Sunday, February 29, 2004

Getty Posts
I have been having some fun getting the Getty ArtsEdNet list mail. It has been interesting to read teachers complaining about the lack of investment that their students bring to their work when offered “free” time. This was, I believe, related to high school students. My theory is that working deep requires practice and coaching, which is what choice teachers offer students. There is a misconception that we just open our rooms and let the students mill around. Nothing could be further from the truth in my classroom. I thought I would paraphrase what I have been sending out in that domain:

A writer stated: "I can't imagine that the ideas of centers would be productive for an
extended period of time. Think of yourself, without instruction and ideas other than your own, how long would it take you, as an adult (with experience), to exhaust your own resources"
which resulted in this reply:.
In a choice-based centers classroom the students are given very brief
introductions of materials and/or processes _each_ week. All students are required
to attend the demonstrations, which are highly organized, succinct
"traditional" expositions of information. The material/process, with some complicated
exceptions is then available in a related, permanent center for the rest of the
year; sometimes for the rest of the time the students are in the school.
Explanatory informatiion ( menus of materials, procedural steps, fine art
reproductions, vocabulary, student examples) are displayed in the well organized
centers. Materials are available and students are coached on return of materials
to the center. John Crowe of Mass College of Art calls a well designed
center "a three dimensional lesson plan." After the demo, students may choose to
work on the new idea or go to one of the centers to work independently. If
a student comes with no idea (and we all are like that some times as artists!)
then the default is the student works with the new idea, as in a
"traditional" art classroom. Usually about 8 students choose to work on the new concept
and that gives the teacher a small core group to offer more complete
information and additional help. The teaching continues with that group for the entire
time as they work. At the end of class that group shares their progress with
the whole class and agrees to coach students who may with to try working that
way in the future. In a choice-based classroom the centers are not a filler
or reward. The centers are a way of organizing the studio so that students
can find what they need so that they can make their own art work. The full
studio setting allows students to plan their art work in advance of the class and
to organize their time in a productive manner.
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: (and choice-based teachers also address
these questions on an ongoing basis) (these have been posted on the blog previously)
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
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
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?

And then someone queried:
Do you use these questions to evalutate yourselves, Kathy?  How do you fold your respnses into improving your curriculum?
And I wrote:
We feel that choice based teaching is a most interactive process. When the
teacher presents information to the students there is pretty immediate
feedback on its interest or usefulness to the students: they can choose it or choose
something else. Over the nearly thirty years that I have taught in this
manner I have gradually eliminated a number demos that I thought were quite
wonderful--but the students did not share my enthusiasm. Taking their place are
demonstrations which are both valuable and valued by the students as shown by
the number of students who choose them. The demonstrations are not projects
but information on materials and processes and sometimes concepts. ( my students
are aged 5-9) Examples might be "How to set up a painting space"
"Reflection and Manipulation of a silkscreen series" "Stick Weaving and two new art
words--symbolism and variation and so on.
So our demonstrations are aimed at giving the students the information to be
able to express their personal vision in two and three dimensions. We can
see what the students know because they are working independently, applying what
they have learned previously. I can observe several first graders getting
tangled up in the scotch tape and intervene with a refresher on tape tearing, L
connections and other ways to attach objects. In some classes the paints
get muddy too often and I know that I need to schedule a follow up to the color
mixing demonstration. My plan book is awash with notes taken during each
class. Some of these notes include "help Erik get started" "extra cardboard for
Samantha next week" "No one in this class is using plaster" "find extra space
for numerous painters" "find resource information on volcanos" etc.
As to the question about deviating from the model: there are certain
requirements which the materials demand: for instance, an oil pastel etching must have
two complete layers of pigment before etching is successful. A needle is
threaded and knotted a certain way. All painters are required to have a pallet
and sponge wiithin reach. Only one color at a time is used on a particular
silk screen, as the fingerpaints we use do not mix well. Glitter needs to be
applied to a dry plaster mask, but paint can be applied to wet plaster if
desired. And so on. I am really really bossy about things like this. But there is
not a model for what the work is to look like; the work emerges from the
students and the content of their lives and interests is the content of their work.
Students manage their time well within our very short 40 minute per week
classes. They can begin work at home and they often arrive with sketches,
found objects, etc for work they have chosen. Some students work very quickly,
moving from one thing to the next; others have been known to take six to eight
weeks on one piece. This is fine! Unsucessful work is considered an
important part of the artmaking process and we celebrate the risk taking which can
result in less successful pieces. We strategize and plan for what would make
something work better the next time and students can, if they choose, keep doing
it till they get it right.
Although some students try the "new idea" nearly every week (which is fine)
not every student tries every new thing. Students have to know about each of
the materials and processes however and they see so many things that their
friends have made that there is a lot of second hand knowledge going along with
first hand doing. Seeing children only about 30 times in one year can be a
bit limiting if everybody is doing the same thing at the same time in my
My students' work is often eccentric, quirky and sometimes downright strange.
  I love that! Some of the work never looks "frame ready" but a great
amount of it is gorgeous and not because of me but because of the passion that
students bring to work that is important to them. I do not know of any one
project that my feeble middle aged brain could imagine which could light that
passion across the board in my classes. My students accost me in the lunchroom
and describe work they plan to do in their next class. Choice is a powerful
Special needs students are among my brightest stars; some of them are
brilliant when working in three dimensions and their "think different" abilities make
their work more interesting to me than some of the "pretty and nice" stuff.
Even very challenged students are able to make their own accomodations and
work from their strengths and then approach things which are more intimidating
to them as their confidence grows. Of my nearly 700 students this year I have
about 4 whose behavior in my class concerns me deeply. Because most students
are working independently I am freed up to work eyeball to eyeball with some
of these difficult to teach students. Last of all; I do not give grades in my
school (when you think about it, giving 700 meaningful grades is nothing
short of insanity) but if I had to describe how my third graders work--I could
tell you about most all of them--what they like best, what the content of their
work is..because it is pretty individual and I have seen their interests
expressed for three years. Our rubrics tend to be behavior ones...as I mentioned
in a previous post we look for risk taking, perseverence, passion, hard work,

