I have just spent a glorious day sifting through photographs from the past two years of TAB instruction in my classroom. In addition to being part of the natural cycle of reflection, sorting and filing photos of artists at work helps me to focus on improvements that need to be made in our art studio. In a traditional art program one would find benchmarks and references to projects in textbooks or teacher-made folders of projects. Lesson plans could be collected and consulted and standards and benchmarks would inform the art-making over the space of a year. By contrast, the studios at Evergreen Elementary reflect the kinds of artistic expression that begin with children. Artwork is generated by students who answer their artistic questions by exploring a variety of media and technique. Each clearly designated studio offers up menus of techniques that have been covered in tightly constructed demo lessons at the beginning of class periods. Menus might include lists of necessary materials for a watercolorist, short examples of line and texture for drawing, illustrations that detail how to warp and weave on a small loom, or details about how to attach materials to each other in a 3D construction center. The idea is to offer collective wisdom on the walls in such a way that inspiration is easily accessible. Menus, in tandem with the powerful influence of previous artwork from fellow students on display, offer concrete support for artists as they grow and create. They also help classroom volunteers and visitors negotiate the complexity of a TAB studio. Since this is a dual language school, I make sure that text is available in both English and Spanish.
One of the ideas that was shared this summer on the TAB list (thanks, Anne!) was to include a binder in each studio with ideas specific to that particular media. As a dedicated constructivist, I work hard to avoid providing examples of adult work for children. Rather, I prefer to share information about techniques and let children define their own process and product so that they don't spend their art time trying to make their artwork look like mine. Watching children who enthusiastically share special techniques they've discovered is a joy and it doesn't take long before the value of sharing is seen as a great tool by creative artists. Student artists are much like their adult counterparts - they'll find something interesting, replicate it carefully a couple of times and then change or add to the technique to make it their own. In a school that practices cooperative learning, innovation is celebrated. One of my primary teaching goals is to nurture the sharing and the support only found in a healthy cooperative group.
A binder of examples from other children is a grand idea and should lead to a wide variety of approaches to media. I've gone through my files to find examples of technique and am thrilled with the diversity the photographs show. I'll use my Open Office word processor (this is a Linux/open source household) to share the photos and some text with children and then drop the pages into plastic sleeve protectors. We'll add to the collection, of course, and I'll spend some time with my short artist friends linking our binders to a sort of pictorial brainstorming tool for them to use.
My new hip is just about ready for prime time and I'm itching to get into my classroom to begin getting things organized. I can't wait for school to start again!
Art rooms are busy places. For much of the school year, the heartbeat in our studios is a rapid one. Our schedule is set up to support our colleagues' shared planning time as well as their students' fine arts/library/PE needs. Because of that, an entire grade level is with us, albeit all over the building, for their designated specialist time. The pace is intense for lots of good reasons - kids are naturally curious and the wise adult provides LOTS of choices to keep them focused on learning; our standards and benchmarks are comprehensive and detailed so we have to hit the palette running to have half a chance at meeting expectations, and, as is the case in all schools, there just aren't enough hours in the day.
Still, following the sage's advice, "If you want something done, ask a busy person," there are additional tasks that are done "for the good of the order," to celebrate hard work, or, frankly, just to celebrate. What school improvement committee work can't be improved by siting it at a broad studio table surrounded by brilliantly colored child art and accompanied by an obscenely large tote full of chocolate in the center? Is there any day that's too busy to drop what you had in mind for planning time, pack up your French horn, and introduce her to a couple of classes of Mozart-loving second graders? What better activity for a winter teacher conference day - when people are coming and going and an artist might just need to drop buy and......decorate an edible masterpiece? And what about the care and feeding of the most vertebraically gifted inhabitant of the program? We offer public interaction (with a parent permission slip and snake lover hallway pass, of course, and don't you think those are some interesting conversations over the dinner table?) every month or so at feeding time. Sometimes it's just the art club kiddos and me, but Jezebel has a few slightly taller, adult friends, too. A couple of "cases in point:" Mr. E and Ms. B have worked hard on their snake befriending skills over the past two years. Initial reticence has given way to closer interactions, more and more comfort closer to a goal of actually touching Jezebel, and, finally, full contact snaking. I present to you the latest members of the "I don't like all snakes - just this one" club. One set of pictures proudly made the rounds of family and friends and the second set actually had to be printed out in wallet-sized versions so a certain teacher's mother could share with all of *her* friends. I'll let you guess, fair readers.
