Tuesday, December 30, 2003


The student artists are shown great respect and made to feel that they are important; there is an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. The work that we, students and teacher, are going to do together is of consequence. Students are told from the outset that they will be searching for and making their own meanings. What the students carry away from the course will be unique to them according to their particular needs. Because of the open nature of the activities and the big ideas explored, a fairly diverse group of students find pieces of the work which suit them. The engagement of the teacher must be obvious; what is dull to the instructor will be so to the students. The spirit in a class is shown when the teacher models what is being taught. The teacher must engage in careful listening, attention to detail, and noticing what student needs are. The teacher elicits requests for materials. and moves about the studio area, showing an instinct for distinguishing among those who want to be left to work from those who need to have help, or do some verbal processing, or just visit a bit. Knowing when to interfere and when to step back is one of the subtlest parts of teaching.

Monday, December 29, 2003

risk taking

So much of school is concerned with rules, obedience and institutionalizes the fear of “messing up”. Risk taking, which can result in both deep learning and exciting and evolving art work is a necessity in the art room. Because this behavior is infrequently affirmed in other parts of school, it must be explicitly encouraged. The discussion in the end of class reflections/sharing of false starts and new beginnings can very helpful to the students.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I am often asked if the choice-based TAB method of teaching is more expensive in materials; I do not think that it is. What you present depends entirely on what materials you are able to get. I have used this method when I had a small art budget and I have used it with a much larger budget. One advantage of choice is that you do not have to have enough of anything for everybody to use it at one time. I am able to try out new materials in very small quantities. When I introduced fan brushes to the paint center I only had six of them; because there were usually fewer than eight painters at a time, this was not a problem. I once spoke with a teacher whose husband had made her a lovely set of 25 wooden weaving looms. She only taught weaving to one or two classes per year, because everybody had to do it...and of course that sort of weaving took weeks and weeks, and she only had those 25 looms. In my classroom those looms could most likely cover five or six classes, as only a few students would commit to a long project like that. And those students would do quite well, because weaving would be chosen by and important to them.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Now here is a gem courtesy of John Crowe:
"Bill Lambert, former Procter & Gamble executive, relates the following: "For years, capable workers on the P&G factory lines didn't do what managers wanted them to do. Pushing harder and exerting more control didn't work. We only started to make progress when we recognized that that all workers want to work productively and contribute to the success of the enterprise. If we created systems that allowed this participation, then 'dumb workers' became incredibly creative, smart, and productive. Later, as a school board member, I listened to teachers talk about underachieving students, and recalled how P&G managers used to discuss our underachieving workers."

p. 514 Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J., & Kliener, A. (2000). Schools That Learn. New York: Doubleday."

Diane Jaquith writes about rubrics in a choice classroom:
"Rubrics for Art Class at Burr School

From the 5th grade 2001-2002

These rubrics are generated while viewing student artwork as examples of excellence, selected by the teacher. Examples show a range of materials. Some represent weeks of work, others are simple sketches done in minutes.


Artists get ideas for their artwork from their personal experiences, resources (books, other artists' work, etc.) and from art materials.

Artwork shows good effort and planning.

Artwork is complete. All areas and parts are carefully thought out and the artist is satisfied that the artwork is "done."

All 3-D artwork is built to last - no loose pieces held on by tape, no clay attachments that are not securely scored together.

Artist includes some of the elements of art such as line, color, pattern, texture and shape and some principles of art such as rhythm, contrast and balance.

Artist shows respect for materials and tools by cleaning up their workspace before moving to a new center and at the end of class.

Artist shows respect for classmates' artwork by not touching and by sharing positive comments.

Artists are always productive in class with their own artwork, helping a classmate or teacher or researching ideas for future artworks."

Monday, December 22, 2003

P. 98: “What does one want to ‘say’ about what one has experienced? What is
the point from which the work builds? Attention to such matters in
classrooms is often neglected. One of the most important pedagogical tasks
is to help students formulate something to say that matters to them.”

by Elliot W. Eisner
New Haven: Yale University Press 2002

Sunday, December 21, 2003

More good words from Diane Jaquith, K-5 teacher in Newton, MA.

