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Whose Studio is This, Anyway?

Proud homeownerProud homeownerOne of the most interesting facets of TAB Teaching For Artistic Behavior is the flexibility of materials. Rather than whole-class lessons that guide children through steps that result in a similar product, the studios in a TAB room are designed to meet the needs of a wide range of age and ability. Given the resources in our 3-D Construction center, a seven year old makes decisions about his creation that make sense for his age and experience. If he's had access to lots of toys that encourage building and using his imagination, his approach to today's artwork will reflect that. Factor in attitudes he's seen modeled by family and friends, and he's likely to mimic creativity and will put together complex designs that suit his seven year old artist ego. Developmentally, he is exploring his world and using skills like gluing, taping, and balancing his design in a perfectly seven year old way. Builders in the block center we added this week do the same thing. I'm one with my structure.I'm one with my structure.Working alone or with a friend, children learn to manipulate blocks in ways that become increasingly complex.
With each design refinement, something is learned, tucked away for next time, and artistic growth is layered on top of previous learning.
Weavers and friendsWeavers and friends

What is different in the problem solving approach of a fifth grade student? Four years makes quite a bit of difference in complexity. Because ten year olds have encountered more long-term projects, they're generally more patient about the need to spend more than a single session (or more) working on a creation. Examples of specialization abound: miniature bedroom models with tiny, fringed rugs and details like notebooks and pencils on dresser tops (for elfin homework, perhaps?) A fifth grader is more likely to try to negotiate for materials that aren't yet displayed in the center ("Ms. J - is it OK if I go through the donation box?" or "Could you pull up a picture of ___ from Google images so I can add it to my plane?") or to request some hot glue to be applied to affix a tricky plastic. She's also more likely to use a variety of materials from other centers, like swatches of material from Fabric Arts for a bedspread, rice paper from Collage for a Trading Spaces-style wall covering, or aluminum foil from my corner kitchen for a solar roof.

I'm fascinated with the difference that developmental stages make of in children's artwork. Deep concentrationDeep concentration The wild freedom of broad, swinging strokes of kindergärtners gives way to the more thoughtful details of a nine year old's single-minded focus on Spider Man. The variety of work that pours forth from the centers is also enriched by the way our artists learn from each other. Since it's October, kids are trying out all sorts of schema related to Halloween, Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) and a few fall themes. Part of freedom in studio choice is the joy of growing into new project ideas. Discussions are rich as children compare techniques in drawing and enlarging figures, try to predict color mixing experiments, and share clever new approaches to texture and shape. The painting center went through an amazing amount of black during a third grade focus (obsession?) on skulls last week. My favorite quote: "I'm the expert on these skulls, Ms. J, in case you wonder why they all look so cool." I just smile and pour more black tempera into the tray. I love watching professionals at work.
Classic kinder grinClassic kinder grin

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

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