One of the cool things about teaching/guiding/coaching in a choice classroom is getting the chance to listen to artists at work. I love that low hum (slightly less low in kinder and first grade, of course) of kids who are sharing their thinking and techniques with each other. Here are some recent excerpts:
From the painting center -
- I have to use this special blue really quickly before my mind forgets how to make it.
- How did you make that tree look so happy?
- I made a stupid mistake and if I stare at it long enough I'll be able to see a bush or something – Ms. J. said so. (Gulp – nothing like being quoted...)
- I'm making another house. I'm the expert at making houses, you know.
From fabric arts -
- I invented this new thing – twisted yarn. I think I'll be famous.
- If you don't do the McDonald's arch thing it'll be too tight when you bonk it.
- I wonder if Ms. J. will let me make one of these yarn balls for my cat. Is that art? (I'm certain the cat thinks so.)
- OK, Ms. J. I'm ready to take mine home now. I waited a whole week. (This, from the second grader who still isn't sold on the concept of group pieces.)
From collage -
- This is so cool. I don't think I'll ever run out of weird heads to put on bodies.
- It's my best hat yet – my mom will be so proud of me.
- (After finding a picture of a human heart in a National Geographic) I think I'm going to be sick. Do you think Ms. J. knows this disgusting stuff is in here?
From 3D Construction -
- (from dancing first grader) I can't be quiet, Teacher. I'm just too exciting! (not typo - exact quote) Look how it flies!
- I don't see why there has to be a shake test. I NEVER shake my toys.
- This bedroom is perfect. See? No little brothers. Anywhere.
The tone of their conversation is almost always gentle and supportive. I've only had two or three “He insulted my art!” comments in a whole year. Something about having the space and time to design and create lends itself to fairly deep conversations. They share everything. I hear specifics on how to make prickly trees to the rules of stylized flowers. Once in a while, a child will say, “Hey – you're copying my ___” only to be answered from someone else in the studio who says, “Yeah – you're teaching it to her.” or “It's OK – we all learn new stuff this way.” I have to avoid doing cartwheels of joy - the ambulance calls would be cost prohibitive.
The concept of child as content area specialist intrigues them, too. I have one intensely quiet second grade girl who is the acknowledged “Ojo de dios” expert in her class. Other children have seen her work and go to her for techniques. Getting the winding pattern of an ojo isn't simple, and many seven year olds aren't ready for it yet, so her expertise is special. She's proud of it, too, and beams when kids ask her to share how she does it.
I believe that the depth of these conversations reflects the deep learning that is going on. They also reflect what happens in their regular classrooms. Many teachers here at Evergreen Elementary are masters at group processes. The Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) emphasizes conversations between children as they discuss their learning. Teachers “front load” vocabulary and enrich lessons with detailed, labeled drawings, and a general tone of sharing knowledge is the norm. It's cool stuff, and if you get a chance to see a GLAD classroom in full swing – take it.
Kidspeak - catch some now in a classroom near you!