Every TAB teacher has a unique way of keeping track of kids and projects and materials. Much depends on one's personality type. Those who love order gravitate towards organized storage (in matching containers, I suspect) and cleared, serene surfaces. Teachers who prefer a looser system of organization choose systems that flex with kids' needs, season of the year, or the direction of the wind. Since I've taught for a long time, I've tinkered with a variety of systems for keeping track of things. Longevity varies and I give myself permission to change if something no longer works, if something else is less trouble, or if my priorities change.
In this article, I plan to share some of my systems. Few of them are original and I'll try to give credit in cases when I can remember from whence they came. You're welcome to use them or to tweak them to fit the needs of your classroom in the tradition of TAB sharing. Feel free to contact me if you have a question.
Record Keeping 101
My district doesn't provide electronic grading systems for elementary specialists and I gave up the green traditional grade books long ago. I prefer to have a class list that I generate once a year and use for multiple purposes. My current method is to insert a table into a word processing document. I create enough cells to contain each child's name (I've always just used first names in this chart but will add last names next year to ease record keeping for behavior slips) and at least 25 columns across the page. Our current rotation system provides for four equal groups that contain one class from each of grades one through five. Each five member group has a unique symbol (to make it easier for classroom teachers to parse the monthly calendar) and I place that icon (heart, star, pepper, or apple) in the upper right hand corner of my chart.
When I begin the year I print out a draft version of each class list, three-hole punch them, and slip them through small bankers' rings. After the first week of school when the shuffling/deleting/adding kids process is settled a bit I print off a colored copy - so I can see the group icon quickly if I need to flip through in the midst of hunting something down. I always leave a couple of lines at the bottom of each list to accommodate new students. At art show time in the spring I also add colored grade level tabs to the sides to ease record keeping for my display.
On my school desktop I file class lists - by group within my assessment file. I'll use them again when I make out grade sheets for teachers at semester break and to print new, updated lists to serve as grade sheets for second semester. Our reporting system requires only two grades from me so it's a fairly simple process to pull up each class list, highlight and crop the unnecessary columns, cut and paste in a new heading (grades instead of center choice) so I can input the two grades.
As the year begins we open our studios with a single studio - drawing. I use the first two or three weeks to review what artistic behaviors are with my students, to orient new children to a studio system, and to build expectations for the year ahead. Using a color/letter/shape key I mark info about children's choices from the first class session. We also begin trading off on "first choice" for centers, too, and I mark that progression through the list with a small, penciled triangle. My behavior system is fairly simple. Children who make good choices during their lesson and studio time retain five positive behavior points for the day. Extra hustle (like coming to the aide of someone who's struggling or helping to clean messier centers) result in additional points. I simply make a vertical mark in that child's row for the day for positive events and a horizontal mark to indicate poor choices. Though it's rare, a TO in a child's box indicates a time out (either within the studio, with my partner next door in the library, or in our Solution Center if the issue is a heavy one.) When it's time to consult with parents, teachers, or children about grades I consult the grade sheets and tally up the points. I use a seating chart on the facing page to help remember the names of students. Not only do I have a mental picture of where children sit during mini-lessons, but I have another hint when I consult the record of their center choices.
With the addition of additional centers as the year progresses, my grade sheets begin to show more variety in children's choices. I can tell at a glance who's monopolizing new centers and gently encourage kids to share with others until everyone's had a chance. I can also count (and the kids get into this, too) how many spots are available at each center so I can control traffic a bit. Additionally, I can encourage students who need to take a risk and try something new if they've been in a specific studio too long. As I write this article, it's April and our centers are fully operational. Students may choose from drawing, painting, clay, printmaking, 3D construction, collage, fiber arts, and blocks. Three additional choices are considered to be ephemeral - origami, notan, and Zentangles. A fourth, bookmaking, will be added next week. That's a huge number of choices so one of my tasks is to gently monitor when artists are having trouble completing projects. Just like professional artists, we have the option of putting something down for a while and returning with fresh energy when the time is right. With 540+ students that means bulging portfolios and heavily loaded "works in progress" boxes. When my storage boxes begin to look scary I consult the choice records to see how long something has been languishing in 3D limbo and ask the artist to choose between completion or returning materials to stores.
Our first task of the year is to decorate manila folders. Each is also marked with each student's name and teacher code for ease in finding lost folders. All 2D work is stored in the folder, including drawings, dried small prints, and collages. Larger work such as paintings is kept in big folders by the snake cage* for ease (?) in locating unfinished work. I've tried different methods to keep folios under control. Our current practice is to keep them in their storage boxes, alphabetically, getting unfinished pieces out to work on and filing things at the period's end. 3D work may go home after it's completed, as long as it passes the "shake test" and shows some care in finishing details. To keep track of 3D work I photograph each piece as it leaves the studios and store photos in dated folders on my desktop. (Future note: Electronic folios are a dandy idea if I can talk the district out of a student computer, purchase a couple of cameras, and have my resident geek write a program that will work for such a project...)
The care and feeding of a website is a big, lovey, terrifying, time gluttonizing thing. My friendly neighborhood geek in residence added the capability to add to the "articles" link above today. To celebrate, I'm posting a couple of planning aids I use. Lesson planning has come up frequently in conversation lately on the TAB Yahoo Groups list. They consist of a list of Washington State arts standards linked to individual studios in my classroom and a list of possible/probable/potential mini-lessons for a studio like mine. Feel free to ask questions if you have them!
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!