"Regarding rubrics: you want students to be accountable to themselves. Try passing your rubrics out to your older students: ask their opinion-- from the kids’ point of view. Get them used to spending 3 minutes in self evaluation: 'Where am I at with my work?' It helps them be accountable for themselves. Older students keep mini journals. At the end of class on a post it note, the students write or draw what they did that day. They are attached to a little piece of cardboard with a small binder clip. They are tiny and can be used quickly. They are kept with the student work. Once the pattern is set, they continue to use them. It doesn’t matter if I can’t read them. 5th grade students aren't allowed to use the verbs "made" or "did". They have to use more descriptive verbs. One could probably do this with 3rd grade. When they first began it took longer, about 3-4 minutes. Now after clean up, one student puts them out with names up, and most do it. I follow up with a few slackers.
Question: 'Is this offered as a choice?'
No, I want them to keep track for themselves. They have a choice of writing one word of what they did, sketch, or make some indication of what they did and they know what they did. It is one of the few requirements in my class."
TAB Panel Discussion Middlefield, MA August 2003
More from George Szekely:

"Our designs for innovative art lessons are intended, then, to help students rehearse and practice the kinds of personal explorations they can make on their own outside of class. From this point of view, art class is not the ultimate destination for our students' activity as artists but simply the launch pad where we give them the impetus and directions to take off on their own."

Teachers College Press, 1988

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Great Inspiration:
Many random quotes from George Szekely in his 1988 book ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY IN ART LESSONS (Teachers College Press)

" Professional artists take pride in discovering their own ideas for art, regarding innovation as essential and imitation as deadly."

"The essential goal of art teaching is to inspire children to behave like artists--to try on the artist's role--to feel what it is to gather an art idea on one's own and act on it. The goal is to reveal to children that art comes from within themselves--not from the teacher. The goal is to demystify art, and assure children, through the teacher's deeds and words, that art is found in familiar places and ordinary environments, accessible to everyone. It is to bring children closer to art--nearer to themselves, to their own views and visions."

"...art is not like most other school subjects. Most subjects are primarily concerned with traditional knowledge; art making is concerned with making an original response to immediate experience."

Friday, December 19, 2003

Teacher as climate control...
In the December 5 post here Diane Jaquith refers to the teacher as the "climate control". It is an interesting metaphor and makes me think about the ways which we influence what happens in our choice classrooms. Although the students are choosing subject matter and medium, we are able to make things happen for the children by the circumstances which we create in our classrooms. A case in point is my recent struggle with students in one of my second grade classes. In the sculpture/construction/found object center the children transform boxes and materials of various sorts into sculptures. It is my expectation that work in this enormously popular center will show investment and that students will continue to improve in their skills as they work there over time. In this particular class the group of sculpture builders seem most concerned with acquiring the most boxes and slapping together the biggest object possible in the short time of the art class. Sculpture center rules (such as getting three objects thorougly attached before building further, for example) are ignored as are gentle suggestions by me to help improve outcomes. I found that I was spending an inordinate amount of time in this part of the room, was making little headway in encouraging improvement in quality and, in general, was getting pretty crabby about the whole issue. Today when this class entered, the sculpture center had been stripped of any boxes or objects larger than my hand. There was great variety of very small objects and 9x12 cardboard bases available. At the end of class the sculpture "crew" shared their work with the class: small, well put together and well thought-out. They got a lot of praise for their improved craftsmanship from teacher and fellow students. I think I will continue to manage the sculpture area in this way.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

It was nice to go to Boston tonight to see the exhibit at the Arnheim Gallery at Massachusetts College of Art. Student teachers show work created during their practicum. My student teacher made a lovely exhibit of paintings, drawings, masks, puppets, sculptures and weaving made by first, second and third graders. It is wonderful to see child art displayed in a well designed, well lit gallery instead of tacked to a bulletin board. Showing work is a wonderful part of art making. Students dictated artist statements to Laurie which are displayed alongside the work. The work of children is often unappreciated by adults and the artist statements make a bridge between artist and viewer. Sometimes text helps.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

deschooling the critique:

by Dr. John Crowe
Massachusetts College of Art

"I recently generated the following descriptors of the deschooling
mission in
discussion with Kathy Douglas, MJ Viano Crowe and my students. This
is a work
in progress and meant to prompt further discussion and refinement."

