back to school
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!
Better 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. 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 intoeach 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 someone 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!
There 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.
So - 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...)
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.
I may share some of the watercolors I created to share with relatives and friends during our walkabout this summer. 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!