The quality of the work created by artists in this building is amazing. Evergreen is a special place in several ways but one of the coolest is the different ways my colleagues nurture and grow artistic expression by our students. I see examples all the time, and sometimes I'm bright enough to capture them on camera.
Our dual language school uses a powerful teaching/learning strategy called GLAD. The letters stand for Guided Language Acquisition Design. A visit to a GLAD classroom offers up a rich visual smorgasbord of charts, drawings, maps, posters, and other highly visible written language - in both languages - that supports lessons. Using this much variety to allow learners to access knowledge is part of essential scaffolding that good teachers use all the time. GLAD takes classic scaffolding techniques, adds lots of oral language support, and uses a wide variety of graphic organizers that kids and teachers employ to share new knowledge. Artistic talent is visible all over the place. One of the techniques that's used employs making drawings of vocabulary words. Another has teachers draw a nearly transparent pencil drawing of a topic of study - say, a flowering plant - on a large sheet of butcher paper. After it's laminated, a dry erase marker or washable pen can be used to "draw" the parts of the plant as children discuss them. Labels in the target language are added and used repeatedly during the unit for reference, to practice the words, or to check spelling during writing assignments. Nobody makes a big deal about relative skill in drawing, but it's clear that lots of practice yields up comfort with lots of public drawing. Teachers model drawing, kids use it extensively, and the art teacher smiles all the time.
Art is visible throughout our building and it's not always generated in the Evergreen Studios. A bulletin board close to the kindergarten rooms broke out in pumpkins recently, and the effect is glorious. We see clear evidence of wise teachers who choose projects that extend their children's learning rather than narrowing it into "class set" types of projects. One of the fascinating aspects of this quality of learning is the deep understanding a teacher gains about children during their work. The child who painted this picture really, REALLY wanted to do a Jack-O-Lantern, even though the story that was being shared was about whole pumpkins. His teacher quietly observed how he painted characteristic triangle eyes and jagged mouth, then used that darker paint to blend and shade the pumpkin. While she noted the beautifully controlled blending, he just smiled.
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!