school version VS deschooled version

critique VS reflection
critique VS full attention
critique VS affirmation
teacher authority VS shared authority
expertise VS emerging understanding, new eyes
preaching VS sharing
more about the critic VS more about about the creator
feeling small VS feeling big
knowledge out there VS knowledge within, drawn out
judgmental VS reflective -- noticing, describing, interpreting
traditional format VS negotiated format
prescribed rubrics VS negotiated rubrics
school issues VS art and world issues
one person's aesthetic VS multiple aesthetic views
one voice VS many voices
verbal folks dominate VS students are "heard into speech"
verbal VS plus non-verbal
exhibit the "best" VS exhibit all, or rotate fairly
followed directions? VS followed an authentic path?
right? wrong? VS engaged? genuine?
closed system VS open system
Euro-model VS looks to other traditions too
about the past and present VS plus future
serious VS serious and playful
regards narrow outcomes VS regards broad range of outcomes
about grades VS less emphasis on grades, negotiated,
mystery VS clarity
clarity VS mystery
judgment VS enlightenment

"One of the most ferocious forces that weaken and distort artistic expression is the fear of making a mistake. No one enjoys making a mistake, and some mistakes lead to real jeopardy. But in the arts, more often the fear is one of seeming inept, unprepared, an amateur, a fool. This harm to our psyche is no less real and damaging than a bodily injury. As a consequence, uncertain of our actual level of competence, we stay far away from exercising the full range of our capability, and potential."

Peter London
Boston: Shambhala Publishers 2003

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

One thing I have found very interesting in my classes: the subject of non objective paintings. For some reason in my art training I was given the impression that one had to learn to draw and paint with photographic accuracy before being allowed to work at all abstractly. Having achieved a high state of ability at rendering (a wonderful milestone, no doubt!) one could then reject this and move into non objective work. Now it seems to me that this is counter productive with young children, no matter whether it is proper practice in adult art training (I will not offer an opinion on that.) But requiring children to paint “realistic” subject matter can be a huge stumbling block to good paintings. First, as I observed above, this often results in pencil drawings which are then “colored in” with the difficult to control tempera paint, resulting in an awkward ‘paint by number” look. My daughter was “taught” to paint this way when in middle school with disastrous results. By celebrating the energy and beauty of non objective work in general, by sharing reproductions of the work of painters such as Kandinsky, Frankenthaler, etc the children come to appreciate this aesthetic. The children often begin non objectively and learn so much: about color and how much paint to load on the brush, and what each of the many brushes can do, and how much the paint can be thinned with water and how to scrape through layers of wet paint and how to make changes with opaque paint and how kinesthetic painting can be, how different from drawing. One of my students had been working large (2ftx3ft) and called to me: "this face just came out of my design!" She had seen the beginnings of a face in her colors and pushed it to complete the face. Her paintings were very literal from that time forth, but she discovered this herself. I really enjoy teaching painting.

Monday, December 15, 2003

A demonstration for the first grade:
Today I began to get the first grade students ready for a lot of painting after Christmas break. I want them to begin using the thick tempera paints which I serve up in plastic ice cube trays. This paint is more challenging to work with than the watercolors in plastic trays--it is a lot messier. However, it is overall a great favorite with my students.

Today's demonstration was not at all about technique or elements and principals or subject matter, but about setting up a painting space. In choice teaching we are always working backward...before they can do THIS, they must be able to do THAT, however THAT requires some information about ANOTHER thing...so in a choice classroom an early step is giving students the information for setting out (and later putting away) all their painting equipment in a way which is useful, efficient and organized.