In my first visit since the new hip debuted just over a week ago, I found the art classroom in yet another metamorphosis - plant hospital and spa. We did surgery on a waterlogged angel-leaf begonia, re-potted several leggy pot poaching types, and watered the collection that's grown into a lovely jungle. Art and kids and plants and kids and animals and kids and cookies and kids and people who like being around kids and kids. Yep. I'm in the right place.
June 17th was the last day of school, for some value of day and some value of school. Just as every beginning is unique, the closing of a school year is remarkable in the way we observe it. Children are simultaneously thrilled at the prospect of a summer filled with time to swim, play with cousins and friends, and to reconnect with their natural clocks (read: younger, bouncier up at 5 am and older making plans to sleep in every morning) and nervous about a summer without the routine and security of school. Passages and cycles are more obvious at certain times of the year, and the conversations that accompany art time tend to be focused upon change.
I do "take down" a little differently each year. Classroom activities vary widely depending on my energy level, the culture of the school in which I'm currently nesting, and the needs of my students and teammates. Some years were notable because of the culture that insisted on a "summer ready" room on the last kid day that was completely ready for custodial attention. Desks were stacked, boxes labeled, and walls were shockingly cleared of any sign of life. Keys were turned in and summer began more or less on time. Later years offered the freedom to experiment a bit. What would it be like to offer children a full 180 days of instruction - to keep the room intact and the schedule of activities in place until the last hour of the last day? If I had the time to take a few days to sort, clean, and store the contents of a classroom (and the custodial schedule wasn't unduly disturbed) I enjoyed a more leisurely leave-taking of the year.
The complexity of a TAB classroom is both its greatest promise and its heaviest time commitment. I began cleaning and packing some of the centers that lend themselves to lengthier artwork a couple of weeks before school ended. Printmaking left first, by virtue of the facts that interest in it had waned a bit, it's one of our messiest efforts, and the table where it lives makes a good staging area for other cleaning efforts. Our 3D construction area went next - kicking and screaming ("But I NEED another spaceship because my brother smushed the other one!" "I'm sure I was still working on something, Ms. Jaime - let me dig through these boxes. I'm sure I'll find it." "Just one more papier mache turtle..... pleeeeeeeeze?") Blocks and fabric arts followed next, by virtue of my need for a little more serenity and my custodian's need for fewer pony beads in the urinals (gravity is an unpredictable force in elementary schools...)
After the fun of taking portfolios home there is still quite a bit of art that's been on display left to return to artists. I had the help of a couple of interesting crews. Some of our most expressive, verbally gifted students who've made peculiar behavior choices aren't eligible for end of the year field trips or huge picnics in the park. Taken away from their usual audiences, however, even confirmed pillpots (that's the technical term) shine in helper roles. They're good at sorting and organizing (with a little bit of bossy teacher direction) and they love delivering artwork to their old teachers. If some of the sticky tac ends up in peculiar places, it's a small price to pay for some energetic legwork and the look on the faces of kids who are rarely their teachers' first choice for helping roles.
The end of the year is special/chaotic/wonderful/insane because of a few other traditions, as well. Western Days offers a chance to wear boots and hats (next year I'm making hobby horses for my specialist partners - I promise!) and to do a bit of dancing at the annual assembly. My musical teammate shoulders the responsibility of staging an annual talent show the last week, too, so we get to help with logistics and support. I take the chance to experiment with the video capabilities of my digital camera and will figure out how to embed short clips in my blog soon.
What's next? Cleaning out, sorting, storing (thanks, recycling fairies!) and getting things ready for my custodial partners to do their annual magic job on our art space. After it's all done, I can get into my files and do some reflection on lessons and systems and plan for next year. Woo hoo!