to a single focus is a bit like herding cats - but the cats appreciate it more. Sea Side Tour authorSea Side Tour authorAfter the initial shock of our little change, students settled into the project. They were highly suspicious of my, "You're going to treasure these books - trust me" noise, but they were willing to give the books a try. We discovered that doing twelve "lotus" folds and keeping track of all the parts needed: cardboard covers, ribbon or yarn for closure took a bit of maturity and a LOT of organization. An extra pair of eyes and hands was provided by one of my colleagues, who went through the process with her students and modeled the writing process, as well, as she created a personal narrative of her own.

The opportunities for artistic expression were rich and varied. Some kids made stamps to make impressive borders and others used print, collage, or tempera streaks with which to decorate book covers. Hot glue (with safety gloves, of course) attached ribbons and yarn and colored pencils added pictorial memories to text.

One quarter of a magic carpet bookOne quarter of a magic carpet bookTime spent in the studio is always too short, and this project was no exception. Students worked with word processors on their homeroom computers and printed out the texts to glue into their books.

Four class sessions, one winter break (with four-day snow cancellation enhancement) and a return in January later, the books were finished. Their completion fell close enough to Read in Your Pajamas Day that children could share their stories with second graders. Second graders loved the event, too, and fifth graders enjoyed "strutting their stuff" with the little guys. PJ's and a great book!PJ's and a great book!

As for the collaborative process, I made notes for the next time we do something of this scope but really enjoyed working on my colleagues' annual project. As for the kids, the look in the eyes of each artist/author is all the "I told you that you'd treasure these" that I need. Fabulous illustrationsFabulous illustrations

A closeupA closeup

Whither, Amaryllis?

Working on a realism with temperaWorking on a realism with temperaWhither, Amaryllis?

Grandmother Lela, she of blue glass, strawberries and cream (literally - in front of game shows with our feet propped up on the recliner) and lilting laugh, loved amaryllis. I remember the shocking reds of the blossoms and the impressive size of the fast-growing stalks. I let the ancient bulbs she brought with her when we shared housing go long ago, but revisited the wonder of the flowers when the bulbs showed up in hardware stores in the fall. Flower loversFlower lovers Seven weeks is a long time for a short person (or for me, for that matter!) but I potted a good-sized bulb in a bright ochre pot on top of a filing cabinet and began watering it in early November.

Right on schedule, I had a tall, impressive stalk and two promisingly fat buds when we came back to school in January. Responses from the kids ranged from, "Hey - is that real?" to "My auntie grows those things. It's gonna die and you'll have to throw it away." to "Is it there so we can paint it?" I love it. They immediately see the possibilities. One of the Melted crayon - perfect for the subject...Melted crayon - perfect for the subject...ongoing themes in our studio is answering the question of where do artists get ideas from so I like to provide the bizarre and beautiful as options. We talked about what struck us the most about the blooms as they opened over the space of several days. We measured the height of the stalks and curved leaves with our hands and guessed how big the blossoms would be. Our flower didn't disappoint and neither did any of the students' renderings. Media included watercolor, tempera cakes, melted crayon, colored pencil, crayons and markers. With some classes I sat and sketched my own renderings and painted a little, but I'm careful because I don't want my ideas to overpower their own wonderful concepts.

We had as many different approaches as we had artists "taking on" the amaryllis challenge. I think they're incredible, and some of the smiles suggest that their creators do, too.Solitary flower artistSolitary flower artistThis is a beaming 5th grade version.This is a beaming 5th grade version.

More pictures

Blockheads? Us?

It's a castle!It's a castle!Earlier in the year, inspired by some posts from the TAB Yahoo list, I borrowed a set of unit blocks from a preschool colleague. I added them to the list of possibilities, attached them loosely to the 3D Construction center, and fabricated some new rules for the kids. I had several goals. One was to observe some of the motor skill development of my students. Many children, particularly those who haven’t had the benefit of formal preschool, haven’t had much experience with heavy wooden blocks. In some cases there are Lego-type toys at home, but the skills of balancing and spatial manipulation are different with stand alone blocks. I wanted to see how children worked together. Much can be learned by listening to the interplay between small groups – who’s dominant, who generates ideas, who is flexible in thinking, etc. Among my goals was my desire to encourage the kind of planning and strategizing that goes into actual building, as well. Architecture is a special art form that is nourished by “doing” just like the other fine arts represented by the mini-studios in our room.

As I looked at the cart with the preschool teacher’s well loved maple blocks stacked in piles, I had a vision of future chaos, complete with maniacal shrieks and flying blocks. We needed something much more thoughtful than the average preschool experience and, hopefully, to create a learning experience a little beyond what we expected from three year olds. Using my best “Walk this way” teacher confidence, I proceeded to outline how these blocks were different from the blocks the students had encountered in daycare or at their cousins’ house.

    Block divasBlock divas

  • These are special architectural blocks. With them you can build anything you can imagine, from castles to schools to parks to rocket ships to undersea cities. We treat them with care.
  • Since we’re artists, we like to keep track of our work. To that end, when a structure is complete (as decided by the artists) the teacher will be called over to take a picture with the digital camera so we can have a record of our creations. (Fellow TAB teachers speak of students drawing their creations but we haven’t found time to do that yet – maybe from photos later?)
  • Because we’re thoughtful, caring artists, we have a special set of procedures for our block area. Creations may only be built in the center of the rug with walkways left on all sides so that other studio users may move around us. Special care will be taken to place blocks carefully and to take them down deliberately. We don’t want to disturb other artists, after all, and startling the art teacher can be a dangerous thing.
  • Since it takes a bit longer to gently re-stack the blocks on the cart, block artists need to start their cleanup when they hear the three minute warning. Ordering and categorizing are skills that improve with practice, too, and there’s a Zen-like feeling in watching the blocks get reassembled a different way each time.

Life was good and the building trades were brisk… until the teacher needed to borrow her blocks back. How could we argue with preschoolers? Blocks are essential on many levels for the little guys, too. Still, we were crushed. Sad. Bereft. Blockless.

Having the blocks gone was important for some conversations, too. I needed to see how important they were to the students, and they let me know in many ways. Several of the most dedicated builders wistfully drew pictures of themselves and the missing blocks and, when I told them that we had found money in the budget to get another set to share, they were thrilled. This was more like a barn raising, somehow...This was more like a barn raising, somehow...The new set, dedicated to the art studios, was delivered last week and is happily ensconced at the end of the “meeting place” rug.

Photographic evidence shows some brilliant structures, as well as some satisfied contractors. I love the look of pride on the faces even more than the carefully constructed buildings. I’m intrigued with the way children choose partners with which to build or how some choose to tackle a structure single-handed. There’s something in shared building that makes even unlikely groupings work beautifully.Ta DA!Ta DA!

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