The paint center has a menu of essential equipment, which the students gather in the order that it appears on the list: 1. smock or apron 2. coffee can of water 3. some brushes (a choice from at least twenty different types of brushes) 4. a palette 5. a sponge 6. a paint tray (today it was watercolors) 7. a piece of thick paper (various sizes available) The children are instructed to lay out their equipment next to their painting hand and children do not share equipment. It is important to me that they do not have to reach across each other to get to their colors. When art is choice-based there are not that many people painting at any one time, so this works fine.

At the end of class the children gather around and I demonstrate putting away the painting equipment, from the end of the list (their finished painting) to the beginning (the smock comes off last!) Clean up goes smoothly in both classes with no spills or traffic jams at the sink.

Choice based art teaching gives students the information and skills that they need so that their own art ideas can come out of them.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Diane Jaquith shares some great advice on newsletters:

A colleague asks "I'm thinking of writing up something for both staff and parents explaining the art program. There have been some comments from classroom teachers about what do they do in there?"

This is a great idea! In fact, it reminds me to write my own newsletter, which I usually send home once a year, around this time. I try to educate parents about their children's artwork, and why it doesn't look beautifully formulaic (i.e. like the art teacher made it instead of the child). Your teachers apparently need to understand this as well. It won't make any difference which system you move to, the issues will remain there until you have successfully "won them over."
My newsletter always starts with a blurb about choice, and then some of the cool things that have been happening in each grade. I try to include info about the upcoming art show, child-friendly exhibits around Boston, sometimes a "how-to" or a "where-to-find" certain materials that the kids absolutely love. It's often only one-sided, illustrated by students. A PR piece, to be sure, but it brings parents to the conversation about their children's artmaking and reminds them that the art program is an important part of their child's education.

It sounds like your new parents and staff have expectations of project-art left over from the previous art program. In your letter home, talk about the "scribble stage" and how that might appear in various media, as they certainly know what it looks like in drawing. You also need to talk with your teachers; choose a more friendly, understanding teacher, and try to find out what the issues are. They probably have discussed your program among themselves already; it will be helpful to you to know what you are dealing with. Once armed with this information, if you feel confident enough, go and talk with the negative teacher. Show him/her some significant work done by some of their most difficult students, so they can see how this approach is successful. One-on-one, you can make a difference!

Saturday, December 13, 2003

"...I recommend the following covenant, which though all of one whole, is described in terms of three elements:
* The student's general well-being of mind, body, and spirit will take precedence over the particular lesson at hand.
*The teacher's effort will be to reach the students as they are and help them become who they desire to become.
*The students' efforts will be to fathom the full dimensions of who they are as they have become, and to become the persons they desire to be."
Peter London
Shambhala 2003
Diane Jaquith sent the following letter to the journal ART EDUCATION:

Mr. B. Stephen Carpenter, II, Editor
Art Education
National Art Education Association
1916 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1590

To the Editor:

In response to the editorial, "Beyond Art Making," (Art Education, September, 2003), I agree that inquiry-based knowledge can expand and enhance one's experiences with artmaking. However, unless the inquiry-based activity is directly related to students' personalized learning, one runs the risk of engaging students in meaningless work. This is particularly true in elementary schools, where children meet for art classes once a week or less. All too often, I have seen art teachers spend enormous amounts of time preparing and presenting lesson plans on topics that have little or nothing to do with their students' lives, knowledge or interests. While raising cultural and aesthetic awareness is a very worthy objective, there may be better and more lasting ways to accomplish this.

One such way, as Dr. John Michael states in a published letter to Art Education (November, 2002), is to "start with the student and his or her personal, creative, and expressive art work and bring in all these art-related aspects - multiculturalism, art history, art criticism, intellectual aspects and the like - as they may be needed to extend the student's frame of reference." In the constructivist setting, this is very possible, with students directing their own learning through personal inquiry, while utilizing art resources and developing art vocabulary relevant to the work at hand. Art criticism skills are practiced during peer discussions and sharing sessions. Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) is a practice that exemplifies this model of art education (http://knowledgeloom.org/TAB). In my TAB classroom, even the very youngest students are exploring vital aspects of their lives through their artwork, choosing materials to match their ideas. They are not making art "in a vacuum" because, like all artists, they have a lot to say about the world from their perspectives. Through the context of their work, art history, aesthetics, multiculturalism and other inquiry-related activities expand the experience.