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


This has been a very unusual year for me; in one way or another my students are involved in five large exhibits, which is probably about three too many. (see posts of December 18 and January 16) Traditionally we have had a large exhibit during the spring parent conferences. Only the oldest children participate and they choose which work they wish to display. Some display a dozen pieces, others only one and now and then a student opts out of the process. Artists choose what and when they exhibit, don’t they. We prepare for this exhibit all year. Each piece is accompanied by an artist statement dictated by the child to a parent volunteer and printed out in large font. Many photographs of the students at work accompany the show. Usually 400-450 pieces make up the show which stays on the walls for a month. Younger students visit the show as an in school field trip and many teachers create writing responses to work in the show. Because the students curate the show they are invested and excited and younger students anticipate the year when their work is displayed. Last September we were shocked to return to school and find that new fire regulations would prohibit all paper display in the hallways: no more spring art show! We decided to move the show to the Internet. Our computer specialist has been helping me create a web page for each grade three class. On each page are thumbnails of art work photographed digitally. A click on a thumbnail opens a page of the work shown large, with the artist statement under it. We have been struggling to learn the software which makes this possible and struggle to help the young students understand how this will all work. Dealing with photographing and interviewing during regular art classes has been a challenge as my schedule has no “empty” time. This show will not replace the real thing, but will make student art viewable all around. We miss the bright hallways and the fan letters that the younger students used to write to the displaying artists.
An upcoming music concert and a local arts festival will give us the opportunity to display some work in the real world, but the thought of preparing two more displays is making me a little bit weary. Display remains an important part of art making, so we will persevere, but I hope that next year we can make different arrangements!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Fellow TAB teacher, John Crowe has had some wonderful art work published in a
BOOKMAKING by Holly Harrison (Rockport Publishers)
Two of his books, RED PARIS and MAINE JOURNAL are pictured. "To create the
he uses in his artist books, John Crowe layers automatic writings and drawings
found materials and recycled papers, achieving subtle variations in texture and
by sanding, painting and otherwise transforming the surface. 'The dimensions of
these works are determined by the size of my pockets, ' says Crowe. 'Small
bundles of
pages are my constant companions, allowing me to work on cafe tables, airplane
trays, and on small drawing boards I occasionally tie around my neck for long
hikes.'" As someone who once sat next to him on a Boston-SanFrancisco flight, I
attest that Crowe is always on the verge of making beautiful marks. His
inspiration to
all of us choice teachers has been immense and it is wonderful to collaborate
with this
working artist. The book can be found on Amazon dot com for less than $16.00.

Sunday, February 01, 2004


I have a way of being far too ambitious in my planning. When beginning the nine or ten week cluster of printmaking demonstrations I jot notes many weeks ahead in my plan book. It is a good thing that I use pencil! After that third week of silkscreen (see previous post) I planned to jump right in to monoprinting--three types in one demonstration. In school Friday afternoon I looked the third grade storage area and noted that most children were still involved in working on their silk screen prints. Why was I rushing them along to something new when so many of them were still happily involved? In most of the eight classes about a dozen childen are at various stages of completing prints. So I got out my pencil eraser. We will take the time to stop and reflect and do it right and savor the successes we are having here with the screens. I hope to photograph some of the finished work. It is a wonderful gift to have the freedom to offer choice to students and to have the freedom to adjust the schedule to what I observe in each classroom.

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