Art education institutions should take a long, hard look at that which they advocate, and what may be lost in the balance. Visual art encompasses a vast realm and few of us have sufficient contact hours to expose the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. To maximize time with students, we need to move beyond thinking of art as divided into separate compartments, such as "studio," "aesthetics," "multiculturalism," to be covered in singular experiences. Art is holistic; its multiple aspects will come together through authentic artmaking.

It is our responsibility as art educators to provide a structure that honors and celebrates the individual.


Diane Jaquith
K-5 Art Teacher
Newton Public Schools
Newton, MA

Friday, December 12, 2003

Shift: This week is one of my favorites in the third grade classes. At the end of class I get my yellow plan book off my desk and grab a pencil. Turning the page to the next week I ask a number of questions, such as "How many people plan to start a plaster mask next week?" (show of hands...while I take notes in the book) "How many will need more plaster?" (more hands, more writing) "How many will need paint?" "How many will be planning 2ft by 3 ft paintings?" "How many will be working in centers?" All this time I am noting numbers...after which I announce that the class has just filled in my plan book for me! And this is where the students and I can feel the floor shift under our feet, as the learning and planning power moves quite explicitly from me to them. It is one of my favorite weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Question from a colleague: "Should I make some things mandatory?"

There are certainly ways to set requirements, while allowing students broad choice in meeting them. Perhaps re read Crowe's play/care curriculum in the Loom (http://knowledgeloom.org/tab. Requirements of so many play experiences, were collected in a portfolio (sometimes he required a certain number of mistakes to be documented!) and then the student chose one medium to produce a "care" piece for which a grade could be given if necessary.

At one point in my teaching I divided my demonstrations into clumps or units: for instance, for older students a series of six painting demonstrations, with everybody doing the first lesson of the unit (for painting it was color mixing, choosing "personal" colors...)

At another point (remember, I have been figuring this out for thirty years...) each of the oldest children had a folder. At the beginning of a unit (drawing, or painting, for instance) they would staple a handout into their folder which listed the upcoming demos. At the end of the six weeks they "owed" me one finished piece. I would comment on it on that page in their folder. It was a lot of work, but it was interesting and the children seemed to respond to it.

Now I just have the students for three short years for very short classes; I do not think they have the opportunity to get bored. It is all just too brief at my school.

In every class there are probably two or three students who I wish would be more focused, more involved. Sometimes this is never overcome; other times a child "catches fire" unexpectedly, sometimes while doing something sort of silly. One boy in gr. 2 had behavior issues when he was in first grade. This year started out the same--fooling around, getting nothing done. One day he was oogling the newspaper while my demo was in progress. I noticed that it was the sports page and I offered it to him to keep. He started drawing from the photos and the drawings were amazing, including forshortening. I had never seen him draw before. Now every week he comes in and rifles through the newspapers, finds a photo full of action and draws from it. What a transformation! It is sometimes a matter of keeping eyes open to Possibilities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A 1934 essay Rothko wrote about teaching children's art ("New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers") describes how his classes worked:
"They enter the art room Their paints, paper, brushes, clay, pastels--all the working material is ready. Most of them, full of ideas and interests, know just what they want to portray. Sometimes it is something from the history lesson, sometimes from Hebrew history; at other times, something they might have seen in the movies, on a summer trip, on a visit to the docks or at a factory, or some scene observed on the street; often it is a subject that is born entirely in their own minds as a result of reflection, or of particular sympathies and dreams.

They proceed to work. Unconscious of any difficulties, they chop their way and surmount obstacles that might turn an adult grey, and presto! Soon their ideas become visible in a clearly intelligent form.

The function of the instructor Rothko continues, is not to impart technique but "to stimulate and maintain " the "emotional excitement" of the children "to inspire self-confidence on their part, "always, however, taking the utmost care not to impose laws which might induce imaginative stagnation and repetition

Mark Rothko
A Biography
by James E. B. Breslin
University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London 1993

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"A good deal of art is play, still more of it is acting, some of it is experiment, some of it is role playing, some of it fantasy, some of it borrowing, some teasing, some misleading, some candor, some blind searching, some catharsis, some mistakes, some serendipity, some in fact accurate transcriptions of the way things are."

Peter London
Shambalah Publishers

Monday, December 08, 2003

Choice teachers are asked many questions about their teaching practice by educators who are more comfortable with teacher/curriculum-centered pedagogy. Here are my questions for those teachers:
1. Can your students repeat an art work similiar to what they have done in your class, without your assistance or model?
2. How do you know what students have learned (as opposed to what they have done)?
3. How much are your students allowed to deviate from the model?
4. Does this deviation impact the grade that the student is given?
5. How do you manage variations in the speed with which students complete a given project? What happens when a student finishes early? What happens when a student is way behind the rest of the class in finishing?
6. If a painting, for example, is unsucessful, does the student have an opportunity to repeat the experience?
7. Do all of your students make something in each area of art each year? (painting, drawing, printmaking, fiber, book making, digital art, mask making, puppets, sculpture)
8. If a student makes brilliant paintings and does poorly in sculpture, what is the student's grade?
9. How much stylistic variation do you see in your student work? Can you pick out which student made a piece if it is unsigned?
10. What sort of art work do your students do at home? Is there a connection to what they are doing in class?
11. What percentage of special needs students are able to do your projects without assistance? What accomodations do you make for special needs students?
12. What percentage of students in each class are persistent behavior problems?
13. How often must you turn to magazines for new ideas?
14. How do you choose an idea which all the students will like enough to put forth effort?
15. How do you grade? Do you use rubrics? What do they look like?

Sunday, December 07, 2003

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else, is to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight, and never stop fighting." e.e. cummings

Saturday, December 06, 2003

More from a thought-provoking book:

by Elliot W. Eisner
New Haven: Yale University Press 2002

P. 119: “Given this dynamic context, the task of teaching might be described
as knowing when not to intervene. It may be the withholding of intervention
that sustains the child’s interest in his or her activities. In such
circumstances, there is nothing coercive about what a teacher expects a
child to do. And of course this leads to the question of when and why
education becomes somber when children enter grade school. In preschool,
imagination and exploration are prevalent modes of being in this world.
This being in the world includes tucking in and tucking out of reality as a
part of the life of a four-year-old. Perhaps such a life cannot be led when
one is seven. Although, I am not so sure.”

Friday, December 05, 2003

Regarding quality work and manditory lessons in a choice art classroom: Queried regarding students who are not trying hard enough choice teacher Diane Jaquith responds: "The learning environment has a climate control, and that control is the teacher in charge. What works well in your room, while meeting school, district and state expectations, has much to do with your own comfort level and expectations. This means that your classroom may be different than mine, or any other choice teacher's. And it's OK. Just be clear as to WHY something is mandatory - the reason is important. For example, some activities are mandatory in my room because I want to know that everyone has experienced the technique. Certain routines are mandatory because I fear they will not remember the routine unless it is enforced. And sometimes, I admit, some things are mandatory for no better reason than that I am, at times, a control freak! But I try really hard to limit these occasions and I am pretty honest about it with the kids. When a class is extremely difficult (i.e. safety is a major concern), the choices become very limited as I cannot manage without a tight structure, as is the current case with a second grade class. So it is mandatory seating plan.

Just do your best, try to always be honest with the students. Remember, teaching is a work-in-progress!"

Thursday, December 04, 2003

It was a pleasure to visit Kindergarten classes this week. I can schedule this when I have a student teacher. I tell the five year olds that artists like to make stuff, often use pretending and imagination and like their work to be different from anyone else's. I tell them that many adult artists I know began being artists when they were five or six. The children worked with intense concentration using pipe cleaners, straws, string, tissue paper, markers, with chunks of white styrofoam as a base. Teachers mentioned the focus, the quiet, and how some students had unusually good behavior. Very small children can be very intent when they value the work they are doing.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Helen Frankenthaler: "You never make exactly what is in your mind, because methods and materials and conscious awareness change the original thought. And, of course, you are then working with a material thing and not only a thought. Just as novelists are sometimes overtaken by their characters, artists are also influenced by the shapes, lines, and colors that place demands upon them and the final painting. The artist has to have a dialogue with what is being created." From The Emergence of a Painter" by Susan Cross, In AFTER MOUNTAINS AND SEA: FRANKENTHALER 1956-1959. Guggenhiem Museum, 1998. (p. 39)

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I like the concept of student experts. Because in a choice art class some students work in a
particular direction repeatedly, I will refer other students to them. They
become "experts". As I discovered through college teaching, once you have to
teach something, you learn it better.

Monday, December 01, 2003

This is a letter that I sent to ART EDUCATION, the journal of the National Art Education Association about a year ago. It was not published, so I will put it here...
To the Editor,

I welcomed Professor Michael’s letter in the November 2002 Art Education. The three emphases that he critiques: multiculturalism, art history and the intellectual aspects of art have indeed overwhelmed much of the written and verbal discourse in the NAEA. The artist-teacher who chooses another path usually must do so without the support of colleagues, art education research or written material. Reference books for teachers offer information supporting the three very left-brain approaches. As Professor Michael states, the actual art ideas of the student are often given scant attention.

I have observed that all art programs advertise themselves as “creative”, but often the art teacher has had the aesthetic experience and the students merely replicate it. I do not believe that anyone could seriously assert that school art teaching, at least at the preK-8 level, is any sort of preprofessional training. Yet all too scarce art class time is given over to exercises akin to playing scales on a piano, (making color wheels, value scales, etc.) without offering sufficient opportunity to apply these "skills" to the making of works valuable to the individual students. It is also my contention that the majority of adults have emerged from their art "training" with a firm belief that they are not "talented" or "artsy" and that the few "creative" survivors of art education continue to make art on their own, whether for themselves or the outside word.

In (NAEA Fellow) Peter London's new book Drawing Closer to Nature he states that "Art is a holistic language that is uttered from the mind, body and spirit. In this way, art is a perfect form of expression with which to imagine, investigate, propose, and engage in a new word view...art and the creative process are seen as an entirely natural and universal method of forming meaning..." (p. 2) And: "Forty years of teaching art with a variety of learners in many settings convinces me that John Dewey and the Progressive Education pedagogy had it right: learning anything occurs more rapidly and thoroughly, and with greater portability, when what is being learned is experienced as necessary to know and do in the present life of the learner...There is the key to the effective teacher---The timing of instruction to coincide with the pace, style, and direction of the student’s learning.” (p. 297)

My question to the field of Art Education is: if these things are true and if these ways of thinking are so important to human beings, quite apart from getting a job upon graduation, why is it that our public school students deserve less than the opportunity to experience the wonderful rush of making images and structures about things which matter deeply to them? And how then, within the confines of public school schedules, cramped space, huge populations and limited budgets can our students have these opportunities? It is the belief of the group that I work with (Teaching for Artistic Behavior Partnership) that it IS possible to make these things happen in public schools and our idealism is expressed in practical ways every day in our teaching.

For 25 years I have been associated with this group of artist-teachers developing a concept of teaching which sets up the circumstances for students K-12 to experience the real work of artists. We assume that students have a lot to say visually and all instruction aims to help them say it well; much teaching (including topics of art history, cultural identity and visual culture) takes place within the context of work that the students have chosen. It is an enormously satisfying way to teach and our students create unique and personal art of high quality.

We are currently spotlighted on the web page of The Education Alliance at Brown University, a federally funded educational laboratory promoting school reform, the improvement of teaching and learning and a commitment to equity and excellence. It may be a matter of some irony that we have found more acceptance outside the art education establishment...by groups whose research is focused on authentic learning.

The web site: http://knowledgeloom.org/tab contains our best practices for art teaching, a very brief research base for each and some stories of teachers who have had success with this concept.


Katherine Douglas
Art Teacher
Central School, East Bridgewater, MA
Stonehill College, Easton, MA

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